Impress and make impact with your job application

Many students worry about their writing skills when it comes to completing job applications. Applications generally require you to write something – an answer to a question or a cover letter for example, and this can be daunting task, particularly if you don’t study an essay-based subject. But even if you write essays all the time for your degree writing in a job application is different – it requires you to adapt your style and write in a different way. And of course all of this is particularly tricky if English is not your first language.

But there are some simple tips which can help you to be more confident about the way you write in your application.

  1. Don’t go over the top

✖ ‘I would be immensely grateful for the opportunity to work for your illustrious and truly exemplary company’

✔ ‘Your company appeals to me because of its team-based culture, which was highlighted to me when I spoke to a Graduate Trainee at the QMUL Careers Fair’

Avoid language which sounds like you’re just trying to flatter the company. Instead, be precise and specific about what the company does well: highlight their accomplishments and, crucially, show that you care enough about them to have done some research about them.

  1. Base your assertions on evidence

✖  ‘I am a highly-motivated team player who puts her best efforts into every task’

✔ ‘I demonstrated high levels of motivation by exceeding sales targets three months in a row in my part-time role at Laura Ashley’

If you just make general statements about yourself, it can be difficult for the reader to work out how accurate these statements are – anyone can say they’re highly motivated. It is more persuasive to back up your points with examples where possible – examples support your assessment of your skills and prove that you have the skills you say you have.

  1. Write confidently, but not arrogantly

✖ ‘I believe that I have good analytical skills and I hope I can contribute them to the company’

✖ ‘I stand head-and-shoulders above the competition due to my unrivalled business sense and comprehensive understanding of the issues facing your company’

✔ ‘I developed strong organisational skills by overseeing the running of seven seminars during the academic year, including inviting speakers, booking rooms and publicising the events.’

Avoid phrases like ‘I believe’, ‘I hope’ or ‘I imagine’. They suggest that you doubt your own ability. At the same time, avoid overstatement – at this stage in your career, no one expects you to know everything or be completely accomplished, and recruiters are likely to be put off by implausible and grand claims about your abilities.

Instead, clearly state the skills you have and then provide specific examples of when you have demonstrated those skills.

  1. Use ACTIVE phrases, not passive phrases

✖ ‘this role allowed me to collaborate effectively with a team of 5’.

✔‘I collaborated effectively with a team of 5’

The second version of the sentence puts the emphasis on what YOU did and accomplished; the first puts the focus on the requirements of the role. This might seem like a minor point, but it’s surprising how much difference it makes over the course of a whole cover letter or answer to a question. Active sentence constructions emphasise what you have accomplished.

  1. Proofread, proofread, proofread

You must read your application carefully a number of times. Recruiters get many applications for graduate jobs – sometimes a spelling or grammar mistake is all it takes for an application to be rejected when the process is so competitive. So don’t rely simply on your computer’s spellchecker, make sure you print out your application and read it on paper. Often mistakes become more obvious when you’re not reading on a screen.

  1. Get someone else to check it

Asking a friend to read over your CV or application can be really beneficial – sometimes a fresh pair of eyes and a different perspective can help you to make really useful changes. If English is not your first language, a native-speaker friend can be particularly helpful in checking your grammar and phrasing. And remember you can also book an appointment in the Careers Centre to receive feedback on your CV.

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Want to write headlines? Journalism – read all about it….

If you’re considering a career in journalism then you may be wondering how to make the transition from your current field or how to give yourself that competitive  edge…

Gaining a qualification accredited by a professionally body, as in any profession, will give you a solid foundation to build on and will certainly appeal to employers.  Not only does it look good on your CV and help you to develop your professional and technical skills, but it will also demonstrate your committment to and interest in the industry.

The National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) accredits a number of UK journalism courses.  From one day introductory courses, to masters (MA) courses, as well as a number of fast-track diplomas, there are a range of options available.  If you are interested in a specific area there are also a number of more specialised courses such as newspaper/ magazine/ sports journalism on offer. The full list of accredited courses is available on the NCTJ website.  Courses are available across the country and are also available at local sixth form and adult education colleges, with options for part time and evening study.

In addition to getting additional qualifications,  you should also consider gaining some work experience. This is an excellent way to boost your CV, give yourself some practical experience and make yourself more attractive to potential employers. You could start by writing for one of the QM magazines or newspapers, and by setting up a blog or newsletter for example. This will help you develop your own portfolio of writing that you can then show potential employers. It also provides a uniquely valuable insight into what the job actually entails and whether it really is a good fit for you.

For advice on finding courses or placements, application processes or to just discuss your options then remember our Careers Consultants are here to help.

How to guest blog

We’ve written before about how blogging can be a great way of helping your career. It gets you known by people who work in the industry you’re targeting, it helps improve skills such as writing, PR, communication, marketing and it’s a platform to show-off the interesting things you are doing (an online CV in effect).

But you should also think about guest blogging – i.e. writing an article for somebody else’s blog. And there are two great reasons for doing so:

  1. If you haven’t got your own blog this can be a good place to start. It gives you a chance to test out your blog writing skills and doesn’t require the consistency of posting as having your own blog does.
  2. If you do have a personal blog, it’s a great way to advertise yourself and connect with other people.

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Many bloggers (both individuals and organisations that run blogs) are glad for the extra content, as long as it’s up to standard. As part of my role in the Careers & Enterprise Centre I often have enquiries from people wanting to write for us, so here are a few of my tips if you are thinking of guest blogging. Many of my points are also echoed by Ideas Tap, so take a look at their website for more great tips on writing, blogging, pitching etc.

Choose the sites you want to write for carefully

A blog that has hundreds of followers might bring you great exposure, but is it in any way related to your career (or personal) interests? If not, you might struggle to write something of quality. On the other hand, it’s good to think outside the box: if you have an interest in science, for instance, you could approach a foreign policy blog with an idea that connects the two subjects.

Take time to think of a good idea

…or a couple of ideas. Giving the person two or three things you’d like to write about gives them more choice. Don’t expect them to come up with ideas for you. Also try to make your idea original. Read the blog to see what has been written about in the past and then try to think of something that would fit in but that is also different enough not to repeat what has already been said.

Pitch yourself as well as your idea

What knowledge or experience can you bring that makes what you have to say worth reading? To illustrate: my team is made up of people who have years of experience in careers and employability and often professional qualifications to go with it. So if somebody pitches to me to write something for our blog the first thing I think is ‘can someone else in my team write about the same thing and can they write about it better?’ If they can, it’s unlikely I will need the person’s work. But if the pitcher works in a certain industry, is a recruiter used to hiring students, or perhaps a student/graduate who has done interesting things, then they might have opinions and insight that my team don’t necessarily have. So I look at the person as much as the idea.

Give some writing examples

If you are trying to write for a well-known blog/organisation, make their job easier by giving them some examples of other blogs you have written. If you haven’t done any blogging yet, try and send other writing samples, but nothing too long and preferably something in the appropriate style and on the same subject.

Listen to instructions

If the blog owner likes your pitch and agrees for you to write something, listen to any instructions they give. If you need more clarity ask questions. If they ask for more information then give it. If there is a word limit, stick to it. There is nothing more annoying than explaining what you want someone to write about, only for them to write about something different. Some people might be nice and give you a chance to re-write. Some, however, might just decide they don’t want you to write for them after all.

Remember…

Guest blogging should be a reciprocal arrangement, allowing you the chance to reach a wider/different audience and allowing the blog owner to get interesting, quality content. Writing a blog post can be hard work, it takes time and thought and effort. So can managing a blog, particularly a professional, shared blog where you are in charge of quality control, have to review, comment on and edit other people’s work. Understanding this will help you when it comes to pitching your guest post.

Heather Campbell

Information Assistant, QMUL Careers & Enterprise Centre

Careers in the Digital Age

In an age where people spend more time on their mobile phones than they do sleeping, careers in the digital sector are on the up. Not only are more traditional jobs (like journalism and marketing) having to adapt to digital form, but new roles are being created that never existed 20 years ago, like SEO Officer. Luckily, I’ve come across a handy guide that has been created by bubble-jobs.co.uk. It lists lots of different types of jobs that are available related to the digital industry, gives a little explanation of what each is about and, importantly, lists key skills you would need for each role. For example, if you are interested in SEO…

Mouse and Keyboard

“Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the  process of raising a website’s visibility and rankings for key words in the organic search results…competition is intense as brands compete to secure the top positions in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Search engine optimisation is a very complex process which requires a lot of attention and tweaking as Google’s algorithms change and SEOs try to keep up. Thanks to the Panda and Penguin updates, ‘black hat’ techniques like spammy content, directory links and article spinning are now a thing of the past and it’s now harder than ever to rank effectively on search engines. When it comes to SEO jobs, the type of tasks you’ll be asked to perform will vary depending on whether you’re working in-house or for an agency.

CV Essentials:
 Proven experience of performing SEO audits/competitor analysis
 Knowledge of on-site and off-site SEO techniques
 Wider knowledge of the digital marketing industry
 Great analytical skills – knowledge of Google Analytics
 Up to date with the latest algorithm updates
 No “ideal degree”

Or how about being an online copywriter?

“If you’re naturally talented at writing and are looking for a career that will stand the test of time, look no further than copywriting. The process of creating ‘copy’ aka text for websites, online copywriting is actually much more complicated than it sounds. From researching a topic to putting together an article that meets strict criteria and promoting it, online copywriters are the journalists of the digital industry and are responsible for creating engaging copy that either informs the visitor or persuades them to do something – whether that’s apply for a job, buy a product or use a service. In addition to churning out large quantities of high quality content on a near daily basis, copywriters also have to think about things like SEO and keywords when they’re writing to ensure their content helps to support the site’s SEO efforts but doesn’t land them in hot water with the controversial Google algorithm updates!

CV Essentials:
 Strong written communication skills
 Great eye for detail
 Previous copywriting experience (can be own personal blog)
 Passion for writing
 Strong proof-reading skills
 Knowledge of the wider digital marketing industry, particularly SEO”

Other roles include working in Online Marketing, Web Design, App Development, Insight, Customer Relations Management (CRM) and Web Security. And the great thing is that the digital sector is not just for those who have a degree in Computer Science. There are many roles that require skills other than coding, for example.

You can check out the rest of the guide here: “Bubble Jobs: Introduction To The Digital Sector”.

Is it worth entering writing competitions?

You’ve probably seen writing competitions advertised on Twitter or in the press; there are hundreds of them! Newspapers, magazines, professional bodies, academic societies and many other organisations run competitions looking for the best article or essay on a particular topic. Topics range widely too, from science to economics and from the arts to politics and more. Usually there are prizes awarded.

But it’s nearly the holidays and, after all the exams and essays, writing might be the last thing you want to do over the summer. So what are the pros and cons of entering a writing contest? Is it worth your time or are there more productive things you could be getting up to?

Winning a competition demonstrates written communication skills: This is an extremely common requirement on many graduate job descriptions. Winning a competition will provide you with a distinctive way of proving that you have this skill, which could help you to stand out from other candidates.

Writing competitions can be fun! Writing outside of the requirements of academic assessment can be enjoyable – it gives you the opportunity to think and communicate about things you are passionate about, and to do so in interesting ways. It can be a way to stretch yourself and see what you’re capable of.

However, writing competitions are not a shortcut to a writing career: It’s important to think about what you want to get out of a writing competition. If you’re serious about pursuing a career as a writer, writing competitions alone won’t be enough for your CV – you’ll need experience pitching to editors and a track-record of publications. But this doesn’t mean that writing competitions are worthless – far from it! Winning or being a runner-up might give you more self-confidence, and more belief in your own abilities. Honing your entry will give you more experience in writing to a brief. And competitions are often run by prestigious organisations and have well-known judges, so they might provide an opportunity for networking with people in your field. A win could help you to stand out in the competitive writing world – but don’t apply for contests instead of trying to get published.

WHERE TO FIND WRITING COMPETITIONS

You can search Twitter to find writing competitions, and you should also use it to follow individuals and organisations in your field to hear about future competitions.

There are many student essay competitions – google your discipline to find out more!

Science writing: The Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prizean annual competition which requires an 800 word article.There is £1000 prize.

The Association of British Science Writers may also have info on various competitions.

Business and Politics:  Credit Suisse sponsor Project Firefly which runs a variety of rolling competitions with different prizes.

Creative writing: Ideas Tap collects information on various creative writing competitions. See the Writers and Artists website too.

Emily Hogg

Application Adviser, Careers & Enterprise Centre

How to pitch for publication

If you’re interested in a career in writing then it is important to start creating a portfolio of your work to show prospective employers. One way to do this is to have your work published online. Whether you are interested in history, science, politics, art, or engineering, there are always websites out there which would be happy to publish your work.

But before you start sending out emails, you need to know how to ‘pitch’ – that is how to sell your idea and yourself to the employer.

Know your market: Research the readership, explore the ethos.  Cosy or controversial?  Low brow or high end? Pitching a serious exposé to a humorous website is unlikely to prove successful. Read previous articles to get a feel for the style and also to see whether anyone has already written on your chosen subject.

Have a USP: What’s your ‘unique selling point’? When dozens of people are commenting on the recent crisis in Russia/Ukraine, how is your voice going to stand out? Maybe you can look at a popular issue from a different angle. Or maybe you can write about something that no-one else is talking about.

Offer examples of your writing: Editors might want to have a look at some examples of your writing style before they commission any work from you. If you are not yet published, offer to send some samples of your university work. Again, think about who you are pitching to and send them something appropriate. If you have a blog, link to this (and if you haven’t got a blog, set one up!)

Start small: While ambition is always good, don’t just concentrate on pitching to high-profile publications such as the New Scientist. Look at other opportunities to get published that are perhaps more accessible to young writers. Websites and blogs that are aimed at students/graduates are a good place to start, such as Shout Out UK.

Read the instructions:

#1 Some editors will send you helpful house style guides – where to put hyphens, how to use inverted commas.  Study.  Apply. There’s no wiggle room.

#2 The editor wants 3, 000 words, Arial 12, double spacing.  You provide 4,0000, in single spaced Calibri 11.  Result?  Deleted or discarded.

Deliver to deadline: Or get the old heave ho. A reputation for unreliability means kissing goodbye to re-commissions.

Mind your language:  Editors will correct only minor errors – and too many of those and the party’s over. Proofread.  Prune.  Check spelling mistakes and punctuation errors, and mercilessly expunge the split infinitive. Read over your work several times and don’t rely on your computer’s spell-check.

Prepare to be rebuffed: Established writers speak nostalgically of the myriad of rejection emails garnered before they get the acceptance one.  Your own blog author cherishes a letter from Mills and Boon rubbishing her work on grounds both inexplicable and unfair.  But, hey, it’s not personal.  It’s business.  The editor knows best.  This isn’t about you, it’s about them. You think your work is the cat’s pyjamas, they beg to differ.  It’s the dog’s dinner.  So rework, recycle – then resubmit.

For more tips and advice on pitching:

http://www.ideastap.com/ideasmag/the-knowledge/five-common-mistakes-pitching-to-ideasmag

https://www.writers-online.co.uk/

You can also have a look at our guide on our website on Getting Into Journalism and Publishing.

Gill Sharp

Careers Consultant, Careers and Enterprise Centre

Love of science + writing skills = science writer

If you have a passion for science and good writing skills did you know you can use them both at work as a science writer?

What do Science Writers do?

Science writers research, write and edit scientific news and articles for various different types of publication, from magazines and journals to websites and blogs. Not only do you need a solid understanding of science theories and practices, but you will need to be able to write in a way that makes complicated information accessible to the public. You will also need all the skills that any writer does – the ability to tell a story, to capture and maintain the attention of your audience, and an excellent command of the English language.

Get Writing

So the top tip to becoming a science writer? Simple – write. Seek out any opportunity you can to write about science outside of the work you do for your degree. So you could set up your own blog, or ask to write a guest post on someone else’s blog. See if you can contribute to QMessenger, the Queen Mary student paper. Find out if there are any opportunities to write for your local paper or see if there is a charity with a particular focus on science issues that you could write for. Some large journals or newspapers may also have internships available.

Different Mediums

There are also a plethora of science writing competitions out there, so have a hunt online to see what you can find. By writing for different mediums and different audiences, you can also increase your writing skills and show a diverse range of experience to future employers. See, for example the difference between these two website:

The Guardian                                      IFL Science

In today’s labour market, you will also need to be comfortable using all forms of social media. So if you’re not on twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, create a profile today! (Not to mention these are great ways of finding out about writing opportunities).

For more information and advice on becoming a science writer see these resources:

Prospects: www.prospects.ac.uk/science_writer_job_description.htm

Association of British Science Writing: www.absw.org.uk/