TOBY ALINGTON: How to get a job, or not!

I was recently chatting with a colleague who works for one of the UK’s biggest production companies, and we discussed our amazement at the generally poor-quality of applications for vacancies.

By way of example, my company advertised a vacancy last year for a production assistant. The advertisement clearly defined the position and responsibilities, and asked applicants to send their CV, a covering letter and a recent photograph. Once you’ve completed ten initial interviews, the latter is a very useful aide-memoire if your memory is anything like mine.

We received approximately 350 applications from advertising on Mandy and Production Base. However, surprisingly nearly half of the applications did not include the three requested items of CV, letter and photo, so to expedite things we discarded those who hadn’t followed the instructions.

That may seem harsh, but let’s imagine I was to ask that production assistant to despatch the HDCam, DVD and hard-drive I’d left on their desk, and then I came in the following day to find the DVD was still sitting there. Two out of three aint good enough.

We were now down to about 150 applications. Still a long way to go, and as the RSP team know well I’m a stickler for good grammar and spelling. So if a covering letter contained any typos or grammatical errors, they immediately went in the discarded pile. I don’t want our clients or suppliers to receive badly written emails or letters, and therefore if a covering letter or CV isn’t correctly written on their job application it’s a bit of a concern. Based on this, we were down to around 100 applications. Yes, there were fifty covering letters and CV’s which had glaring errors in them.

Now we could start looking at the content of these 100 remaining applications. Bearing in mind how scarce jobs are in this industry, I expect applicants to have done a little research into our company, and to explain why they want to apply for the job in their covering letter. Many of the covering letters were generic and could have equally been suitable for an application to Tesco, so they didn’t get any further. Others were clearly music and production industry focussed, but didn’t mention a thing about the specific vacancy at RSP, therefore they were also discarded. This process got us down to around fifty out of the original 350, or in other words only one-in-seven applicants had written a nice letter, supplied what we had asked for, done a little bit of research, and presented themselves well in writing.

One of the no-go approaches for me is the “foot in the door” argument. Although I hope the job will be a stepping stone for someone, I need the person to actually want to do this job, as opposed to wanting to do some other job as quickly as they can progress. So the aspirant producers, directors, cameramen, sound engineers, musicians, writers, researchers should really keep that quiet when they apply. We all have aspirations to doing greater things, but when you apply for a job you need to apply for the job advertised, not suggest that you’re going to use the company’s network to try and get somewhere else.

Very few of the applicants actually expressed a desire to engage with the role and do it to their utmost ability with enthusiasm and flare, which is also surprising when you hear how scarce jobs are supposed to be at the moment. So if the application didn’t imply they actually wanted to do this job with a modicum of passion, they were out of the running.

Applying for a production assistant role when your current raison d’être is clearly photography, directing movies, wanting to be a sound engineer, screenplay writing and so on isn’t really what an employer is looking for. Sure, it’s lovely when candidates are interested in the industry – maybe they’ve worked on a few short films or recorded a live gig for a mate, and maybe they have had a diverse media background or want to explore the world of audio-visual production – but when this comes over as their driving force it is hard to believe they will want to tackle the job in hand with the same gusto.

A number of applicants had these altruisms at their heart but I needed someone who would knuckle down to the daily tasks detailed in the job description, so they also fell by the wayside.

Finally, through all these processes, I was down to about 25 applications; all good, focussed, researched, enthusiastic, and I could analyse their skills, prospects and character. A shortlist of ten interviews was drawn up, and of these there were three with different facets who could all have clearly done the job well.

After a second interview with two of them, the winner was clear and thankfully she accepted the job. She’s brilliant, and clearly one in 350. One in a million, more like.

So when you’re next applying for a position, think about the potential employers’ perceptions of your initial approach. There is a really high demand for jobs in this industry, but it’s not quite as pot-luck as it may sometimes seem. Follow the application instructions, do your research, work harder on the job application than you’ve worked on anything recently, put yourself in the employer’s mind-set, and only apply for jobs you believe yourself to be enthusiastic about.

It’s a wonderful industry, and if you really want to be part of it you have a lot of competition running alongside you. You need a perfect approach, coupled with a little bit of luck, to be noticed.

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