You spent hours on your application – and were gutted when you never heard back. What went wrong? Lorraine Emmett, Managing Director of PR company Emmett & Smith Ltd explains what makes her hit the ‘delete’ button. Does any of this sound familiar – or is Lorraine asking too much from her young applicants?

“Returning to work after two weeks in foreign climes, tanned and relaxed, it is with some humour that I regard our ‘info@…’ inbox full of job applications from graduates and potential interns who think they want a career in PR. This is an improvement because for most of the year it’s with open-mouthed disbelief and some sadness that I review and delete so many approaches.

“We are one of the many companies that does not respond to every applicant. This is because we get dozens of emails every day and unfortunately the vast majority are very badly composed. Others are simply appalling. Obviously if we have a role and someone looks like they have potential we will make contact. Where an applicant is impressive in their correspondence, but we have no role at that time, we will send an encouraging email.

“Interestingly, on the few occasions we have provided constructive criticism to some particularly awful emails, the response from the applicant has been tantamount to an online tantrum. One girl actually phoned up to complain to my ‘boss’ about the way she had been treated. Excellent research and observations skills demonstrated by her — she hadn’t noted that I was the Managing Director, even though my surname is actually part of our company name!

“PR is about educating, influencing and persuading – both verbally and in writing. Therefore being able to construct a grammatically correct sentence with words that are spelt correctly and properly punctuated is fundamental. The easiest way to deal with this is to use Spellcheck and always get someone to check your work. You don’t want spelling errors and poor punctuation to mark you as a least suitable candidate at the first hurdle.

“In order to educate, influence and persuade we have to find the right press contacts and engage them. An email that is addressed to ‘Dear to whom it may concern’ or ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ doesn’t really demonstrate much initiative, does it? It can also appear a little rude. If you want someone to invest their time and money in training you, it’s worth finding out their name and addressing them correctly. Spelling the name of the company correctly should be a given, but so many applicants manage to get it wrong.

“To engage the media, PR companies need to present ideas in a way that stands out, provokes further thought and secures a positive response. When you apply for a job, you are asking for similar consideration – and using bizarre fonts of varying size and colours is not the way to create that impression. (In fact, this just looks like rather childish, attention-seeking behaviour!).

“However, the applicant that provided me with a critique of various case studies displayed on our website – with the caveat that it was just in their ‘inexperienced opinion’ (polite and clever) – did indeed get invited in for an interview. Their application demonstrated intelligence, self-awareness and initiative – as well as a genuine interest in my business. We still work together.

“Now, bearing in mind that Emmett & Smith is a b2b [business to business] PR company and our clients include global technology companies, academic institutions and charitable trusts, who can spot the problem with the statement: ‘I like organising parties and I have always wanted to work in Fashion PR?’ I’m afraid it’s all about knowing your audience and engaging them in a way that is appropriate and relevant.

“Finally, personal email addresses can say an awful lot about a person – what’s important to them, the way they see themselves and the way they conduct themselves. So if your email is something like ‘HotPartyPal268@…’ and you are seeking a job in corporate PR consultancy – or any professional workplace, for that matter – it may just be worth setting up a separate, less colourful address!

“It’s going to be a tough summer for many graduates and, whether or not your chosen career is PR, I sincerely wish you all the very best of luck in finding work.”

Or are Lorraine’s criticisms fair? How much time do you put into your job applications? Do you tailor your CV and covering letter for every job, or do you ever use a ‘scattergun’ approach to save time?

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