Ask (nicely) and you might receive!

As the owner of an agency that specialises in finding opportunities for engineers, I get sent dozens of CVs a week, and I peruse them all. The few well written ones, I either contact (if I have an opportunity for them) or file for future reference (and send them an email saying so); the ones which come across as lazy (bad cut & pastes, poor formatting, incorrect spelling) get binned without response (if you can’t be bothered to present yourself well, I can’t be bothered to respond). 

Your CV is a sales document; it’s an advert for you. So make an effort when writing it. If it looks lazy, then I have to assume that you are lazy and will be lazy on my job; I will, therefore, not even consider you. A CV is the only way you have to introduce yourself to total strangers; so, make sure it creates a good impression.

Writing your Covering Letter

A CV should always be accompanied by a covering letter (email is fine), which is less formal; introduces yourself to the recipient; and is the first step in getting them to actually read your CV. Your covering letter should:

• Make people WANT to read your CV.

• Give the reader a small insight into your character (answer the question: “who am I?”).

• Give a broad overview of your skills (answer the question: “what can I do?”).

• Catch the reader’s attention.

This is the ONLY contact that the reader has with you, so make it count! You need to stand out from the hundreds of other CVs and emails that employers get every year. Make sure that you spell things correctly (especially the names of people and gear), and present yourself properly. If you’re applying for work in a language that is not your first, get a native-speaker to check it. Use spell-check, BUT beware of autocorrect. We’ve all done it – autocorrect can often make you say things you really didn’t intend to! Once you are happy with your letter, print it out and proofread it again; it’s astonishing how many more errors you pick up on from a printed page than from a screen. Then, get your grandmother to proofread it and check your grammar and punctuation (two things which DO matter.) Everything – including formatting – should be neat, legible, and consistent.

Read it again as though you were receiving it. Would you give yourself a job? Do you think you come across well? If not, start again. Remember, the letter will most likely be the first contact an employer has with you; so you want it to create a good impression. It doesn’t matter if you’ve spent a lot of energy getting experience under your belt; if it looks like you haven’t put the same amount of effort into conveying it coherently, you won’t find much employment because you come across as lazy, and frankly, a little bit shit. You need to come across as excellent.

Writing your CV

Your CV should make you stand out from the crowd. It should be neat; legible; and well written, and a maximum of two pages long (except in special circumstances). A CV should ALWAYS be written in the first person; if you write in the third person, you are selling someone else, not yourself, which just doesn’t work. The whole idea of the covering letter and CV combination is to give the recipient an insight into who you are, what you can DO and to make them like you from the start. You need to make that all-important connection; so, speaking of “him” or “her”, instead of “I”, disconnects the reader immediately. In the same breath, try not to start every sentence with “I”, either! Find other words to start sentences with. “During my time at A Sound Company, I mixed monitors at A, B, & C Festival and looked after FOH regularly at A Venue” is much more pleasant to read than: “I did this; I did that; I did the next thing”. It’s good to show humility whilst, at the same time, presenting your skills well. Too many “I”s sounds boastful.

Your CV should have the following sections:

• Start with your name and contact details, and what you are (sound engineer, lighting engineer, stage manager etc.)

• If you fulfil more than one function, it might be worth having separate CVs.

• Follow with a personal statement that is like a mini covering letter. This should give an indication of your character, your general skills, and your ambitions.

• Next comes “Relevant Experience”, which is all sound/event experience (whether paid or not).

• “Other Experience” is any other jobs you might have done. Even a receptionist’s job leaves you with some skills, like how to answer a phone properly; a sales job leaves you with good client-facing skills; etc.

• Next list specific skills – what mixing desks you can use, what software, what gear? Do you know how to rig? Can you do electronic repairs?

• “Education and Qualifications” – start with your higher education. Unless you did something particularly spectacular in your A-Levels, and are within a year or two of having completed them, no one really cares; certainly, no one gives a damn about your GCSEs once you’ve hit age 20 (it also makes you seem very young to list them, even if they were all ‘A’s).

• List driver’s licences and other things you’re licensed for (scissor lift, fork lift, etc); but, be honest about any points.

• Two referees. Some people write “references available upon request”; I find this seriously annoying. Make it easy for the employer! Give phone numbers and/or email addresses, and make sure you’ve asked your referees if it’s okay to include them.

Hot Tip: You may have just got your degree and are very proud of it, but don’t make this your opening gambit. People want to know what you can DO, not how you learned it. It is not necessary to have any formal qualifications in this industry, you just need to be able to do the job and do it well. So make sure you are very specific about what you can DO. The degree is nice, but it doesn’t guarantee that you can DO the job.

Practicalities

• Send documents in PDF format. This ensures the format will stay the same, no matter what recipients use to open it. The formatting on Word, Pages and other documents can often be ruined she opened on different devices.

• Make sure your contact details are very easy to find.

• Personally I quite like a photo to be included on the CV (it makes people easier to remember) but it’s not strictly necessary.

Approaching Employers

Blind CV sending is often a waste of time; unless you are extremely lucky, sending unsolicited CVs to every PA company in the country won’t get you any work. Jobs are not advertised – bosses ask around amongst their crew when they’re looking for newbies, and they will always rather go with a recommendation from someone they trust, rather than sift through the 200 CVs they received that week. For the most part, CVs are only really looked at when your name has already been put forward. Bear in mind that unless you are responding to a (very rare) job ad, the people you are approaching probably don’t really have any work to give away (otherwise they’d be advertising) so you need to get their attention.

Come up with an opening sentence that will make people read the rest of your email. If you are sending out unsolicited CVs, make a bit more of an effort than “Dear Sir/Madam”; get the correct name of the person you are writing to. Also, for Pete’s sake, get their gender right too. I suffer endless letters addressed “Dear Mr de la Soul”, even though I am clearly a woman from my website – there’s a picture and everything! Employers are people too – it works to make the people whom you are approaching feel good about themselves. Compliment their website. Mention something you have read about them online – find some way to let them know you have actually done a bit of research and are approaching them individually, not in a mass email. Tell people why you specifically want to work for them.

Pay attention to detail – beware of ‘copy and paste’. I don’t know how many times I have seen gaffs like sending an email to company X, saying how much they admire and want to work with company Y. If you are copying and pasting, make absolutely sure you have changed all the names in all the places they needs changing. Then check again before hitting ‘send’.

Be likeable – a sense of humour can help. Don’t tell a joke; but, a little something to bring a smile to the lips of the recipient is helpful in creating the personal human contact that is the first step in getting a response.

Hot tip: don’t put the address into the “to” bar until you are 100% you are ready to hit send. This prevents accidental sendings.

Keep Learning

Even if you’ve just finished studying, you are really only at the beginning of your learning curve. Keep up to date and keep networking! Good places to do this are events like PLASA, where you can attend free seminars aimed at improving your skills, and network your little socks off! Manufacturer led training is also a good source of information, as are the trade mags. Joining sites like Soulsound will help you further and consolidate your knowledge and motivate you to be a better engineer. Use the internet - follow people like Sound Design Live and other reputable bloggers - just make sure you keep learning!

Persevere

As the old saying goes, “if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again”. Persistence pays off. Give people a reason to respond to you – be personable and pleasant. Everyone in the world is busy these days; we all have to be able to stay afloat in a recession. So, if you want their attention, give them something to attend to. In the same breath, there is a fine line between persistence and harassment! If you thought you got a good response from someone, but never heard from them again, a gentle reminder email is a way to make them think about you once more. Remind them of who you are: “Dear X, we had a chat via email a couple of weeks ago, and you mentioned that there might be a chance of helping you out in the warehouse for a week. I was hoping that the opportunity might still be available. I am free to jump in whenever you need me…”, etc., etc. If they still ignore you, try once more in two weeks’ time. After that, it’s probably a “no”. If you actually called someone, and had a good response over the phone, don’t expect them to remember you the next week. Follow all calls up with an immediate email: “Hi, this is X; we spoke earlier today. You said that you were interested in my Y skills. I’m attaching my CV for your records”. Then send the covering letter and CV.

In an age when it is possible to do a month’s grocery shop without looking another human being in the eye, personal contact means a lot. If you meet people face to face, look them in the eye; let them see who you are – so much trust in human interactions comes through the eyes. Show respect for their superior knowledge, and don’t show off; they really do know more than you do!

Darryn will be helping you write the "difficult bits' of your CV at PLASA Focus Leeds on the 9th May - come along and get a cracking personal statement and opening paragraph written!

Register free for PLASA here.

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