How to fill out an application form for trainee music & media industry jobs

Black Music Canteen

I’ve been working in the music, media and film industry for over 20 years now delivering multi-platform content to youth audiences. So that’s BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 1Xtra and Kiss FM as well as some time working in the TV and film industry on ITV and Channel 4 dramas and documentaries, films and music videos.  Throughout my career I’m always being asked questions on “how I got into the media/music industry” or “how do you move up the career ladder”. From music artists its “how do I get on the playlist” or “how do I promote my record”. I get quite a few e-mail requests per week on related subjects like this so I have decided to offer you my top tips in the shape of this blog. This first entry is about filling out job applications for music and media industry jobs. It’s aimed at those starting out in their career. It assumes you’ve got some work experience but now you’re looking for an internship, traineeship or junior position at a bigger company. However, you’re finding those application forms a bit daunting – in particular that section where they ask you to write up how your skills and experience meet the job requirements! Sometimes they want a short blurb, or they may give you a few questions to answer so they can find out more about you. Regardless of how formal or informal the question seems – you’re going to have to sell yourself. Where do you even start? Before you give up – try these tips!

  1. Get to the Point(s)

You need to showcase your career history in a way that convinces an employer to give you an interview to find out more about you. In the application’s description there will be a list of skills and or competencies that the employer outlines as being essential to the job. You will need to match your responses to these skills/competencies.  Many employers use a scoring system and you are awarded points on how well you match or excel at these skills/competencies. The applications may go to their HR department for shortlisting first. This shortlist will then go to the actual department who will mark you application and shortlist for interviews. So it’s really important that you  keep your application focused to get those points!

  1. How do I start?

Some people spend a long time on an introduction taking up almost half the page! One way to get round this is to practice summarising yourself verbally in about 30 seconds. Then write a “capsule” introduction of yourself based on this. It should include your current status your overall experience, knowledge, status, and USP. You can go into more depth later. This should take up about 3 lines.

  1. Work out your Unique Selling Point

Getting into the media or music industry is extremely competitive. Employers need to know what impact you will make to their organisation that someone else can’t. You need to work out what makes you special from the competition? What is your Unique Selling Point.  If your starting out in the industry you may not think you have one! But think about your biggest achievements, your most innovative ideas, or where you contributed and it led to a significant change. Map these examples against the skills/competencies the employer has said they are looking for. Trust me you will have made impact somewhere. If your achievement was as part of a team effort – you just need to explain your role within that success and how you contributed. Did you add expertise in a technical or creative skill? Or some specialist music knowledge that was essential for a project? Make sure you demonstrate this.

  1. Be true to yourself

Sell yourself I say – but don’t oversell. They say you should “Fake it till you make it” – but I prefer “Back Your Chat”. You will flounder in that interview if your application is not based on truth. If you do manage to lie through an interview you will soon be found out if you get the job. It makes for an unpleasant working relationship. The music and media industry is small – you don’t want a bad reputation before you start. If you have not got the skills base for the job – it just means you need to get more experience, which is fine .

  1. It’s not Shakespeare

Use active language in your application it will make you sound more current, relevant and interesting. Short comprehensive sentences of 2-4 lines tops addressing each skill or competency should work.  It’s best to use clear, straightforward language, don’t try to get too elaborate – it’s not a work of fiction – to the contrary it’s a factual account of your career to date.  Proactive phrases like “I …lead, negotiate, devise, innovate, plan, motivate, organise, create, collaborate”. As opposed to “I helped”, or “I was”, “When I”, “I worked” are all nice but a bit lame.  Also look through the job description and responsibilites for Key words that showcase the strengths they are looking for. They could be words like “adaptable”, “enterprising”, “ambitious”, “co-operative”, “adaptable”, “decisive”, or “versatile”. You can use these key words particularly if a company relies on key word search as a method of shortlisting. However be careful – you don’t want your application to read like the job advert. You need to bring these words to life matching them to your unique experience and most relevant achievements.

  1. Keep it brief

It can be hard structuring your work experience examples into succinct snappy sentences. The S.E.O tip is helpful here.  Not search engine opimization but outlining your skill, then experience and then outcome. “Led a production team on a digital platform increasing audience engagement” explains the skill and experience and outcome to an extent. If you can go one step further though, intergrating quantifiable outcomes into your response it makes an even bigger impact – and may set you ahead of the competition. “Led a multi-platform team of six producers on the UK’s number 1 digital youth platform’s (ZZZ’s) “YYY” project, a season of content uniting celebrities with their biggest fans that delivered a 50% increase in audience engagement” Using stats is good. You can also use the S.T.A.R acronym. Describing the Situation, Task, Action and Result in your examples. I find it tends to yield longer responses but it is another great way of structuring your work experience. You can also use these aides to structure your responses to questions in interviews . This really helps with conquering nerves, more on that another time!

  1. Tone

Try not to get the culture of the organisation wrong. The music and media industries are regarded as “cool” industries to work in. However they are professional environments so avoid getting over familiar in your use of language. I’ve had people send CV’s and job requests to me introducing themselves with a “Yo”,  just because I worked for a youth broadcaster. I’ve also had applications using lots of slang, or detailing their unique musical family background in depth. Whilst it may demonstrate a side to your personality, history or character – it’s also just wasted an opportunity for you to sell your skills. I’m not againt being quirky or having a bit of front – but it can backfire – so tread carefully.

  1. Use your networks

If you have contacts within a company  or even know someone who used to work there get in touch to get deeper insights into the company’s strategy. It is best to build up your networks organically over time – so you can call on people during a period when a job has come up. They’ll probably be inundated with requests like your’s during a recruitment period, and you want them to prioritise you above anyone else.  Many people try and go straight to the top of the manager chain for advice – but if you are trying to get in on the bottom rung it might be an idea to contact someone who is in an entry position or doing the same job that you want to have. They will be able to give you a greater insight into what the job involves and how they got to where they are, and what they do on a day to day. They will basically bring those skills listed on the application to life for you. They will also have more time than a manager to reply to you or meet you for coffee.

  1. Dig Deep

Make sure you research the company that you want to work for. On the simplest level this means having a good knowledge of their product, service, audience, partners or clients. For the media and music industry its essential that you have a passion for what the company produces. Find out what the company mission statement (aims and values), their strategy (plan of action), objectives, priorities and challenges are. In your application you need to integrate how far you are aware of the company’s product and whom it serves into your application. If you can show experience of how you have dealt with similar strategy objectives or challenges that’s even better. Basically you should show somewhere in your application how far your skills base will contribute to the company’s needs. You can find out a lot about a company from their own websites, social media updates and trade press, but more often than not a good inside staff contact is what you need!

     10. Review

Since there is usually a word count limit on applications you do need to be economic with your words. You will always need to go back and edit. Avoid trying to edit word by word, it will take ages and you’ll end up with senseless sentences. Sometimes you just need to slash whole lines or a paragraph. A good way of editing is to think: Is there anything I can say in less words? Will this encourage them to interview me?  If you can read it to a friend and ask them to select what are the most/least impressive points that may help too. Check for language repetition, use a theasurus, and always always spell check! Hope this helps! More blog tips on media and music industry to come for trainees, artists and industry personnel!

Ruby Mulraine is the Director of Black Music Canteen a unique consultancy, content production and creative agency specialising in urban/black music. She is a a Radio Academy and Mobo awards judge and has been a Brit Awards judge. She is a board member of Diaspora promoting BAME equality in the music industry and a special advisor on the PRS for Music Foundation’s Momentum music scheme supporting new music talent.



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