My biggest job interview mistake

No job

There have been a couple of times on Thought Dump where I’ve written about my experiences of job interviews. These are mostly bad experiences.

For a long time, the process went like this:

A prospective employer would see my CV, and I’d get invited to an interview. Clearly they were impressed by something they’d read, and thought I could be the person for them. After the interview, I would find out I didn’t get the job. I’d ask why, and be told I didn’t have enough experience.

Hearing this always bothered me. My CV describes my experience, so the employer would know what this is before inviting me to an interview. Why give me hope when I had no chance of being the one in the first place?

It was as if I sounded better on paper than I did in person. When you’re after writing jobs, you’d think that’d be okay. 

Sounding epic

When I went to job interviews, I always aimed to answer questions as simply as possible. I thought using plain English and avoiding employment jargon would make me stand out.

During one of my freelance jobs this year, I had an employer who gave me good job interview advice. When I told her about some upcoming interviews I had, she explained how I should prepare to answer interview questions.

She made my experience sound so epic. The language she used sometimes bordered on corporate-speak, and to me, this made my experience sound untrue.

But this made me realise my biggest interview pitfall: I was being too modest. By describing my experience in plain English, it was getting lost in translation. I was saying what employers wanted to hear, but not in the way they wanted to hear it.

Right message, wrong TOV

By answering job interview questions without any employment terminology, I missed out on several job opportunities. If prospective employers were my audience, I had the right message for them. But I used the wrong tone of voice.

What I learned from my first direct mail campaign

For direct mail post

Recently at work, I oversaw the smooth launch of my first direct mail campaign.

I didn’t write the copy for the letter that went out, but I was responsible for making sure it was going to the right people and it got sent out on time.

This was my first direct mail campaign, so mistakes were inevitable. I thought I’d talk about them here so you could learn from my slip-ups.

Sort out your addresses

For any direct mail campaign, you’ll have to do a mail merge. This involves importing names and addresses from an Excel spreadsheet onto your letter in Word.

When I first looked at my spreadsheet, I saw all the addresses had been written out in full in one column, like so:

direct mail spreadsheet example

I didn’t think much of this, until it came to transferring the information onto the letter.

As the full addresses were in one column, they camp up in one row on the letter’s address bar. To fix this, I had to break apart all the addresses over several columns in Excel. And I will be doing this in all my future campaigns.

Putting your addresses in several columns will seem like a tiring process, but this does pay off later. 

Keep a generic letter  

Before you print out your letters, make sure you save a version with a generic address bar. Something that reads like so:

Name

Job title

Address 1

Address 2

City

Postcode

Show this version to the people who will approve or suggest any changes to the copy or design.

DO NOT print copies of the letter that are going out to your audience until you have been given the go ahead. I did, only to be told I needed to make several changes to the copy.

I wasted hundreds of sheets of paper, and as these all had addresses on them they couldn’t just be thrown away. Each individual letter had to be shredded, which took up a lot of time. I won’t be doing this again.

Your first time

If you’re ever involved in a direct mail campaign, I hope you can learn from my pitfalls. If you’ve ever been part of a campaign, what mistakes did you make during your first time? Feel free to share your mishaps in the comments section below.

New power, no supervision

For not unlimted power but no supervision

As I explained in my last blog post, I started a new job recently. It involves me doing important things without much direction.

I’m the marketing assistant, and I’ve been at the company for a couple of weeks now. So far I’ve scoured, re-organised and removed 10 years’ worth of marketing-related content from the company’s computers. They did not need all of it.

I oversaw my first direct mail campaign. I didn’t write the copy for the letter that got sent out, but I did make sure it was going to the right people by updating a database of high-end decision-makers. Another part of this involved doing a mail merge, something else I was new to. I’ll talk about that more next week.

What they want

Over the next six months the company will be launching a new website, which they want me to write the copy for. They’ve got no social media presence, and they want me to create and monitor accounts and coordinate the content that will go on them.

They regularly send out eshots (email marketing) to their clients and prospective clients, which they want me to take control of.

They attend loads of industry events throughout the year, and I’ll be the one who learns what they’re allowed to take to each event and what they decide to take.

The most responsibility

In my short career history, this is by far the most responsibility I’ve been given with the least amount of mentoring and supervision. There are certain things I’ve never done before, like mail merge and writing eshots, and it looks like I’ll be teaching myself how to do them.

If that wasn’t scary enough, I’m the only person in the company who’ll be doing the things I’ll be doing. Everyone else provides the actual services for clients. As I’m the only marketing assistant, the company is depending on me to thrust their content into sales.

But I think this will be good for me. From the mail merge experience, I can tell I’m going to learn a lot here just by having to do it. Even if it’s at the company’s expense.

Being dependent on me is also flattering. It means the company saw the work I’ve done before and thought I was good and capable enough of handling the responsibilities they’ve given me.

Lots of self-learning

My new job is going to be daunting, and there will be a lot of things to self-learn. But I’ll be better off career-wise for this because by the end of it, I’ll be able to say I’ve done the things I’ve done.

Goodbye, Bournemouth. Sort of.

Photo for Quitting

I left Bournemouth because I couldn’t get a job in its creative industries. After I moved back to Southampton, I got offered a job in Bournemouth. And I accepted that offer.

I moved to Bournemouth in January 2015 as I’d gotten a job at a copywriting agency a few months earlier. I was tired of commuting on the train from Southampton every day, and it made sense to live in the town where I was going to be working for the foreseeable future.

But the future isn’t foreseeable. One week after I moved, I found out I was being let go from my job as there wasn’t enough work for me to do.

I knew Bournemouth had a reputation for being a creative and digital hub, so I thought I’d stay and try to find work in these industries. A couple of months later I got some freelance writing work that took me up to July.

This experience was a real confidence-booster and encouraged me to look for more freelance opportunities. Between August and October I had two close calls, but neither of these went anywhere.

Not enough experience

I applied for more creative jobs and got invited to lots of interviews, but I never made it past this stage. When I asked why, I always got the same answer: the other candidates were just that little bit more experienced than me.

This process repeated itself until April 2016, when I accepted luck wasn’t on my side. I decided to stop applying for creative jobs in Bournemouth, and look for work in other cities.

But a couple of weeks ago, I got a phone call explaining there was a marketing assistant job available in Bournemouth and my employment experience was particularly relevant to it. They asked me if I’d like to have an interview with the company.

I thought it’d be silly to this down, so I said yes. A few days later, I got another phone call telling me I was the only candidate being considered for the job. After going back to the company’s office to do a copywriting test, I got yet another phone call offering me the job. I said yes to the offer, but I still moved back to Southampton.

Disjointed work situation

During the 18 months I lived in Bournemouth, I didn’t make many friends and found there wasn’t much to do. Plus my disjointed work situation put me off living in the town any longer.

Some good things did happen, and I’m thankful for those experiences. But these things weren’t big enough reasons to stay. So it’s back to traveling between my home town and work town on the train, until I can afford a car.

I’ve been blogging for one year

Date for One Year

This is one of those posts where the title says it all. One year ago, I launched and published my first blog post on Thought Dump, and I’m still doing it now.

I want to talk about the achievements I’m proudest of, what Thought Dump has become over the past twelve months and where’d I’d like to take it next.

Persistence

I published my first post on Tuesday 28 July 2015, and I’ve published a post every Tuesday since then without fail. There were times I knew I’d be busy, so I prepared for this by writing several posts weeks in advance. And there were times when I knew I’d be busy, so I wrote posts and published them on the same day.

But the point is there hasn’t been a Tuesday in the past year when a post hasn’t gone up, and I’m extremely proud of that.

Like most writers, I’m happy my posts have gotten a reaction. Although views, likes and comments haven’t always been in high numbers, they’ve been there, along with a small number of subscribers.

I’m sorry to be soppy, but thank you so much to everyone who has ever checked out and subscribed to Thought Dump. I hope you’ll stick around.

The creative industries

I started Thought Dump because I wanted something that would get me writing regularly, and it has. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to write about: my thoughts on and experiences of writing.

That has evolved slightly over the last year. Now, Thought Dump is a blog about my experiences of working, and trying to find work, in the creative industries. I talk about my aspirations and my concerns here, and sometimes these reveal something about my personality. I’m fine with this.

I know there are lots of other people like me. My hope is they can relate to the stuff I’m writing about, professionally and personally.

Reviews

In January 2016 I published my first book review. I decided to do this because I like learning things through reading and writing.

I intended to review all kinds of books, but by accident I’ve mostly reviewed post-2000 non-fiction works. This is a niche that I want to stick with.

But that doesn’t mean I want to totally rule out other books or any kind of creative work. If I see or experience something and I really want to write about it, I’ll write about it.

What’s next?

With a clear understanding of what Thought Dump has become, I’ll be making some changes to the blog in the next few weeks. The first thing to change will be the tagline.

This will better summarise what my writing on here is about. My location will be another reason why this is changing. The word ‘Dorset’ is now redundant, but I’ll talk about that more next week. The ‘About’ page will change in a similar way.

The now

I’ve been writing Thought Dump for one year. It’s gotten a small following in that time and I’ve never missed a post, which I’m happy about.

My posts have mostly been about my experiences, aspirations and concerns with being a young person trying to find work in the creative industries. I also write reviews of contemporary non-fiction books, and I’m going to make some changes to the blog based on these developments.

How to deal with cynicism

Cynicism blog post

With my latest freelance projects about to finish, I’ve been applying for lots of writing jobs over the past few weeks and not having a lot of luck. It’s making me feel cynical.

I had to stop one application because my cynicism got too distracting. As I was writing my cover letter, I kept on thinking about how thousands of people will be applying for this one job, making my application unlikely to be successful. All my effort will be a waste.

I needed to stop feeling like this. I’m certain I’m not the only person who’s felt cynical when applying for their dream job, so I hope the advice in this blog post can help you as well as me.

Walk away

If your cynicism is blocking your productivity, walk away from whatever’s making you feel it. Stop what you’re doing and go do something else. This should be something that makes you happy.

Go for a walk, or a run. Get yourself a tasty beverage of some description. If there’s a song or a video game that always puts you in a good mood, load it up.

Treat yourself

Right now, you need something that’s going to change your mood fast. If there’s a book or film that you’ve wanted to buy for a while, buy it. If there’s a café or restaurant that you’ve always wanted to go to, go there.

I know this seems a bit materialistic, but it’s important for you to get out of your negative headspace. Plus, it’s not like you’ll be treating yourself all the time. 

Let it all out

Sometimes, you just need to let out all of your frustration in a healthy way. If you know someone who doesn’t mind listening to you complain, ask them if they’d be okay with hearing you out.

If they’re not available, get a pen and some paper and write down everything that’s bothering you without stopping. When you’re done, look at what you’ve written. Seeing it outside of your head can feel relieving.

Getting over it

I hope my advice can help you get over your cynicism. If you have any tips on dealing with this, feel free to share it in the comments section below.

How writers can improve your online dating profile

For Online Dating Blog post

Like a lot of people these days, I have an online dating profile. It isn’t anything special; there’s some information about the things I like, and an invitation to whoever’s reading it to send me a message.

Recently I’ve been wondering if my writing skills could improve my profile. There are several principles that make good writing, and I don’t see why these couldn’t work on dating websites.

I’ve pointed out several of these principles below. If you’d like to give your profile a refresh using them, you’re more than welcome to.

There’s no guarantee these principles will make a profile more appealing, so don’t blame me if you’re still single after reading this blog post. 

Know your audience

A message is what you say, and tone of voice is how you say it. Your target audience usually determines the latter. On dating websites, your target audience is prospective romantic partners. But what else do you know about them?

There are loads of dating websites, each with their own niches and core user groups. If you know what kind of romantic partner you want, it’s worth learning which websites they’re most likely to use and creating your profiles on these.

Write a great headline

A headline should always grab your reader’s attention and make them want to read more. There are many ways you can write a headline, including:

  • Highlighting a benefit. Show you reader how dating you will make their life better.
  • Using social proof. People like doing what other people do, especially if it benefits them. A social proof headline should bare a universal truth, like ‘We all like surprises on a first date’.
  • Using the rule of three. Odd numbers are aesthetically pleasing, and everyone likes spotting a pattern. If you’re ‘Caring, passionate and love a good conversation’, tell your readers.

Keep your profile short

When it comes to writing for the web, it’s best to stick to short paragraphs of no more than 5 lines. Most people don’t read beyond the second paragraph of any given web page, which means the most important information in your profile needs to be in the first two.

Use features and benefits

Your profile isn’t about you; it’s about your reader. They need to know how going on a date with you will improve their life. Tell them something about you and what they’ll gain from this.

Show, don’t tell

Anyone can say they’re clever, funny and like keeping fit. But you read 3 books a month, regularly tell jokes at your local open mic night and are training for a half-marathon. See what I mean?

Finish with a call to action

This is what turns your reader into a do-er. A call to action is a positive, inviting statement or question. Something like ‘If you’d like to take a walk along the hill at sunset, get in touch with me’ or ‘Why not tell me about your favourite restaurants?’

Happy dating!

If you choose to apply these principles to your online dating profile, I wish you good luck.

If you have any advice for writing great profiles, share your romantic wisdom in the comments section below.