Applying Yourself to Submissions

Jun 2, 2010 by

My future is a little up in the air at the moment, work-wise. My contract’s come to an end and I’ve decided not to reapply, so I’m having fun with job applications. Until I actually move on, though, I’m still doing a lot of admin stuff, which means I’m coming into contact with a lot of job applications going the other way (including for my job, which is a slightly surreal experience). Honestly, there’s not a world of difference between submissions and applications. I’m sure a lot of editors would have easier lives if people approached them in the same way, though considering some of the CVs I’ve seen, maybe not…

1. Apply / Submit as the Recruitment / Editor requests.

You’d think this would be obvious, really. If HR ask you to fill in an application form, don’t send a CV. If the publisher ask you to submit via web form, don’t email them. Of course, it extends to the application/submission itself: if they want it in blue or black ink, don’t use pink. If they ask you to provide certain information, don’t skip it. If they want it saved as an rtf file, don’t send a pdf. Don’t spray perfume on it. Don’t include baby pictures with it. Don’t cover it in cutesy stickers. Don’t include your life story and why you desperately need this job/publication. Not unless they specifically ask for it, and to be honest, if they do? I wouldn’t apply/submit there.

2. Try and find a name to address your application / submission to.

Some places make this harder than others. Where I work currently, the names are all over the website and the job listings, so there’s no real excuse. However, one of the places I’m applying to only gives you the name of the Director, and no one else. Equally, when submitting to an agency you’ll often find the names of individual agents listed along with their specialities, so you can submit to one in particular, whereas women’s magazines tend to keep their acquiring editors’ names pretty private. You can either trawl the internet and hope the information you find isn’t out of date, or you can take a stab at the job title and start your letter “Dear Sir/Madam”*. Most people won’t mind, especially if they know information is hard to find. Only if it’s hard to find, though. If it’s easy to find – if, in fact, you could not have found out about the job/submission call without seeing the name on announcement – then your application/submission is going to look like a form letter. Nothing says “I really want this specific job/publication” like implying you’ve said it to several hundred other people at the same time.

On the same note, don’t just put the business’s address on the envelope. All you’re doing is winding up some poor person in admin who has to open your letter to try and figure out who you were aiming for. If you’ve got a name, use it, and if you haven’t the department will do. If it’s a submission, label it “Submissions department” or “Editor” or “FAO Slush Pile” or something, and if it’s an application “Recruitment” and “HR” and even “Personnel” are acceptable pretty much across the board. Please don’t just label it “Confidential”. If it’s confidential, but not addressed to anyone, who is allowed to open it? Again, think of the poor little administrator, opening several of these letters a day**. Unless you’ve broken rule 1, in which case we could do with a laugh at your expense.

3. Include references/publishing credits, but make sure they’re legitimate.

“Dave” is not a reference***. Not without a surname, not without a job title, not without his relation to you. Equally, “my PublishAmerica book” is not a publication credit. With a job, you really have to provide references, but with a submission you don’t need a credit. A bad credit does you fewer favours than no credits at all, since it suggests you aren’t treating the process professionally. There’s nothing wrong with being brand new. There is something wrong with announcing to all and sundry you don’t have the faintest idea what you’re getting in to. If you make up credits, remember that most editors have access to Google. If you claim to have won the Nebula and haven’t, they’ll know. If you claim to have won Super Shiny New Writer Award That Doesn’t Exist, they’ll know. It doesn’t make you look good.

With references, this may be your first job, but you can usually rustle up a couple of teachers, or somewhere you volunteered, or if you’re really desperate a friend of the family. Whatever you do, write on the application how you know this person, and if it’s not clear why they can offer a good, unbiased reference. Your mate Dave will not offer an unbiased reference. Not even if you decide to claim he’s not a mate but a manager. Not even if you claim he works for Google and look how relevant that is to you wanting to be an IT Assistant. They will call. They will ask for Dave. They will rumble you, and they won’t hire you.

In conclusion, don’t lie.

4. Spellcheck.

And get someone to proofread it. “Humane Resources” they are not, alas. Anyone will overlook the odd typo (unless it’s a copyediting job!), but if there’s a lot of them, or the errors are consistent (I still need spellcheck to turn gaurentee into guarantee every single time, but I know it and I don’t let the word escape unchecked) then it’s going to cast doubts on your application/submission. If you’re dyslexic or English isn’t your first language, get a friend who can spell to proofread your application/submission. Spellcheck won’t catch every mistake, and it won’t catch misused words.

We’re in the midst of a recession. Hundreds of people are applying for every job, even menial ones, even ones they’re completely unsuited for. If you were presented with two hundred forms, how would you start weeding them out? Three quarters of employers are put off by bad spelling and grammar, which is even more than those put off by CV exaggerations. If I had two hundred forms in front of me, the weeding process would be (a) didn’t follow instructions, (b) can’t write and (c) not qualified. It may not be the best order, but it’s the fastest. (a) doesn’t even require you to read the form and (b) only requires you to skim it. You can cut that two hundred down to fifty in half an hour. Anyone who’s ever worked in HR will know why that’s important.

As for writing, why on earth would anyone accept a writer who hasn’t got the most basic of basics sorted?

5. Use some common sense.

If you’re submitting to an ePub, a hardcopy submission is inconvenient for both you and them. If you’re applying to work in IT, a handwritten application probably isn’t showcasing your skills to the best of your ability.

Just a thought.

*Never just “Dear Sir”. Knowing the person addressing me thinks it’s still the 1950s does not make me look kindly on them.
** It’s never just you. I know you think it is, and you think they won’t mind one person getting it wrong, or it’ll make you stand out, but trust me, it’s not just you. And when it happens every day, several times a day, from big businesses and individuals alike, you’re all getting tarred with one big, black, sticky brush. Especially if you only put the address and not the business name. Gotta tell you how much I love getting letters intended for magistrates at the Crown Courts next door. That’s really not doing yourself any favours…
*** Name changed to protect the innocent. No, really, true story


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