We spoke to Dominic Sutherland, the managing director of NextShoot, a corporate video production company in London. We talked about CVs, networking, speculative applications and creating your own work experience. In the first installment of the series, we will focus on CVs and Covering Letters.

What do you initially look for in CVs and Covering Letters?

I heard on the BBC this week that recruiters spend an average of 7 seconds looking at a CV. That doesn’t surprise me. The first decision I make with any application is whether to discard it, based on a couple of key signifiers: bad grammar and poorly structured text, and overly elaborate presentation that puts style over substance. 

If it’s for a position we’ve advertised I would be looking to narrow down the CVs to a short-list of 3-5 favoured applicants. Of course, this is a collaborative process involving multiple team members

If the application is speculative, then I tend to look quickly at their specific degree, any work experience they may have and links to their work. With the applications that I feel fit best with NextShoot, I flag them and file them in an email folder so that when an opportunity opens up for work experience, entry level or freelance work, I can find them easily. 

The takeaway here is that first impressions are important, but also that while your services may not be needed now you want to encourage the recipient to keep your details for a future date.

What elements of a CV or Covering Letter are you drawn towards?

If a position opened up for a student or recent graduate, I would review previous CVs and Covering Letters I had been impressed with. The applicant’s email text is also important and any observations about the Covering Letter would apply to this. 

I‘m a strong advocate for getting a name to put on your Covering Letter, and using a specific email address if you can! LinkedIn may give you the information you need, but it might involve getting on the phone and doing some detective work. If you use your initiative and find the person in charge of recruitment and address them directly in an email and a Covering Letter, then that should work

A Covering Letter should be a one page, with an aesthetically pleasing layout and a font you can read!  A CV can be two pages, but when you’re starting out one page is probably enough. A potential employer will not have a lot of time to read it, so keep it tight and make each word count. If you have 7 seconds to make an impression, cut to the chase.

I react positively to applicants who have taken the time to tailor their application to us. Creating a generic template and sending out 500 emails is the spam approach. Tailoring your email text and Covering Letter for each application can be time-consuming, but more likely to result in a job. You can reference something you’ve read in the paper about them, a recent campaign or LinkedIn post. It demonstrates your initiative and suggests you understand their business.

What aspect of a recent CV impressed you or caught your eye? 

As I said before, modifying each CV is worth it. NextShoot recently advertised on LinkedIn for a Business Development Manager role where we received over 200 responses in 3 weeks. I noticed that I was particularly drawn to the CVs where the applicant had cleverly tailored their statement at the top of their CV to reflect the requirements in the advert. It’s a mirroring technique that is reassuring and persuasive.

You can apply this same logic to the content of your CV. If your most relevant experience isn’t your most recent work, you can structure your CV thematically rather than chronologically to put the most relevant content at the top. You can also reframe your experiences to respond more directly to the specific job requirements. It’s like you were always told with exams - answer the question! In this case, the question is - how closely does your own experience match our requirement?

How about a recent Covering Letter that impressed you? 

Employers hit by Covid-19 are cutting back on their internship programmes and graduate programmes, meaning graduates are seeking a smaller number of places.

For those offering any type of position an inevitable question is ‘ What did you do during the lockdown?’ What they are looking for is people who can demonstrate how they rose to the challenge. It’s a good story to tell in your Cover Letter.

I was impressed by a Covering Letter where a recent graduate described how they had set themselves a project during lockdown as they were unable to secure any work or internship. They’d taken their college showreel and looked to build on it by researching, planning and filming 10 new shots that would elevate their visual calling card. For me it showed that they were passionate about their craft, whatever the circumstances. Passion pays!

How can students or graduates with little to no professional experience describe their relevant skills?

Start with a skills audit. If the job has been advertised check what skills they are asking for. If it’s a speculative application, have a look at adverts similar companies have posted. Note which skills you already have, along with examples of when you’ve used them.

The skills may have been used in a different business sector, also known as transferable skills. You can refer to how you finished a project on time and within budget, for example. And even if you have little professional experience you can still draw attention to the relevant skills from your course work, hobbies and passion projects. Frame them by selecting examples relevant to the workplace, such as team-work, research and analysis, project planning, working under pressure, tackling unexpected and complex tasks and time management. Remember, the focus is the skills over the setting.

NextShoot is a small video agency, but we do offer year-round work placements to undergraduates. For details on this please visit the NextShoot work experience page.