The perfect job application . . .

... probably doesn't exist, but here is what I like in an applicant.

The New Statesman website has been recruiting recently, and because we've been hiring people at graduate level, it has made sense to have open applications without strict entry requirements.

That has been wonderful, because we've discovered all kinds of talent we otherwise might have missed, but it has also meant that I have seen several hundred covering letters and CVs, and spotted the same few problems coming up time and time again. Here goes:

1. The endless CV

Unless you have led an extraordinarily eventful life, you do not need a five-page CV at the age of 21. I'm not really interested in your Duke of Edinburgh award, or even your GCSE grades. I'm certainly not interested in the nine places you've done work experience - pick the most relevant three, and summarise the rest in a list, if you must.

2. The sloppy typo

No, this magazine is not called the New Statesmen. If you think it is, or cannot be bothered to check, you are making it very easy to reject your application.

3. Freestyling

Kookiness is to be treated with extreme caution. Yes, your hilarious joke might well clinch you the interview . . . or the employer might not get it . . . or he/she might get it, but still think you are too clever by half. Insert LOLs with care, and probably stick to the one. 

4. Tone policing

Try to write the application in the same register as the job advert. So if the company is inviting applications in stiff, formal language, reflect that in your covering letter. If they have mentioned cat gifs or "no haters", however, you have licence to be a little more creative. 

On the question of tone, web editor Caroline Crampton adds: "I don't like applications that begin - "Miss Crampton, (if I may)" - are they writing to me from the Forsyte Saga?"

5. Missing the easy wins

On a related note, if the advert mentions a particular writer, or part of the publication, or other distinctive feature, that is a signal for you to turn it into a conversation starter in your covering letter. Our advert for a science writer said we wanted someone who had strong opinions on the existence of the Higgs Boson - most of the best applications referenced this (and some even gave us their strong opinion). If there's an opening to show a little of your personality, and make your application distinctive, seize it.

6. Suspiciously recent knowledge

When naming pieces that particularly caught their eye, applicants always seem to pick ones which have been published in the last few days. Hmm. It's almost as if they've only started to pay attention to the site since they decided to apply to work for it. This is not fooling anyone: in the words of my mother, "I didn't come up the Mersey on a bike, you know." 

7. The boring stuff

These are the bits that people really, really should know, and yet often don't. No, I am not "Mr Lewis"; I do, however, have a name that was included in the advert; use it. Do not question why our in-house blog is called the Staggers; instead, look at our Wikipedia page. Are there any specific requirements asked for in the advert? Mention them. Are any supporting statements or documents asked for? Include them.

It's also helpful to put your name clearly at the top of everything you send, in case the bits become detached. 

8. No, I do not want to "do more video".

OK, that's a lie: all websites are looking to enrich their multimedia offerings. But too often when asked to critique the site and suggest improvements, applicants reel off the same list of things they and everyone else in their journalism class has been told is The Future of Journalism. 

Do you want to stand out? Think of the generic suggestion that 50 per cent of candidates will make - "the site should have more video", "the site should have a Google Plus page" - and try to think of something more in-depth and interesting. It also helps if you back up your suggestion with data/references that suggest you know what you're talking about, e.g. "This site could be better optimised for mobile; recent research by [X] shows that [X] per cent of traffic to news sites is mobile/tablet" or "on our student paper, we found that improving our related links section at the bottom of articles noticeably lowered the bounce rate". 

The video thing really bothers me, incidentally. We're a current affairs magazine; we're not going to launch a rival to ITN. If you're going to suggest us doing more video, make it clear you understand the scale and size of our existing operation.

9. "My mum says I am the best journalist ever!"

Some applicants, particularly younger ones, like to include quotes from referees, e.g. "[X] was with us for two weeks, and was helpful, positive and fun to be around!" This is particularly egregious when the included quotes are not even that glowing, e.g. "[X] was here for three weeks and was no trouble at all".

10. Helen does not like this.

Writing your CV in the third person is weird. I'm sorry.

Anyway, that's enough of me being grumpy. If you have any other questions, tweet me @helenlewis

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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