This is a guest post by my friend Dave Haynes, UK Manager of Soundcloud. They’re on the lookout for great people to work with them, and it’s inspired him to write this really useful and quite inspiring post. If this whole lecturing, research and consulting thing doesn’t pan out for me, I might just apply.
We’re currently looking for interns at SoundCloud (for both our Berlin and London offices). Being an exciting new startup at the sweet spot between the music and web industry we’ve had plenty of interest. As an employer, sifting through a lot of applications and CV’s can be quite an arduous process. What really struck me was the wild variance in the standard of applications. Some stick out instantly whilst others don’t even make it past a 30 second skim read.
So I wanted to share some thoughts on what companies like SoundCloud are ‘really’ looking for nowadays and hopefully provide some useful tips on how you can improve your chances if you’re one of the thousands of people looking to make their first steps into the digital music industry.
1) Understand what you’re applying for
It’s going to really help if you have fully researched the company, signed up for an account (if it’s a web service) or checked out their music (if it’s a label). Make sure you write a good cover note explaining where you saw the position advertised, why you’re excited about the company and explain succintly why you think you have the skills to do the job advertised.
It’s important to describe very clearly what value you can bring to that company. Do you have an extensive network of potential users or fans? Are you incredibly passionate about what the company does? Do you spend a lot of time online?
Make sure you do this directly in the body of your initial email, don’t just send a short message with a cover letter and CV attached. At the best it’s going to take me 30 seconds to click on the document and load each document before I get my first impression of you. At worst I’m not going to open your documents because I’m in a hurry and have moved on to the next application.
Oh and don’t be afraid to use a little flattery. When I’m trawling through a batch of applications it’s always nice to hear some positive feedback.
2) Personalise your application
It’s extremely important that you personalise the application. If your initial email looks like it is a template that you’ve sent to five other companies then you’re unlikely to be an outstanding candidate. And you might be surprised by the number of people who forget to fill in the personalised bits. If your cover letter still contains an [insert company name here] then I’m reaching for the delete button immediately (yes it has happened!).
It’s not just the cover letter that you should tailor however. Make sure you emphasise the most relevant skills and experience in your CV depending on the nature of the role that you are applying for. The skills that a live promoter is looking for will probably be completely different to those required by a digital music service like SoundCloud for example.
And I shouldn’t even need to mention it but check and double check your spelling. Most employers can’t stand bad spelling. It won’t necessarily lose you the gig but it’s lazy and shows a lack of attention to detail.
3) Get on LinkedIn
If your CV is not online in some form then you’re limiting your opportunities. A .doc file with some bold headers and bullet points is just not going to cut it any more. At SoundCloud we barely even use Word documents in our organisation, so don’t expect to get a job off the back of one. (Note: if you are attaching documents then at least make sure to call them something better than cv(1).doc)
There are many different ways to present your resume online, but by far the best way currently is to use LinkedIn. Make sure you’ve added as much information as possible, include a photo and have at least two recommendations. If you haven’t worked before then ask a tutor or someone else who can vouch for your reliability or eagerness to learn.
4) Establish your own online presence
The only thing that trumps LinkedIn is to have a personal URL eg. http://insertyournamehere.com which provides links to your LinkedIn and any other relevant online presences or life streams that will be relevant to prospective employees. If the .com has already been taken then think about getting the .me (or similar). Sites like Godaddy and Easyspace make it very easy to search and buy your site. But if you don’t have the inclination then there are sites that you can use to achieve the same results, eg. Chi.mp or Google Profiles.
Don’t be shy, and remember, you can’t hide. I will be googling your name in any case so it’s better to direct me to the information that you want me to know about than let me stumble across some drunken photos on somebody else’s Myspace.
5) Start a blog
This is subtly different to the tip above. I don’t just want to find out who you are. I want to find out what you’re passionate about. It’s more important than ever to establish your own personal brand online. If you’re applying for a job with a live promoter then they’re probably going to want to see you blogging about your favourite bands, what gigs you’ve been to, your thoughts on last year’s festivals or your take on the price of tickets. If you’re applying for a job at SoundCloud, I want to see that you’re passionate about music, are using a SoundCloud dropbox, have embedded some music using our player and maybe you’re blogging about the future of the music industry or the latest mashups that you like. Of course, it could be anything, but you get the idea. It might take a couple hours out of each week, but this is an investment in your future, so go do it!
Again it is extremely easy nowadays to setup a blog (I would recommend using WordPress), but if you’re looking for a slightly more lightweight alternative then why not start a tumblelog (eg. Tumblr, Posterous, Soup.io) where you can quickly and simply post interesting news, videos or music you’ve discovered.
6) Tell me what music you like
Okay, so this is pretty obvious right? Well you’d be surprised at how many candidates don’t mention what music they’re into. Of course you shouldn’t over-do it. If you’re only into death-metal, it’s quite likely that your employer isn’t. Or if you rave on about how much you DJ and go clubbing then I’m going to wonder how much work you’re likely to do on a Monday morning. However, if you are a DJ or in a band, then that’s awesome and you should tell me more about it, what your SoundCloud username is and where I can see all your flyers. I even had one candidate who sent in a video showreel they’d made of themselves. I was suitably impressed.
7) Location, Location, Location!
In the UK, a lot of music industry jobs are going to be based in London. Be prepared to travel if you’re not close. If it’s just an internship or a temporary position then this shouldn’t be too much of a hardship and the company should be willing to cover expenses. If nothing else, you’ll get good experience of city life and have an opportunity to see if you’re cut out for commuting or not.
But remember if you’re not able to travel then it might be worth applying in any case. You might not get the position but more and more companies (ourselves included) are open to having staff that telecommute or work remotely. Maybe you can offer to carry out some specific tasks online such as replying to forum topics or researching potential new customers. It might not be as rewarding as being in the office but at least you will learn a little bit about how the company operates and get some experience to put on your CV for the next job that you apply for.
Remember that your location might actually be an advantage. I have had two jobs previously myself where the rest of the company has been based in another country. I was able to grow their business in the UK and take meetings with important contacts and clients in London. If you’re able to speak a foreign language then you might be able to generate new business in local markets and translate documents or even whole websites.
Now go make it happen!
Hopefully these seven tips will be of some help to you when you’re applying for your next job. But please, whatever you do, don’t just sit around waiting for the next job to come along. Perhaps the biggest piece of advice I can give is just to get out there, start hustling and make your own opportunities. Network, find your tribe and get in touch directly with companies that you’re passionate about. And if you can prove yourself before a position even becomes available then you might not even have to make that application in the first place!