Applications for the WPP Marketing Fellowship (WPP's leadership development programme) close in a few days, on the 7th November. That means there'll be people putting the finishing touches to their applications right now.
I wrote the tips below three years back, when I was on the Fellowship, and I think they still hold true now that I'm a wizened former Fellow (still very happily employed within the WPP group). The blog this appeared on has long since fallen victim to a dot-com buyout, so I'm reproducing it here. If you're applying, good luck.
I won't go into all the details about what's in the application form - you can see that for yourself; and anyway, that's not what most of the emails we get are about. Most of them ask, fairly enough, about what's not obvious.
Does the competition for places cause you to break out in a sweat and lose your marbles? Were you under pressure to write something fabulously interesting about your life? Are all the current Fellows former rock stars and Nobel prizewinning scientists? Are the questions really as random as they seem, or is there some sort of Da Vinci-style code that will unlock the doors of international marketing? What are the personal likes and dislikes of the people who read the forms? Coke or Pepsi? Chicken or egg? Who is Keyser Soze?
In response, here's my top form-filling tip.
There are no secret codes. No open sesame, no small print, no insider dealing. The application form is exactly as it appears, and the people that read it only have one head each, and very few of them breathe fire. As far as I can tell - and please correct me if I'm wrong - what they're looking for in the application form is an answer to each of the following two questions:
- Does this person think clearly, and write well, about communication?
- Can I stand to spend an hour in a room talking to this person?
Some of the sections of the application form are designed to answer the first question, others to answer the second. The questions may be tricky, but they're not designed to trick. They're designed to make you think, and give you the chance to show how you express that thinking, and to let your readers get a first glimpse of the smart, interesting, personable person you are. Really, that's all.
And yes, there will be lots of other applicants also trying to show that they're smart, interesting, personable people. Let them worry about themselves. Worrying about them is a distraction, and it'll only panic you.
Don't tie yourself in knots because you think you have to sound, or think, like a certain type of person. That kind of thing is hard to fake. If you pretend to be someone else, you'll inevitably come off worse, because you have so little experience of being that other person. By contrast, you have so much experience of being yourself. So give that a try. (The other person will probably be a boring marketing stereotype anyway.)
Chances are, if you get a kick out of answering the application form, you might enjoy a career in communications. If not - if you find yourself hating it, or forcing yourself to come up with answers that sound right - listen to your instincts. Don't apply for the Fellowship just because it's a big job with a big firm. Don't click the 'submit' button unless you've enjoyed the first stage. Life's too short to do jobs you know you're not cut out for.
And remember, it's just a job application. Honestly. It's not worth losing sleep over.
So relax. Take a deep breath, have a go at the form, then go out for a long walk, get some sleep, go out with your friends, or whatever. Don't think about it. Do something fun. Then come back to it with a fresh mind, and see if you'd give yourself an hour of your time.
Oh, and make sure you proof-read. Spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes look bad if you're after a job in communications. (If there are any in this post, well, that's me taking one for the team.)
Good luck. Enjoy.
# Alex Steer (04/11/2013)