your brilliant career starts here

If it's tough at the top it's even tougher at the bottom. Bill Saunders helps you get your foot in the door

In the bleak winter of 1947, the office junior at the trade magazine Gas World was not happy. Although he was geographically in Fleet Street he was still on the outside looking in. He bitterly contemplated the offices of the Daily Telegraph "a closed fortress like an Oxford College or the Inns of Court".

Less than a decade later he was famous at what many would consider the sickeningly young age of 27. He was John Osborne, author of Look Back In Anger. So fortunes do change. But Osborne's disdainful words capture the frustration of starting out in a world where some people are apparently handed everything on a plate. He broke down the fortress by channelling his rage into an iconoclastic play. To get out of your own Gas World it is better to play the system. It is not such a crooked game when you know how it works.

Your brilliant career should start with a strong CV. Everyone should know the basics of producing one, but an enormous number of people ignore the rules. When Real Life went in search of examples of poorly presented CVs it emerged that all employment consultancies keep a stack of them in rogues' galleries.

So, briefly, this is what you should do: keep details of education to a minimum, just list your qualifications, only going into detail about specialist courses and do not lie. As Bob Nelson, head of human resources at the BBC, says: "You may not be detected immediately, but you will be eventually, and it is ridiculous to start your working life based on a lie."

Work experience should be listed from present to past. Store your CV on a computer so that you can easily tweak your experience to demonstrate that it is relevant to a particular job. Software Personnel, one of the largest recruitment consultancies in information technology, keeps all of its candidates' CVs on a database, amending them every time they are sent out.

If, say, someone is experienced as both an analyst and a programmer, it will be the former experience that will be pulled out for an analyst's job and vice versa. Failing this, draw attention to what is relevant in your CV in the covering letter, which you should enclose whenever you send out your CV.

Personal details should be kept brief too. Your marital status is irrelevant unless you are a foreign national and it affects your immigration rights. Many recruitment consultants also favour leaving out your date of birth in order to combat ageism. Recruit Media, a consultancy that represents journalists and designers, never reveals either a candidate's age or gender. If youth is on your side, however, it might be worth playing on it.

Recruit Media recommends brevity in CVs. Presentation is important too; it should be an attractive document. However, it should not be overdesigned, a trap into which many of Recruit Media's candidates fall. Remember a CV is liable to be photocopied and faxed, two processes that will take the shine off any intricate detail.

Many jobs require you to fill out an application form. The BBC uses the same form to recruit all sorts of people for its various departments. Mr Nelson believes such forms are the fairest way to recruit. Not everyone necessarily has the skills, the experience or the resources to produce a CV. An application form gathers all the relevant information impartially and can easily be loaded on to a database. Soon, large corporations will load forms and then use searches to hunt out suitable candidates.

Legible handwriting is a must when filling out forms. Mr Nelson recommends that anyone who has doubts should type out the form. Alternatively the BBC, like many organisations, will issue the application form on a floppy disc to be filled out on a PC. As in the case of CVs, some people are tempted to decorate application forms. This is likely to get you noticed, but not necessarily favourably.

As to the content of the form, it is important to draw attention to relevant experience that will make you suitable for the job in question. This need not necessarily be professional experience, but you should be able to demonstrate at least some former interest in the field. Mr Nelson expects that anyone applying for a traineeship in broadcasting would have contributed to a school magazine or worked in hospital radio, so it would be foolish to omit such details. Make sure you study the advertisement carefully. Any specific requirements the advertisement states should be addressed in your reply.

It is advisable to keep your own copy of the form. It might be weeks before you are called to interview and it is important to be able to refer to precisely what you have said. Mr Nelson also recommends that candidates enclose a passport-sized photograph. This will not influence the selection process, but helps interviewers keep track of candidates in the cases of jobs that attract several applications.

Not every job in the world is advertised, of course. In any profession opportunities arise that are available only to insiders. Whether you already have your foot in the door or not, it is essential to learn the art of cultivating contacts. Julia Hobsbawn, joint managing director of the public relations firm Hobsbawn MacAuley, is a great advocate of networking. It is known as ''schmoozing'' to some, but as the co-author, with Robert Gray, of the Cosmopolitan Guide to Working in PR and Advertising, due to be published by Penguin this autumn, she is also aware that some people refer to it as "oiling up to people".

She also feels it is important to stress that networking is different from nepotism. Networking is a skill, "the art of garnering interesting people", not an accident of birth. A good memory, it would seem, is more important than a privileged background. Certainly she does not believe networking is an exclusive art. It can be done just as easily at a bus stop as in the Houses of Parliament. She does see that even today the remnants of the class system are an inhibiting factor for some people and admits that her own self-confidence was nurtured by a middle-class background. But whoever you are, the important thing is "not being afraid to talk to people".

One way of cultivating influential contacts in your chosen field is to agree to work for nothing in order to gain experience. In certain jobs even finding work experience can be difficult, so in general when seeking work experience, it is a good idea to go for smaller organisations in your chosen field. Prestigious names are more likely to be deluged with applicants. Also they tend to be well-staffed so actually have little for people on work experience to do. Many a journalism student has won the scramble for a week on a glamorous women's magazine, only to spend it tidying up the fashion cupboard. A smaller organisation is more likely to offer hands- on experience.

Urban legend has it that the best way into cinema and television production is to work as an unpaid runner. Haim Bresheeth, director of film and television studies at the London College of Printing, acknowledges there is some truth in this. Starting as a runner is, he says, a good way of learning how everything works and what everybody does. But the experience is not sufficient in itself.

The next stage is, he says, a "professional quantum leap" - a leap that can be made only with a professional qualification such as an HND. About half of all film students at the LCP have had experience of the industry. A runner with the right attitude can make some progress. That attitude he says is "total and utter dedication". Since it involves working for nothing, a runner's job is not necessarily difficult to get. But once working a runner must distinguish him or herself, in particular by showing initiative. If he or she does, then there might be a chance to start delegating for the assistant director. But he says it is unusual. Then he laughs and adds: "But, of course, the very unusual is exactly what is happening all the time."

but is there any hope for mark?

He's young, has qualifications, but has been without a proper job for six years. What should he do?

Mark Dunsdon (right) is 23, lives in Bromley, Kent, and, apart from three short-term contracts, has been unemployed for six years. He has six GCSEs, an NVQ in business administration and a diploma from a six-month IT course. He joined his local Job Club in September and recently a Job Interview Guarantee scheme. He has attended at least 50 interviews."It was such a shock when I became unemployed that my self-confidence was shattered. I suppose I've learnt to live with it now although I still feel cheated, frustrated and annoyed."

Dr Jonathan Waldsworth, Research Fellow, Centre for Economic Performance at the LSE: "Mark's story is typical of someone unemployed under the age of 24 with GCSEs. This group become unemployed a lot more often than other age groups, but for shorter periods. The increase in long-term unemployment is not really the issue for youth; it's the type of jobs, usually part-time, on offer and the fact that they are less secure that is significant. Until the labour market institutions are reformed to enable people to take part- time jobs and study at the same time, while allowing them to keep some of their benefits, then things aren't gong to get much better. The Government could help by coercing companies through subsidies into taking people like Mark on. Mark will certainly get a job, but will it be the job he wants?"

Suzanne York, Mark's Job Club Leader:

"Mark has worked very hard looking for jobs and is more than capable in terms of intelligence, commitment and personality. He will get a job but it's going to take a long time because although employers want the youngest people for the lowest of low wages, they are unwilling to take on the inexperienced; it's a vicious circle."

Lilian Bennett, chairwoman of Manpower plc, recruitment consultants:

"I deplore the fact that so many young people like Mark are unemployed, but it's not employment but employability that matters. It is up to the individual, the employer, and the education system to ensure everyone is as employable as possible, with skills relevant to today's needs. It is better for people to do temporary work than to do no work at all."

Michael Meacher, Shadow Employment Secretary: "Unfortunately Mark's story is by no means untypical. Although total unemployment has fallen over the last two years, the number of people who have been out of work for more than a year has hardly dropped at all. I wouldn't like to pretend that there is an easy answer. I would suggest going to the local TEC and further education college and looking for help in finding employers who recognise the value of an NVQ, and then to consider if a further qualification would be useful. The Labour Party promises to offer people in Mark's position a work placement with a private employer or in the voluntary sector, or a place in full-time education or on an environmental task force. In the long-run it will help them into skilled, well-paid work."

The Department for Education and Employment said it could not comment on individual cases, but minister of state Eric Forth sent the following statement:

"During the last three years youth unemployment has dropped by 31 per cent. We have an economy which creates jobs and this is represented by a youth unemployment rate which is lower than the EU average. We offer young unemployed people a wide variety of targeted help, ranging from jobsearch to vocational training. Young people are a priority group on Training for Work and last year we introduced 1-2-1 and Workwise especially for young people in recognition of their particular needs.''

Katie Sampson

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