Q: I'm a graphic designer just out of university. I've been pitching for work and getting constantly rejected without being told why. I'm now demoralised and also incredibly frustrated, as I just don't know what I'm doing wrong. Is it okay for me to ask for some feedback?
A: As you'll know by now, there are more people like you looking than there are jobs available. Even starvation-wage, job-experience opportunities can be over-subscribed. So you may not actually be doing anything wrong. However, assuming you have the basic talent, there are certain approaches that could well improve your chances of success.
Resist the lure of the all-purpose CV and portfolio: they make life easier for you but may also disguise your individuality. Identify the specific companies you'd most like to work for and then research them very carefully, including their client lists. Approach them individually.
You know what's in it for you, all right; but what's in it for them? Present yourself and your work in a way designed to appeal to them specifically. If you admire what they do (and why else would you want to work there?), don't forget to let your enthusiasm show.
No need to gush; it's just that most companies, like most people, find thoughtful appreciation to their liking. They're much more likely to want to interview someone who admires what they already do.
It's certainly okay to ask for feedback. Some companies provide it as a matter of course, but it's very time-consuming - so don't have extravagant expectations, and make it as easy for them as you can.
When you do get feedback, interpret it carefully. It may not always tell the harsh truth: why crush young applicants' confidence still further when you've already turned them down for a job? But if your rejection message leaves the door even slightly open about future chances, be absolutely meticulous in following up. Determination, if demonstrated politely, can be a highly effective way of singling yourself out from the crowd.
Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office? is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.