How not to get a journalism job
[updated with quotes 5/5/10]
We are in the process of hiring an online staff writer here at eMedia Vitals. It's been an interesting experience, not least because of the lopsided job market. We've had applications from 30-year veterans to kids who are still in school. Today I received an application from someone who closed his email with "hang loose." The would-be journalist did not find it necessary to capitalize sentences, as if he'd composed it on his iPhone. I still looked at the cover letter and resume, which revealed a smart person with interestingly varied experience. He'd probably be fun to hang out with, but he came off as a self-absorbed child of privilege who expected something to land in his lap because it always has.
Time for a reality check.
One sentence in our job ad has attracted a lot of attention:
"We care less about your experience and more about your ability to report and write, your comfort in a digital publishing environment, and your passion."
"Passion" may not have been the best choice of words. Passion means different things to different people, but some applicants have confused it with their personal enthusiasm for receiving a regular paycheck. If you have passion for reporting and writing, then show me, don't just tell me how passionate you are. Where's your blog? Where are the pieces you've contributed to newspapers, magazines or websites while you've been in school?
We are a business trying to survive and prosper in a tough environment. So when you apply for a position, take the time to thoroughly read and understand the content produced by the publication you want to work for. That will give you lots of talking points for a cover letter (and resume) that might get you a phone interview. And for God's sake, don't apply for a writing job with an email that has questionable grammar, spelling or punctuation. Don't believe me? Here are some actual excerpts:
"I was on my school paper for numerous amount of years."
"i appreciate the time and consideration given my interest. hang loose"
"In high school, I worked as a dishwasher and made pizzas. I also worked in video stores, such as Blockbuster Video. And bookstores, such as Barnes and Noble. But, for the [name deleted] Times I was a professional writer, as in Journalist."
So, 3 points for all you aspiring young journalists looking for a job:
- If you want to be a journalist, start doing it (in a blog) without waiting for someone to give you permission by hiring you. If you're good, you'll have amply demonstrated the kind of passion that would make someone choose you over hundreds of other applicants.
- If you want to pitch yourself (or anything else) effectively, remember that your reader only cares about "what's in it for me". If I'm hiring a journalist to cover the media industry, I don't really care about your experience as a taxidermist or a 5-star chef. If you need to put that in because you don't have any other experience to point to, then see point #1 above.
- Pay attention to how you present yourself, both in writing and (if you're lucky) in person.