Summer is a busy time of year for jobseekers. It’s also ultra-competitive as new BA and MA graduates join an expanding pool of potential applicants for available roles.
Much has (rightly) been written about what a challenging time this is to be a journalist. Yet, at the same time, digital technology has created many fantastic new ways to tell, create and distribute journalistic output. The internet has given rise to new digital players, whilst legacy publishers continue to evolve their operations and pivot towards new business models.
Making the news pay remains tricky, but from a content perspective, there has never been a better time to be a journalist. The range of media organisations – and the creative opportunities to capture and tell stories – available to us is unprecedented.
It’s a competitive landscape. So how do you stay one step ahead of the pack?
Here are 20 top tips for seasoned and new jobseekers alike.
1. Keep learning. Our sector is constantly changing. There’s always new platforms, tools and apps to get your head around. As a result, all journalists need to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset.
2. Use what’s out there. Sites like journalism.co.uk, Journalism Tools, Poynter, Google News Lab and the BBC Academy are great sources to navigate the evolving journalistic landscape. Visit them regularly to understand how major players are using new media tools and how traditional craft skills are changing. They may give you an insight into the next big thing, too.
3. Get hands-on. For the really new stuff, get hands-on and play with new software and apps. There are plenty of examples of people who have jobs because they had some exposure to these new tools at a time when these skills were being sought – and no one else had them.
Knowledge is king
4. Understand the business. Craft skills matter. Absolutely. So does story-sense, ethics and the ability to articulate your news values. But journalists also need to understand the media ecosystem they are operating in. Business models shape output. Strategic challenges shape editorial pivots and layoffs. Understand this to stay ahead of the competition.
5. Turn this knowledge into your superpower. Use your grasp of where the sector is going to shape your continued professional development (i.e. the new skills and tools you are learning), or to ‘wow’ a hiring manager with industry insights at the interview. Too few people possess these abilities. Those that do, go places.
6. Consume, read, develop your critical thinking skills. Don’t be a passive media consumer. You should also understand what you like and what you do not like and be able to articulate your views. As a hiring manager, I want to know where you get your news from, why, what you like about it, and what lessons we can learn from other outlets. It’s not what you know…. Actually it is, but networking also matters.
7. Network. Network. Network. For some people, networking is a dirty word. It shouldn’t be. If you are curious about this business, you should want to meet people doing interesting things. And you should want to keep in touch with them.
8. Be useful. Expect nothing. This is the golden rule for networking. Share useful tips, tidbits, contacts and information. Don’t do this because you want a job. Do it because it feels good to help people. You will quickly find that others will reciprocate. You really do reap what you sow.
9. Ask for informational meetings. Have you come across someone working somewhere cool, or with a job history you envy? Then reach out to them! Offer to buy them a coffee and ask if they can spare 30 minutes to tell you a bit about themselves. They may say ‘yes’.
10. Adopt of spirit of open inquiry. If you have an informational meeting, remember this is not about asking for a job. You are meeting as a genuine means to discover more about your industry and to meet stimulating people. Ask nicely and you will find people can be incredibly generous with their time. Listen. Take notes. Learn. And always say ‘thank you’ afterwards.
11. Most jobs are not advertised. The informal job network is how most roles are filled. Internships, try-outs, freelance opportunities and short-term contracts, can all turn into something more substantive. Sometimes opportunities present themselves simply because you are in the room, or because you made a good impression way back when. As a result, always be courteous. Be memorable. Help create your own luck.
12. You don’t have to be a 100 per cent fit. Few candidates fulfil the full criteria of a job description. Consider applying if you can do two-thirds. You can learn the rest. Many people – including me – value attitude and potential, just as much as existing skills. You don’t have to be the finished article when you apply, but you have to demonstrate that you can become it.
13. Always speak to the hiring manager before applying. Why don’t more people do this? Yes, it might be scary. But it can give you an invaluable inside track into which skills are really being sought, and what the role will actually be like day-to-day.
14. Use these insights to shape your application. Treat the call as an informational meeting. The insights can help tailor your pitch, or enable you to determine a role is not for you, thus saving hours of your valuable time. Do the call well, and they will remember you when your application lands on their desk. In a crowded market, gaining this little edge helps.
15. Be prepared. Anticipate what questions you might get asked and have some good answers up your sleeve. However, don’t give robotic, pre-prepared responses. Keep it natural. You’ll still need to think on your feet. The key thing I will want to know is what you can bring to the table that fits my needs. Be ready to show how you meet that job description!
16. Research the company. And your interviewers. It’s amazing how many prospective candidates don’t know the product. If you have not done your homework (read the paper, listen to the radio station, look at the website, follow them on social media etc.), then why should they hire you?
17. If you don’t get the job, learn from the experience. Ask for feedback. Evaluate your performance and reflect on how to do it better next time. A few months down the line, visit LinkedIn to see who did get the job. It is possible an employer was looking for someone with different skills and experience, so seeing who did get the position might give you a different perspective on both your performance and your suitability for that role.
Expect the unexpected
18. Be active on social media. Your social profile will be reviewed. So, ensure your content is relevant, professional and up-to-date. If you are going to be using Twitter for your job, then it is probably a good idea to have used the platform recently. The same applies for LinkedIn and Facebook. You should be active on these networks at a minimum.
19. Keep your portfolio up to date. You never know when it might get looked at. Maintenance is time-consuming, so chip away at it as you go along. Remember, you don’t have to include everything, just your best clips. Hopefully, many of your greatest hits are recent, too!
20. Expect the unexpected. Roles and opportunities can come up when you least expect them. Or they can take a different shape to what you had envisaged.
There are opportunities to conduct acts of journalism in many places – not just newsrooms. NGOs, production houses and startups can be great training grounds. One thing is for sure, it’s hard to have a long-term plan, so be flexible, open to ideas and change, and see where the world takes you!