Land a Job or Internship in Media
Anatomy of a journalism resume
Create a separate resume for journalism and media applications. This version will be formatted differently that the resume that you would send to a potential business employer or restaurant job. All resumes are different and you should tailor yours to best highlight your skills. The students and career coaches at the Piper Center can help you build the perfect resume, but to start, consider formatting it like this:
1. Name and contact information: make your name large and easy to find – after all, it’s your brand as a journalist. Be sure to include a phone number and email address. If you have professional social media accounts (such as Twitter, Facebook, or Snapchat) where you document your work, include those usernames as well.
2. Journalism/media/relevant experience: Include any experience you have that is applicable to the job (this section should change from application to application). Maybe it’s your job at the writing desk or the communications internship you had last summer. Unless it’s extremely relevant, do not include class work in this section. Yes, your work at the Mess, paid and unpaid, should go here!
3. Education: Unless you have never had experience with journalism, media, or writing, education should come after any relevant job experience. You can also list related coursework (e.g. Media and Politics, Media 160, or Film Studies). Special projects related to journalism, media or writing from your time in school might also be included in this section.
4. Other activities and awards: This is where you’ve got a little bit more freedom. If you have any miscellaneous experience that your employer might be interested in (e.g. you’re applying for a business reporting internship and you won OleCup last year), list it here. Show a little personality.
5. References: If the application asks you to list references, do so. Otherwise you can note that references are available upon request.
Writing a Cover Letter
Most applications request a cover letter, and writing different cover letters for each application can be time consuming. While the internet offers plenty of easy templates and guidelines – don’t use them. Those form letters are tired, and hiring managers will recognize them and toss your application. Your cover letter is the first part of your application that the hiring manager will read, so take care to make it stand out and free of spelling and grammar errors. NPR published a fantastic article about what they look for – and what they avoid – in student cover letters. Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re writing:
1. Never start with “I am writing …” A lot of templates will suggest sentences like “I am writing to apply for …” or “I am writing to express interest in …” It’s obvious, redundant and boring – don’t use it.
2. Tell a story. You’re a journalist, right? Instead of re-stating information from your resume, tell them what turned you on to journalism, talk about your favorite story, recount the most difficult interview you’ve ever conducted or how you tackled a challenge. A unique story helps your application stand out, and it gives the reader insight into your writing and reporting ability without describing it in a list.
3. Focus less on how the internship will benefit you, and more on how you will benefit the media organization. They know that the job/internship will be of benefit to you, but why should they pick you for the job over the dozens of other applicants? What can you bring to the company?
4. Figure out who will read the letter, and address it to them. A quick look around the company’s website might tell you who hires interns. At any cost, avoid using “to whom it may concern.” Some applications will provide a recipient, such as “Fellowship Hiring Committee.” In that case, use what is provided.
5. Keep it short. Cover letters should be one page, maximum, but you’ll score points if you can make it shorter than that.
Clips: the most important part of your application
Clips are pieces of your work that you select to show your potential employer. Your clips portfolio gives you the opportunity to show off your skills, so be sure to choose them wisely. When deciding which stories to include, keep in mind…
Number. Most applications will note how many clips they’d like to see. Don’t go over, don’t go under. Sending more stories won’t look impressive, it’ll make the reader think that you can’t follow directions. Plus, the extra stories won’t get read, anyway.
Range. Choose stories that show your range as a reporter. Each clip should serve as a unique example of something you can do. For example, if you’re required to send in four clips for a reporting job, include a profile story, a data story, a long-form piece, and a breaking news article. They don’t all have to be different styles, but be wary of sending stories that are too similar. Be sure to send in clips that are applicable to the job, too. If it’s a sports reporting position, send in sports clips, if it’s business reporting, send business clips.
Quality. This should seem obvious, but you want to send in your best work. Watch out for typos, and don’t send stories that had to be corrected later. Look for good leads and strong quotes – stories that you would read through until the end. A review of the recent PAC dinner might not make your portfolio, but your coverage of a campus protest should.
Medium. More and more, editors are looking for journalists who can produce content for a variety of platforms: in print, online, video, audio, and for social media. If it’s appropriate for the job you’re applying for, include a range of stories on different platforms as well.
Byline. The Mess encourages collaboration among reporters, and so we often have multiple reporters listed on the byline for one story. But be careful that the clips you’re sending don’t all have multiple writers on the byline. One or two is just fine, especially if it’s a good story, but you want your potential employer to be confident that it’s you producing those stories, not someone else.
Submission format. Submission processes for clips and portfolios are usually included on the application, but if they’re not, clarify with the editor how they would like to receive your clips. Sometimes they want PDF versions of your print stories (your Mess editors can provide you with those), sometimes they just want the text in word documents, and other times they want actual, physical clips from the print paper. More and more, publications are accepting online links to your work (but be sure to test the links, first!).
Not sure which clips to choose? Talk to your editor! They’re familiar with your work and have likely applied to internships before. They can walk through your work with you and help you decide on which stories to include in your portfolio.
If an internship or job offer doesn’t work for you, but you’re interested in accepting the position, let your potential employer know right away. Give them a couple other options that work and ask if they are willing to be flexible. For example, you could start two weeks later or begin working remotely. Good communication and organization on your end bodes well, and you’d be surprised by what a company will do when they have decided who they want to hire. Even if you don’t end up taking the job, showing interest and initiative will help you if you decide to apply again later.
I’m sure you’ve heard it before: “the journalism industry is dying.” Yes… and no. It’s changing, and traditional reporting, researching, and editing jobs are becoming more and more scarce. Be sure to stay on top of the opportunities available to you.
Keep an application calendar. A lot of journalism and media internships hire their summer interns in the fall, long before any Ole is thinking about summer plans. Look ahead for the coming year and note deadlines on your calendar so that you don’t miss any important due dates.
Assess your abilities. It’s very unlikely that a first-year reporter will land an internship with the Star Tribune, or that a recent graduate will get an editing job at the New York Times. Make sure you’re qualified for the positions you’re applying for so that you’ll have more success.
That being said, aim high. When you graduate from St. Olaf without a journalism degree, it’s easy to think that you’re not qualified for jobs in the field. That’s not the case. Journalists learn by doing, and that’s exactly what you’ve been working on at the Mess. Women especially have a tendency to feel under qualified. If you think you can do the job, even if you don’t meet all the requirements, apply.
Look at your favorite publications. There are lots of jobs and internships that aren’t posted on job boards. Check the websites of individual news organizations to see what’s available.
Read up on the publication before you apply. It’s really important to have background information about a media organization before you attempt to work there. Figure out what their specialties are, who owns them, who makes up the masthead. It’ll help you determine if you want to work there and it’ll help you tailor your application and interview to that organization.
Don’t forget about fellowships and job programs. A lot of organizations offer year-long fellowships or training programs that can be extremely valuable, especially in the beginning of your career. If the job hunt isn’t going very well, look into these programs. They can be a great alternative route.
For specific jobs or internships to apply to, check out the resources to the left, or talk to your editors at the Mess or the career coaches in the Piper Center.
Check these sites for job postings:
It’s entirely up to you! Graduate school is by no means necessary for success in the journalism industry, but it doesn’t hurt. Employers are looking for talent, strong writing, good sourcing and experience. More and more, they want to see multimedia skills as well. These are all things you can pick up through practice, so if J-school isn’t in the budget, don’t sweat it.
Nailing the interview
You’ve polished your resume, sent in your application, schmoozed your contacts, and got an interview – great! Here are some tips to help you stand out from the rest of the interviewees:
Read/watch/listen to what the organization is producing. Catch up on as much as possible before your interview. You want to go in with a good idea of what the newsroom is working on and think about what stories you might be interested in covering. Is there a topic area that you feel is lacking coverage? Are there reporters you want to work with? Make notes about what draws you to their reporting.
Always have questions. Sometime near the end of the interview your interviewer will ask you if you have any questions. Make sure you have some ready. Saying “no” makes you look uninterested. You can ask about the publication, the newsroom, or the position you’re applying for. Two or three thoughtful questions will help stimulate further conversation with your interviewer on topics that interest you.
Ask about the newsroom. Think about the atmosphere you want to work in. Do you like quiet? Busy? Relaxed? Upbeat? Ask your interviewer to describe what the newsroom is like on a typical day, or ask them to describe a typical day in the role you’re applying for.
Send a thank you note. You can bring a pre-written card to drop in the company mailbox on your way out, or send an email to your interviewer later in the day. It shows that you’re interested and keeps you in the front of their mind.