Your first job – or your second or third – is just that: a job. It's not "what you're going to do for the rest of your life." Don't put that pressure on yourself. Sure, do your homework and land in the best place you can. But don't wait for perfection, or you could be unemployed a long time.
You will have many jobs, maybe even many careers, in your life. The point is to get started, not to find nirvana right now.
To that end, some practical tips:
1. Choose a professional-sounding email address. Cute nicknames are fine for messaging your friends. They're not fine for dealing with potential employers.
2. Clean up your online act. What have you posted on social media sites? What comes up when someone Googles your name? There's no such thing as privacy on the Internet; prospective employers will check up on you. Beat them to it and delete all the dumb words and pictures you posted in high school or college. Many college students have lost out on interviews or jobs because of what's on the web.
3. In your cover letter, remember the inverted pyramid. A journalism job hunt requires awareness of how journalists operate fast. So in your cover letter, GET TO THE POINT! Keep it clear and simple: "I want to work for (X organization). Here's briefly what I've done, what I like about your organization, and what I can do for you."
And of course, PROOFREAD with excruciating care. Hiring editors have their pick of zillions of new grads who want to break into the media. There's no reason on earth they should consider a person who makes even one error in a letter or resume.
4. On your resume, list experience before education. Think like the editors who will read your material. All their applicants for entry-level jobs have degrees, so your degree won't stand out. Not all their applicants have full-time reporting or editing experience, as you do if you're graduating as an E/J major.
List your internship as reporter or copy editor at X publication. In the smaller material you can say that this full-time position was an internship, but also say what you did (covered stories on subjects from X to Y, laid out pages, etc.). Using internship as your subject heading conveys to many editors "made coffee and photocopies." (Most New England editors are familiar with UNH internships and should know that they involve doing real work, but why take chances on having your experience ignored?)
5. Do your reporting on the company. Never apply for a job, and especially never head for an interview, without having spent considerable time reading the publication (or cruising the website, or watching or listening to the broadcast) and developing ideas on what you'd like to do if you worked there. If the publication does not produce stories you wish you'd worked on, don't apply there. If it's a public relations job promoting a cause or product you don't believe in, how will you live with yourself?
As part of your "homework," check the journalism alumni list to see whether UNH grads work at the place you're interviewing. If it's in New England, they probably do. We can't guarantee the list is perfectly up to date, but ask us if you're looking for a particular person or place. Might as well get the scoop before you go.
6. Remember the true purpose of interviews: If a company invites you for an interview, the hiring people are looking for reasons to like you. They’re already fairly sure you can do the job, otherwise they wouldn't have called you. They're looking for more specifics on what you're good at, yes, but mostly they're trying to answer one simple question: Would they enjoy having you around every day? So don't act like a stiff! You have a personality show it. An interview is no place to pretend to be someone else or to come across like Robot Good Worker. Nobody wants to hire a bore, even a smart one.
7. Be ready to answer common questions. Recent graduates report frequently being asked questions like these by hiring editors: How would you start out covering X town? What do you see as the role of the community journalist? Why do you think so many people dislike journalists, and does that bother you? What story have you done that you're the proudest of? Tell us about a story that was hard to get, and how you did it. Tell us about a story that didn't turn out as you'd hoped, and what you would change about it now. Who is a nonfiction writer you admire, and why? What's the last book you read? What do you think the role of print journalism (or whatever form you're interviewing for) will be in the multi-media age? What can you offer us that all the other people in this pile of resumes cannot?
8. Prepare your own questions. Go to an interview prepared with story ideas and especially prepared to ask your own questions. News organizations pay reporters and editors to ask intelligent questions that's the essence of jobs in journalism. So if you can't ask good questions during your interview, you're cooked.
Your questions will come both from what's said during the interview and from your familiarity with the organization. Example: "I loved that tax project you guys did. I thought it did XYZ great things that community journalism ought to do. How often do reporters get to work on a big series like that?"
Keep in mind what you know about the state of journalism. For instance, every media organization is trying to find ways to appeal to young people. You're a young person. Ask the editors what they've tried and suggest some things you've thought of (without, of course, criticizing what you've seen them doing). If you have experience with web design, page-layout programs, multimedia, or other bells and whistles, play it up. It doesn’t take much for a young person to convince a middle-aged person that s/he has killer computer skills.
9. Send a quick thank-you note or email after the interview. Keep it enthusiastic and short. Restate the main thing you want them to remember about you (vs. other applicants), and briefly address anything that seemed to be an issue for your interviewer(s).
10. Do not despair if you don't get this job. The next one will be better – and the next one may even be at the place you just interviewed. When you know an interview went well, "We'll keep you in mind" really does mean ... they'll keep you in mind.
Links for Job Hunters
When we aren't reporting or editing, we're looking for new jobs. Here are some sites to get you started. The first links are general and are worth checking no matter what sort of job you're looking for. Later, check out the more specialized links:
- Journalism Jobs.com Just what it sounds like – affiliated with Columbia Journalism Review
- Editor and Publisher magazine Jobs in alphabetical order by category
- Poynter Institute's Career Center
- Media bistro job listings
- J-Jobs list from UC Berkeley
- Society of Professional Journalists job bank
- News Media Alliance job listings
- New England Newspaper Association
- Insert Text Here "word stuff for word people" highlights specific jobs and has many links
- American Copy Editors Society job listings
- Society for News Design
- Journalism and Women Symposium
- Sports Link Central big list of links for sports-related jobs
- Investigative Reporters and Editors
- Society of American Business Writers and Editors
- American Society of Business Publication Editors
- Inland Press Association job listings
- Chicago Headliners Club
- United Kingdom journalism jobs
- Canadian journalism jobs
- Public Relations Society of America
- PR Week job listings
Be sure to check webpages for individual media organizations – most post job openings somewhere on their site. Here are a few of the larger ones to get you started: