The following five tips may sound like the same old common-sense advice that has been offered for years to students who want to land their first job in a newsroom. But, having screened many applications for jobs and internships, coached many students before job interviews, and talked to many employers after interviews, I know that just because these steps are obvious, doesn’t mean they are always followed. Often, they are forgotten. Too often, in fact. This week, as many as 45 students applied for an unpaid internship at CBC. It’s hard to stand out in a crowd like that. Gone are the days when anyone could expect to land a job, or even an unpaid internship, just because they were smart, talented and qualified. After all, when the job market is this tight, many of the other applicants will also be smart, talented and qualified. So, when people are looking to choose one person from a crowd of good applicants, they start by looking for reasons to move some names from the “maybe” list to the “no” list.
Here are a few things to do if you want to avoid getting moved from the “maybe” list to the “no” list too soon.
1. Proofread your cover letter and your resume to ensure they are free of all spelling and grammatical errors.
Don’t trust yourself to do this. Once you have worked on something for a long time, your eyes will only see what they expect to see. They won’t notice there’s a letter or apostrophe missing. When you are completely finished, ask someone with a sharp eye to review it. Even small typos send the wrong signal to any editor.
2. Research the job and make sure your letter outlines what you would bring to that job.
You may have a resume you send to every job for which you apply, but be sure the cover letter you send with it is not just a generic cover letter. Show that you understand the nature of the job for which you are applying, and provide some evidence of your qualifications for that specific job. The skills required for a job copy editing at a newspaper are quite different than those required as an associate producer for a radio morning show. In this job market, especially, it is less important for you to explain why you want the job, than it is for you to explain why they should want you for that job.
3. Study the product – the newspaper, magazine, radio or television newscast where you want to work.
The internet makes it so easy to review past issues of any newspaper, watch most TV newscasts, or listen to podcasts of old radio shows or items. There is simply no excuse for failing to do it. If you are applying for a broadcast job or internship in Saskatoon, for example, it is not enough to research issues in Saskatoon. It is essential for you to watch or listen to the broadcasts from that station. Study them, so you can discuss the product and even provide some constructive criticism or analysis, if asked. Do it, too, so if and when you are asked in a job interview, you won’t be embarrassed and humiliated by having to admit you didn’t read, watch or listen. That will throw you for the rest of the interview.
4. Be a consumer of news.
It’s not enough to read the newspaper the morning of your job interview, or watch the newscast the night before. If you want to work in a newsroom, news should be a part of your life every day. Employers these days are fond of asking questions to test whether you know what’s in the news — not just this week — but last year and even what’s coming up next month.
5. Be prepared to show you are a self-starter.
When employers consider j-school grads, they know the applicants have some basic writing, editing, online and broadcast production skills. What they want to know beyond that is whether the candidate is a self starter. The question we are asked most often when we are asked for references is whether the candidate can work without a lot of direction, anticipate demands, jump in and do what needs to be done, or whether they need and expect a lot of guidance. Competent employees are easy to find, especially in a tight job market. Outstanding employees are those that show a lot of initiative, who find ways to contribute and be productive without being asked. In workplaces where there are too few employees, that’s never been more true.
This list is just a starting point. Feel free to add your suggestions to the list.