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Home > Reading Room > What students can do to be more valuable in the job market

SPJ Reading Room

What students can do to be more valuable in the job market

By Karon Reinboth Speckman

Even though the job market is showing small improvement, students can improve their employment chances by following advice from the pros.

Caesar Andrews, editor of Gannett News Service, stresses that the usual journalism fundamentals are essential, but ethical behavior and credibility are just as important.

“It’s not just about context,” Andrews said. “It’s about the process you use to gather news.”

Andrews said he thinks young journalists can offer newsrooms fresh perspectives on newspapers’ problem of connecting with young and diverse audiences.

“New hires had better get an impact on demographics — and other issues like how do you develop news coverage and a more acute sense of diversity,” Andrews said. “Come loaded with your own ideas and your own new perspective, developing story ideas as you see it.”

Steve Klein, coordinator and professor of the Electronic Journalism Program at George Mason University, suggests that because we don’t work in silos anymore, students have to be prepared to do a variety of jobs.

“The person who is an exceptional editor, the person who is an exceptional writer or photographer, or the person who has exceptional IT skills, there will always be places for them,” Klein said. “But not all of us are exceptional. One way to balance that is by being multi-talented and having a variety of capabilities.”

He suggests that getting your foot in the door is easier if you are able to do many jobs.

“It’s a buyer’s market, and you better be able to suit the needs of the employers,” Klein said.

But suiting the needs of employers can have its drawbacks. Bob Priddy, Missourinet news director and two-time chairman of the Radio Television News Directors Association board, suggests that going to a one-person shop isn’t always the best for beginning journalists because they need to learn from other journalists.

“They need a place where they can get some kind of feedback, whether it’s from another newscaster or a professional organization,” Priddy said. “They need to have that capability for professional development rather than just getting thrown into a news room in some 1,000-watt radio station in some town by themselves. And there’s nobody that can really tell them, ÔHey, you can write a story way better than this.’ Or ÔHave you thought about doing a story like this?’ Or ÔWhy aren’t you using this kind of sound in your newscasts?’ Students need to pay attention to what kind of growth opportunities there are when they take one of these jobs.”

Priddy recommends that job seekers need to tailor their resume, audition tape and letters of application to each position and include all reference contact information on the resume. And, he says demonstrating a professional attitude when interviewing is absolutely necessary.

“Don’t walk in with sandals, jeans and a T-shirt and your hair half way down your back,” he says. “Don’t go in with your nose ring, your lip ring or whatever you’ve got going on. You have to fit in with that community. They don’t have to fit in with you.”

Part of the professional behavior, Priddy said, is not asking the benefits and salary question first. Rather, the students’ No. 1 job is to show the employer that they can do the job.

“I’m not too impressed with someone who comes in and starts talking about ÔWhat am I going to get out of it?’ ” he said. “I’m more interested in what they can give me. If you’re good enough to work for me, and if you can give me what I want, then I’ll talk to you more. But first of all, you have to convince me that you’re good enough to work for me.”

Elizabeth Hansen, professor at Eastern Kentucky University and faculty adviser for The Eastern Progress, echoes Priddy’s advice that graduates need to have a mentor. But she also points out that students must have their own level of comfort with the future workplace.

“Is this a place you would be comfortable given the business practices and the ethics?” Hansen said. “There is a line there. They need to go beyond the money.”

She says that getting good enough to work for employers starts way before being a senior or a graduate. She advises her students that those who have both internships and student media experience are the ones who have choices after graduation. And, those experiences can show how dependable a student is.

“Reliability is a big factor,” Hansen said. “Is this someone I can count on? Will they do what their employer needs?”

Hansen tells about a recent graduate who got a job in sports reporting not only because his experience showed his reliability but also because of old-fashioned networking — someone knew someone who knew him. The student was offered the job before the formal interview.

“My best piece of advice is — not when you’re graduating but when you’re a freshman — get all the experience you can while in school,” Hansen said. “When graduating or a senior, it’s too late.”

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