SPJ Reading Room
Could you shed some light on how to write an eye catching resume and cover letter?
Interview with Joe Grimm, recruiter for the Detroit Free Press
By Michelle Maskaly
SPJ Generation J Committee
With the changing world of journalism, especially at newspapers, what skills does a journalist need to land a job in the field today?
Getting hired is about attitude and character as well as skills, so you've got to be the whole package. As we are seeing, the skills wish list seems to be changing almost every month. The key is to maintain the bedrock attributes of accuracy, integrity, speed, stoytelling and initiative. Don't be distracted from those. They are essential. For skills, I would watch job postings all the time, even when you're not looking for a job. This will tell you about up-to-the-minute needs. Some recent ones have been recording in audio and video, video editing in Avid of Final Cut Pro, podcasting and working in more that one medium simultaneously. The clamor for tech skills has drowned out but has not eliminated the need for people with skills in Spanish and other languages, business reporting experience and story-editing skills. The ability to work within or lead teams will always be prized.
How can someone just getting out of school prove they have the experience editors want?
The only way to prove you have experience is by demonstration. Talking a good game won't get the job done. Show, don't tell. So, that means you've got to get experience on campus papers, local papers or by freelancing. If you are acquiring and want to demonstrate online skills, produce something. Work product is the most effective demonstration. Taking a class shows interest, but producing is proof.
There are books on each subject. Top three tips for each: In your resume, be technically perfect in grammar, spelling, AP style and in every other regard; write in compelling sentences; and show a rising career arc. In your cover letter, be concise, be compelling, show what you have to offer.
What suggestions do you have for journalists who have been in the profession for a few years, but want to move into management or a larger news organization?
Start now. Mentor other staff members or interns, join task forces or newsroom committees, start to create the future you envision for yuorself and your news organization — no matter its size. Those experiences will teach you and will be the examples you can bring to the table.
How does a journalist who started in one medium, lets say newspapers, move to a different medium, such as television?
Get involved in new media. Online journalism is not so much a collection of software programs as it is a converging of different media. Working in online will expose you to the little bridges to other forms of media.
What is proper etiquette for following up after a journalist has already sent their resume, cover letter and clips to a company, but has not heard anything?
An e-mail inquiry with a clear subject line. This is much better than a phone call, as it gives the recipient time to do a little research and craft a cogent reply. It is less formal than a letter, but travles faster.
It seems some media companies are asking journalists to send their clips electronically. What is the best way to do this? Or should they have their own Web site with their clips?
Ask. A Web site can be good — and it can be a great way to demonstrate new-media skills. Beware of sending huge files of a megabyte or more that usually result when files that can be sent as text documents go as image files, such as direct images of clips. It is always better to ask what is expected than to choke an e-mail in-basket with digital files that are needlessly large.
Many employers scan sites such as JournalismJobs.com to look for future employers, but those are also sites where many working journalists post their resumes. How do you handle the situation if your employer finds your resume and confronts you?
Be upfront and honest. Tell the employer what you are looking for in terms of career opportunities and challenges. Tell the employer what could happen at your present company to make those things happen. Offer to keep the employer informed if anything serious develops. You're walking a fine line here. You don't want to be punished because someone sees you as being disloyal; nor do you want to be taken for granted. Try to elevate the conversation to one between two professional peers with their eyes on the future.
Any other overall suggestions on job searching?
Don't be complacent. To at least two things every year that are resume-worthy. Take responsibility for your own training — investing your own time and money in it even if your company doesn't. Maintain your network.