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Thursday, December 2, 2010
Generation J Toolbox

Polish your paper and online portfolios

By Lynn Walsh

It’s the end of yet another year, and as the holiday season begins to consume our lives and singers of the past attempt to entertain (or haunt) us with holiday music downloads, “best of” and “worst of” lists are taking over the radio, television and Internet.

From Top 40 song countdown lists to the “Best of (fill in the blank) in 2010” on VH1, everyone and everything is getting ranked, including journalists and news stories. As award season in the journalism world is in high gear, now is the time to make sure you land on the top of lists and not near the bottom.

Whether you are applying for a fellowship, a graduate program or a prestigious award, make sure you, your work and your online identity are polished and ready to be dissected under the microscope of judges and admission counselors.

Thanks to the Internet, information is more readily available now than ever before. A quick Internet search can turn up various types of information about a person in mere minutes. And because most fellowships, awards or job applications will involve more than a written component, it is important to make sure you are putting your best lead and montage forward online, on paper and in person.

Online:

● Search yourself. Don’t worry about what a co-worker would say (they most likely do it themselves). I was once told you want the first page of search results to either be links you “own” or control or nothing related to you at all.

● Update all social media profiles. Take a day and go through the steps to make your profile 100 percent complete on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Actually use the “find connections on Twitter/Facebook” tools. Get recommended on LinkedIn. These profiles, if used correctly, can serve as a longer, more-detailed resume.

● Create or increase your personal Web page. Whether it is a blog on Blogspot, a website or a Tumblr page, create it and use it. How can you apply for an online media position, fellowship or award if you don’t have a Web presence?

● Make sure what is online is what you want your professional contacts, future and past, to know about you. If a friend’s post on your Facebook page makes you uneasy, delete it! Real friends will understand.

On Paper:

● Update your resume. You do not want to be scrambling the night before an application deadline to fix the header and footer on your resume. Take a night or a Sunday afternoon and get it in order; making it a regular habit helps.

● Make sure your references are recent and make sure they are aware they are your references. Need new ones? Join professional groups and organizations to develop new relationships.

● Write a cover letter. Every cover letter should not be the same, and sometimes writing one when you really don’t need it can produce better results.

● Practice answering the usual questions. Practice makes perfect, right? So why not take time to answer typical application questions about yourself once in a while?

In Person:

● Keep updated business cards on hand at all times. You never know who you are going to run into.

● Know your elevator speech. What are your strengths? What sets you apart from other journalists? What does your job description really mean? Know the answers to these questions and be able to share with someone in plain English in about 15 seconds.

● Use new technologies to sell yourself. Consider using QR codes that link to your website, your best work, a video or contact information. Bookmark videos or pages of your best work on your smart phone (if you have one) so they can be quickly accessible. Download mobile apps that allow for you to instantly share contact information. Of course, make sure your contact information is up to date!

If you are having a hard time, bring in outside help. I’m not talking about a consultant, and it does not have to be someone in the business. Get an outside perspective; have a parent or non-journalism friend take a look. Sometimes an “outsider” can provide insight or a new perspective on how to highlight your strengths.

Updating resumes and social media profiles can be overwhelming and tedious, so try to space it out and do it regularly. Set aside time once a month or so to focus on putting your best foot forward online, in person and on paper.

Lynn Walsh is chairwoman of the SPJ Generation J Committee; she works as an investigative video journalist for Texas Watchdog in Houston. Contact her on Twitter @LWalsh or at Lynn.K.Walsh@gmail.com.

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