Journalism is a competitive field, we all know that. In 2018, the NCTJ estimated that there are 73,000 journalists working in the UK. As more talented journalists graduate from university and vie for their first big break, many wonder how they can stand out amidst the competition.
Journalism.co.uk spoke to three media professionals on how to gain an edge in your first job applications.
Show off your personality
Daniell Morrisey is the senior editorial early careers scheme manager for BBC. Suffice to say, he sees a lot of applications. Applicants who have wowed him have all demonstrated a passion for storytelling. But think of it from the other side of the desk, your prospective employer is also investing in an individual. They want to see your personality come through as well.
"Often, people think they need to act a certain way for the BBC," he says. "But actually we’re looking for you as a person."
You need to be proactive in gaining experience besides your placements. Start up a podcast, a YouTube channel or take on some freelance writing. Anything to show off your desire and skill.
Similarly, David Spencer, a media mentor, lecturer in journalism at University of Westminster and head of news at Wireless Group, says applicants must demonstrate experience outside of their course.
“Don’t be afraid to use personal references and examples in your applications. It is important to show demonstrable skills," he advises.
Come prepared for the interview
People who stand out have done the hard work before they enter the interview room. They understand the company infrastructure, the role, and what is expected of them.
Come with questions in mind. Spencer revealed that the most "deflating" scenario for an interviewer is to not be asked questions as it suggests disinterest.
Instead, hone your journalistic qualities. Take a notebook into the interview and write down key points. Ask insightful questions. From this, you are asserting your presence and confidence. This will impress the interviewer, show initiative and insight.
Stuck for ideas? Morrisey offered these go-to interview questions:
• What is their editorial focus?
• Who is their audience or demographic?
• Who are the key writers or correspondents?
• What stories do their audience like?
He also said you can expect them to ask what you like about the company, and what you might change. But make sure to research popular generic interview questions and have an answer up your sleeve for every one.
Get rid of the buzzwords
There are some terms and phrases which have become cliches. Avoid generic words like 'personable', 'enthusiastic', 'driven', 'confident' and other such buzzwords. The bottom line is: actions speak louder than words. Show, do not tell.
Nobody doubts your enthusiasm, but show through your experience and achievements where you have gone those extra miles. If you are confident, give examples of your leadership or decision-making.
Freelancing counts as experience
There is a catch 22 of needing experience in order to get experience, and this can be frustrating for inexperienced journalists. One way to break the cycle is to take on freelance work. Answer calls for story pitches, or get in touch with commissioning editors of titles and publications you want to work for.
Doing so can be beneficial in a number of ways, according to Spencer, as this can make you familiar with a variety of content and management styles. It also means you are not fixed in any single way of working.
A tip for some graduates and students on emailing people in the media. If you have an address with numbers (either university coded or related to birth dates) then there is a risk your email will go into spam. Therefore try and follow up if you hear nothing #mediajobs #journojobs— The Media Mentor (@themediamentor) February 25, 2021
Take advantage of social media
Julian Dismore is an award-winning documentary maker, who became a mentor and trainer in 2005 for the TV industry.
LinkedIn should be journalism student's bread and butter for networking, he says. But there are lots of communities for journalists online, so keep your options open and make use of these to expand your contact list.
Try to get tips from people working at the company's you would like to work for. This can make all the difference to get an insider's advice. It can ultimately make your application cover all the crucial bases and make sure you always come up with all the right answers.
"The more 360 you are, the more impressive you will be," Dismore concludes.
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