Job hunting is a tough experience if you are getting a lot of rejections or, even worse, not hearing back at all. It is true that chasing those first few jobs in journalism can be frustrating but you simply have to keep your head up while you knuckle down.
So, to get you on the right path, we asked ten newsroom editors and recruiters for their advice.
Nail the CV and cover letter
First things first, you need a stellar CV to sell yourself. Keep it neat, punchy and logical. Think of it as a story that tells your work history and education. Typos will get your CV binned.
Take a look at our full CV and cover letter guide. Make sure it is easy to scan for information, but do not neglect to include your stand-out hobbies. The cover letter should show that you understand the type of work and projects the company is involved in and how your skills lend themselves to it.
There are long-standing disputes over how long a CV should be. It does not really matter whether you opt for one or two pages, so long as all the essential information is on the first page. You might not be given much longer than that.
Consider: submitting a video CV. Gauge this carefully, a video recording of you could help you stand out from the pack or it could backfire. It depends on the type of organisation and your level of confidence.
Hone your skills
Pro tip: Provide examples of your work because employers will want to see evidence of solid grammar and creative spark. If you can, tailor your selection of stories to the publication.
In the UK, many editors will still expect to see an NCTJ or BJTC qualification - but not always. If you do not have one, that is where a strong portfolio will support your application.
In most areas of news writing, you will be expected to file a copy with speed and accuracy. For that reason, you might be asked to complete a spelling and grammar test as part of the application. This is a good chance to show you understand the publication's house style and flavour of writing.
One chance to make a first impression
If you get to the interview stage, you need to demonstrate good people skills and curiosity about the organisation. Show up early and if something unforeseen comes up, call beforehand.
"Be keen, it is genuinely one of the best ways to get a job," explained Rupert Collins-White, creative director, Burlington Media.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Pro insight: Collaborative and communicative skills are desirable in the industry. As newsrooms think more about their digital strategy, they will look to hire reporters who can work across different teams and departments. Transferable experience is perfectly valid here.
"I would look for someone who has taken the initiative to bring people together," says Robin Kwong the new formats editor of The Wall Street Journal, a senior position which involves working across editorial, product and data teams.
"And someone who is able to summarise a project very succinctly: what is it? Why did you do it? What was the purpose? What were the goals or expected outcomes? The clear communication and clarity of thought involved in that."
Pro tip: Have anecdotes of teamwork, leadership or mediation to hand - particularly those in challenging or high-pressured situations. Multimedia projects often prove to be useful examples.
"This industry is about connections and contacts. Those who succeed, and those who are remembered, are those who collaborate and work well within a team," says Daniel McLaughlin, podcast editor at Reach plc's Laudable project, currently producing podcasts with the Manchester Evening News and the Liverpool Echo.
Draw on all of your experiences
Do not sell your work experience short. Go into detail about all the stories, headlines and interviews you secured during your time.
Pro tip: Print out your best pieces and bring them to an interview inside a physical portfolio.
"This has always surprised and impressed prospective employers. It shows you are prepared and gives them something first-hand to look at while they talk to you, rather than just run off an often-stilted list of questions," said Dominic Sacco, editor of Esports News.
Networking for the win
Personality and attitude go a long way. Employers want to see someone that will be a good fit within the team and align with the organisation's values. Make sure you understand this ahead of time.
Pro tip: Network with people who work at the company to get an inside perspective. Use platforms to your advantage, advises Chandni Sembhi, senior producer at Pink News and creator of the So You Want To Be A Journalist Instagram advice page.
"Connections can come from anywhere, and people are usually willing to lend a helping hand in this industry, especially fellow young journalists who know how hard it is to get a foot in the door," she says.
Twitter and Instagram can be a more informal way to reach people. LinkedIn is a powerful networking tool but people will expect a more professional tone. She recommends being polite, not just jumping in with requests, and if you need a favour, make sure it is within their power. Also, remember people are busy and may take a few days to get back to you.
Research the organisation and the market
Make sure you are clued up about the organisation and have valid arguments on how they can improve their output across their various outlets, including social media.
"Come armed with examples of what you have achieved and story ideas you think would be worth pursuing," says Mark Carter, assistant managing editor, BBC Sussex.
Independent media development consultant Corinne Podger agreed, adding that a lot of university students still do not have a clear understanding of the outlets they want to work for.
Pro tip: "It's essential to read the whole paper, listen to the station, watch the show on television, listen to the podcast, and review all the social platforms so you have a really rounded picture of an outlet and a full range of editorial verticals and platforms at occupiers."
Pay attention, and think about your answers
Listen carefully to interviewer questions, recommends Journalism.co.uk's managing director John Thompson. It is obvious when interviewees are grasping at straws.
Pro tip: Ask the interviewer to clarify their question if you are not sure what they have just said. Compose yourself by taking a drink. Keep your answers condense and precise.
Make it a two-way conversation
Journalists should be inquisitive by nature. Do not let the opportunity slip to demonstrate that in an interview. Not asking questions could be considered a red flag.
"[An interview] gives a strong indication of how that person will perform in the role. Demonstrate enthusiasm, confidence and a friendly personality," says Denise Eaton, senior clinical editor, Nursing Times.
Questions should focus on the short and long-term future. Ask what it is like to work for the company, the deliverables you will need to meet, the management style or system, or what you will need to do to pass the probation period.
Pro tip: Take this chance to pitch any story ideas you have if it has not yet come up in conversation. In the case of BBC News senior video editor Dougal Shaw, he was not asked throughout his job interview to provide story ideas. But he took his chance during the interview - and his idea is now a successful, long-running video series for the broadcaster. Thinking about ongoing series shows long-term strategy and commitment.
Go beyond the job description
Pro insight: Innovation is an increasingly desirable skill within newsrooms - be that a piece of software, a platform or a gadget - even if it is not necessarily part of the job description. It shows potential to grow beyond the role.
"Become 'the podcast guy' or 'the video guy' or 'the TikTok guy'. That person others can go to for advice; it cements your importance in the newsroom," says Reach plc's McLaughlin.
Come armed with solutions
The stand-out candidates are always those who identify problems and provide solutions. But journalists also need to make sure the execution of these ideas is not missing, says independent consultant and advisor Dmitry Shishkin, a former BBC World Service veteran.
Pro tip: Find out what research grants and fellowships could fund your story or project ideas.
Head over to the Journalism.co.uk jobs board for the latest journalism opportunities, so you can try these tips and tricks out for yourself.
This article was originally published on 6 September 2018 and has been updated with new advice and sources on 8 December 2022
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