Credit: Mohammad Shahhoseini

With most degree results now out, it would normally be a time for joy and celebration for students who have successfully finished their year. But covid-19 had other ideas.

For journalism graduates, there is the added pressure of entering the industry shaken by the pandemic, remote work and redundancies.

There are fewer job openings as many organisations struggle to survive financially, while most trainee and graduate schemes, work placements and internships have been cancelled. This may seem like the worst time to be graduating with a journalism degree.

Although you cannot change the situation, you can look for opportunities that will help you stand out when applying for your first journalism job. Here is how.

Hone your skills

"You have to move with [the times], nothing is static," says Olivia Crellin, BBC journalist and founder of PressPad.

Digital skills are second nature to young journalists, giving them an advantage when applying for jobs, she added.

To stay ahead of the curve, you can create a website, update your LinkedIn profile, take free online courses and learn using web analytics tools, such as Google Analytics. This may not bring you money but it will not cost you anything either.

Look out for opportunities to learn new skills, especially if you are passionate about something. Do you want to be a foreign correspondent? Start learning a new language. Are you interested in technology? Teach yourself code. Are you into social media? Use free tools like Canva to experiment with creating images and graphics to use on your social networks. All of these skills will help you stand out when applying for a new job.

Offer your services, but not for free

If you have been let down by one outlet, reach out to others and ask them if they have any opportunities - the worst they can do is not reply.

Think about what you can do for them, not the other way around. When approaching an organisation, having a bank of pitches lined up may help you get noticed and maybe even land you an internship or a position.

Talking about money is always tricky, especially when it is your first time writing for a publication, Crellin advised not to offer your services for free but possibly on spec instead if you have not written for someone before.

Having the money conversations early on is important – you do not want to undersell yourself. Make sure you know the company’s rate and word count before you agree to anything.

"It’s important to remember that everyone is experiencing covid-19 at the same time: your take is just as beneficial and insightful as anyone else’s, unless they somehow lived through the Spanish Flu," joked Crellin.

Everything in life is experience

Jessica Hubbard is the south-east regional officer for the Student Publication Association (SPA), currently studying for her NCTJ qualification, as well as completing a journalism apprenticeship, from which she has been furloughed during the pandemic.

Hubbard highlighted the importance of working towards a goal but also making it work for you.

"If financial pressures mean you can’t pursue your journalism career now, it might mean studying or writing whilst holding down a part-time job is the best option," she said.

Always think about stories, no matter where you are. Focus on your interactions with people you work with or maybe get a job that is connected to your interests, no matter how loosely.

If you want to be a film critic, for instance, try to get a job at the cinema. Or if you are a budding fashion columnist, seek out a sales assistant position in a clothing store. These might give you story ideas or connections that you can use later on.

Take a break

Remember that you do not have to jump straight from graduation into a full-time job in the industry.

Persistence is important but ultimately you have to look after yourself and those around you first, according to Hubbard, and for some, the pandemic is a blessing in disguise.

"People feel nervous like they constantly have to be on the front foot, and yes that can be good, but you need time to relax too," adds Crellin.

Most importantly, know yourself

Crellin also pointed out that due to the competitive nature of the industry, understanding who you are and what you want is key.

Young journalists will have to deal with a lot of rejections. Like with acting, you just have to be prepared for it, so take time to explore how you take rejection and what are the best ways to look after yourself and recharge.

"If I’d have known myself better at the start of my career, I would have made different decisions," says Crellin, adding that it is important to focus on what you want as you cannot have everything right away.

You may also discover you work better within smaller teams, or that you prefer research over writing. Perhaps being on camera terrifies you, so you apply for jobs in radio.

Take this summer to work out what you actually want for your career.

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