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Advice for the entry-level job seekers

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by TheHacker, Apr 15, 2008.

  1. TheHacker

    TheHacker Member

    Recently I had to make a hire for my five-person sports staff. I hadn't had any turnover since becoming the SE and it was the first time I'd ever made a hire, so the process was an eye-opener for me and I thought I'd share a few things, mostly geared at recent or soon-to-be grads, since there seem to be so many of them on the board, especially as graduation time hits.

    My shop is an entry-level place where I've been fortunate to have an experienced staff. But the job here is covering preps and not all that much else, so most of the applicants I got were people looking for their first jobs. In no particular order, and with apologies for the length, here are some things I noticed and some pointers for the entry-level job seekers:

    Send me paper. I get a few hundred emails every week. If you email everything, it's likely to get lost in my in box. I said this once before on another thread -- I took home the stacks of resumes and went through them there -- even the ones that came in electronically. I ended up having to print those out. I know the whole world is digital now and I'm no technophobe by any stretch. Far from it, actually. But when I'm evaluating applicants I need to be able to hold paper in my hand. Maybe it's just me. While we're on the subject of paper ...

    Fancy-schmancy resume paper is a waste of money. You'd think the whole “resume paper” thing was from a bygone era, but I got several resumes submitted on “special” paper. It's unnecessary. You don't need to do anything special with your presentation unless you're applying for a page design job. Just make sure everything is clean and legible. Resume paper and packets that you had bound at Kinkos are just a little overdone, IMO. Makes it look like you're trying too hard to impress. If your writing is good enough, none of that is going to matter. And if your writing isn't so good, none of that is going to help you.

    Make damn sure your links work. One of the dangers of sending stuff electronically -- especially if you include links to your work in your email, as many applicants did -- is that you're not helping yourself if those links don't function. There were two applicants who had links in their email that I couldn't get to work. Tried them in the office, tried them at home, tried them on Firefox, tried them on IE. Nothing. Guess what? Neither of them got an interview. Word to the wise: Send paper.

    I've never read so many God-awful game stories in my life. You should all know this because it's one of those fundamental things anyone with sports journalism experience tells you, but clearly not everyone is doing it: Your clips need to show variety. If I'm reading through an applicant's stories and I get to a game story, that's fine. But then when I move on to look at the next story in your packet and it's another game story, quick as you can say "shoot me now" I've totally lost interest. I had a few applicants who sent nothing but gamers. Your game stories had better be riveting if you're going to give me more than one. Find features. Find enterprise stories. Pick a topic, an issue and localize it. Do anything that's not a story you got by going to a game, because those are the ones that set you apart and make you look like something other than a court stenographer.

    I'm not interested in your blog. Most people who go into this business can write creatively on subjects of their choosing. So I would expect you to be witty and engaging on your personal blog or other similar work. But remember you're looking for an entry-level reporting job. I need to see if you can be a reporter, and your first-person ramblings won't do that for me. I had one guy send me links to a bunch of stuff he put on Associated Content. That site and others like it are a great forum for displaying your creativity. But this guy didn't have any actual stories, just columns. You're not going to write columns about the NBA or Roger Clemens in your first job out of college, and if that's all you've got to show me, you're out of luck. Being able to expound on those topics doesn't prove you can cover a game or find an interesting enterprise story. Go to your local paper and try to get some freelance work to get yourself some real clips. But, at the same time ...

    Play up whatever Web experience you have. I'm not talking your personal blog here. I'm talking any multimedia experience you have for a media outlet. If you know HTML, if you've worked with audio and video clips, if you've managed copy on a Web site, if you've blogged for a newspaper/TV/radio Web site, hit that stuff hard. Any paper worth working for will place an increasing emphasis on Web content as time goes on, and if you have experience with that, it's a big step in the right direction. Your versatility is a tremendous asset.

    Don't call me. Another one of those things everyone tells you when you're looking for a job is to call and “follow up” with the places where you sent your resume. Please don't. We've all done this, of course. Myself included. Called even when the ad specifically said “no calls please” because you “wanted to show I can be aggressive.” I'm sure this has probably worked for someone out there, but it seems like a lost cause to me. Next time I have an opening I'll probably take the time to at least send emails to all applicants to say we got their resume and they'll hear from us if we decide to bring them in for an interview. I got calls from a bunch of people. One guy called me twice even after I told him the first time that we were still looking at resumes and would call back a few people for interviews. Seriously, when you make one of these calls, what other answer do you expect to get? Without fail, every time I answered one of those calls, I was in the middle of nine different things, and even if I hadn't been so busy – dude, I have no idea who you are. And you're not alone. There's a whole pile of resumes on my desk from people I don't know. So you calling out of the blue and saying, “Hi, this is Johnny Effin Stud and I sent you a resume,” doesn't do anything for me. If I like your writing, you'll get a call. And that brings us to ...

    Check your messages and return your calls, for the love of God. I called one guy to set up an interview and left a message for him. He was one of the original three I wanted to interview. He didn't call back. His resume went in the trash. Next person on the pile got an interview instead. About three weeks later – by which time we'd already extended an offer – the guy called to “follow up” on the resume he'd sent. Obviously, he never got my message. When you've got resumes out, you'd better make sure your voice mail is working if you give out our cell number. If you live with roommates, parents, girlfriend, whatever, make sure they know you could get a call for an interview at any time. I don't know what happened to the message I left this guy, but I'm guessing chances are good that it had something to do with a dipshit roommate.
  2. steveu

    steveu Well-Known Member

    Dipshit roommate probably didn't want to lose his meal ticket.

    Seriously, though -- all very good points. Well said. :)
  3. BigSleeper

    BigSleeper Active Member

    All great advice, but all of that may just apply to you and your situation.

    Personally, I agree with all of that advice. But someone could come on here and endorse all the things you don't like, like pointless nice resume paper and fancy pants application packet. There's a whole industry of advisers out there devoted to "helping you get the job" and think all the bells and whistles make a difference.

    Unfortunately, as jobs and our business get harder to come by, I think you're going to see a lot more of those gimmicks.
  4. EE94

    EE94 Guest

    My two cents:

    In addition to clips, give a short precis on your thinking for each piece.
    Editors can smooth over any rough writing, so clips can sometimes be misleading. (I do I know an editor didn't have to go back to you five times with suggestions)

    I'm interested in how your brain works. That's where potential lies
  5. FileNotFound

    FileNotFound Well-Known Member

    Agree on the fancy resume paper. Don't bother.

    Also agree on the variety of clips. I also include a story or a page that I DIDN'T particularly like, to explain how upon reflection I would have made it better. That always seemed to score points.

    Agree, agree, agree on the "don't call" thing. If it says "don't call," don't call.
  6. I agree with most of this, but c'mon on the resume paper.

    In no way should using nice resume paper be a negative red flag for a job. It's something that's been ingrained in me since high school - you put resumes on resume paper. It's sturdier, easier to handle, and flat-out looks more presentable. I hardly think it qualifies as a "bell" or "whistle" - it's simple professional attention to detail.

    I understand that we don't have to wear suits to work and send job applications in designer leather portfolios in this profession. But we can go too far in the other direction, too - counting resume paper as a mark against an applicant goes too far in the other direction, IMO.
  7. Moderator1

    Moderator1 Moderator Staff Member

    The "do not call" thing - listen to the man.
    I did four full-time hires in my brief tenure. All the ads said no calls please. And the calls still came. "I know it said do not call" - then why the HELL are you calling?
  8. Danny Noonan

    Danny Noonan Member

    Same here Moddy. Therefore, if you no readie the instructions, there likely be no jobbie for youie.
  9. Moderator1

    Moderator1 Moderator Staff Member

    My brother is in a position where he basically hires people full-time. He said not being able to follow instructions is a pretty big "eliminator" in his book.
  10. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    For the 13th time, I just called to say what a spectacular sports section you put out. Not my fault if the conversation suddenly veered to the job opening. If you don't want calls, don't answer the phone, dammit.

    I'm holding out for the Plain-Dealer, irregardless.
  11. Moderator1

    Moderator1 Moderator Staff Member

    Many, many were the days I wished I could NOT answer the phone.
  12. forever_town

    forever_town Active Member

    I'll add something: Fancy schmancy formatting on your resume isn't going to help you get the job.

    I care more about what's on the resume than I do about how it looks as long as there are no typos.

    And an addendum to the "no calls" thing. I was insistent with my boss when I told her future ads MUST include "no calls please." One woman whose stuff I read and had decided wasn't worth my time called and literally said, "I'm calling to schedule my job interview." Uh, no bitch. I call YOU if I want to interview YOU. Frankly, get the fuck off the phone. Ya botherin' me.
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