Every now and then, students and aspiring journalists write to me for advice about entering the field. Here’s an email I sent to a journalism student recently, published with permission.
As a journalist with not a lot of “official” experience under my belt, how would you recommend catching employers’ attention?
It’s getting really frustrating because I’m hearing most places aren’t even looking at your cover letter or samples—they’re checking to see how long you’ve been employed by publications and tossing your resume at that. So I feel like I’m caught in this game of pong—being sent away for not having experience, but not able to gain experience because no one wants to hire me.
How do you fight against that and make yourself stand out?
This is all anecdotal of course, but you want to know what worked for me and helped me stand out? It all boiled down to this: I presented an ultra niche, super specific set of skills.
At the beginning of my job hunt, I figured it’d be best to be as general as possible. To submit samples of a wide variety of types of writing I’d done, from personal to technical to news to features. And to showcase ALL of my skills—wouldn’t they be impressed that I can code, design websites in WordPress and Drupal, master the Adobe suite, build infographics, and teach? Because that would mean a much wider variety of companies would think I was the perfect fit, right?
Not so much. I hardly ever heard back from anyone when I used that approach. I guess I came across as bland, one of a thousand “versatile” journalists.
Here’s what did work: picking a beat and sticking to it. Saying I’m Lauren, and I write about geeks. Writing only about fandom on my blog. Submitting journalism, photojournalism, and videojournalism about maid cafes, artist alley denizens, and furries. I reworked my resume to put my geek experience up front: my internship with Kotaku, my year running the Anime USA marketing team.
After that I was no longer some journalist. I was the geek journalist (or as I like to call myself, the Otaku Journalist.) I definitely still got lots of rejections, but people remembered me. This approach weeded out anyone who might be ambivalent toward my skills. They either loved me or they hated me. Plus, I knew the people that loved me knew EXACTLY what I was all about, and that if they thought I’d be a good fit, I’d be a good fit.
I think humans naturally have a need to categorize things in order to remember them, so why not take the guesswork out of it for them? I’m sure there’s one aspect of journalism that you’re either REALLY good at or REALLY passionate about—or both. Figure out what that is, rework your resume and cover letter around it, and see if people don’t find you more memorable.
Do you have a question you’d like to ask? Drop me an email or visit my Tumblr Ask box.