Notes for jobseeking journalists

Last week I participated in a panel discussion at my alma mater, City University’s School of Journalism, with the periodicals MA students. The theme of the session was, broadly, how to get a job.

I wanted to jot down some links and some thoughts about some of the topics that came up.

The T-Bar cover letter
It turns out there’s less information online about this than I’d assumed. The basic point is to put down one or two sentences explaining who you are at the top (imagine this running above the horizontal bar of your large ‘T’ that’s filling most of the page). Then down the left-hand column, list the job specs (to the left of the vertical bar of our ‘T’) and on the right, aligned with each item, say how you meet it. There’s a PDF example here.

For an easy way to build your portfolio, there’s About Me, and Flavors — two free services that do roughly the same thing, which is quickly let you stitch together LinkedIn, Twitter and so on along with links to your work. This site is built in Wordpress which is another option if you want to have a bit more control. The other one mentioned was Behance, which I haven’t used.

My Flavors page and my page.

Personally, I prefer to select a typeface that’s easy on the eye and is a bit, well, nicer than the Times New Roman or Arial that’s the Word default. Something like Gill Sans, or Garamond. I like Caslon, myself, but it’s unlikely to be installed on the computer you’re using. If you don’t have any strong feelings about typography, either of those or even TNS or Arial will be fine. No-one’s going to chuck your CV because it’s written in the wrong font. Unless you’ve chosen a script font. Don’t do that.

A primer on why you should always send things as PDFs. Basically, it’ll look the same on anyone’s computer, can be read easily on a phone or tablet (and, again, will look as you intend), and is fairly small for a text-heavy document. The idea that you should send CV and cover letter as a single PDF is a good one.

The BBC updated its social media guidance for its journalists back in March this year (PDF link). It’s a good set of ideas for any journalist, especially job-hunting ones. The first line is, essentially: “Don’t do anything stupid”, which is good advice for anyone on Twitter. For good measure, here are the BBC’s editorial guidelines which are worth at least skimming if you’re applying for a BBC job. If you really want, you can make your Twitter account private while you’re job-seeking, but since the behaviour that might raise the eyebrows of people looking for candidates is the same behaviour that’ll raise the eyebrows of your boss later on, it’s probably better to just moderate what you say and do on social media. You don’t need to become an automaton, but don’t post about spending your schoolnights drinking into the mornings. Me on Twitter.

Is really irritating, but it does help when you’re job-seeking. Duplicate what’s on your CV and make sure both your LinkedIn profile and your CV match. Use one as the ‘master’ and update it first, then remember to update the other one with the same details. You can make your LinkedIn profile longer than the single page we spoke about in the session. Me on LinkedIn.

The sift
We mentioned that if a job gets lots of applicants, HR will ‘sift’ the applicants first. That might get rid of two thirds or more, and they’ll match you against the job specs. That’s where the T-Bar comes in handy. Typos may well not get you chucked at this stage — editors are more likely to be sensitive to typos than HR people. Either way, don’t assume your application will or won’t be sifted.

An article from the Harvard Business Review last year that looks into why women in particular are less likely to negotiate a salary. If you think you have some leverage (I’m not talking blackmail — but if you think you are worth more than the initial offer) you should negotiate. Remember that if a company offers you a job, you are their chosen candidate and they want you to do the job. Not only that but if you don’t take the job they have to reopen the position, do more interviews and so on. The tables aren’t turned, exactly, but you are in a good position at that point. Leverage might be what your friends are being paid in similar jobs, or what other people in the company are being paid, or that you exceed the requirements in some way that’s particularly useful to the employer. Don’t forget, as we said, that negotiation might be for extra training, days off to complete that training, or other non-salary things.

Here’s another 2014 piece from HBR, this time about job requirements. Women, again, are less likely to apply if they don’t meet all of the requirements listed. If you meet most of them, or some of them and have something to offer, then apply.

I used to be a journalist. Now I’m a product manager.

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