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Be prepared if journalism jobs rebound with the economy

By Randall Smith

This is your time.RandallSmithMug

With the economy in a tailspin and ugly winter weather, it’s tempting to write off job hunting and networking this season. In reality, though, it’s the perfect time to make a push into a new job, internship or career.

Here’s why: The economy is starting to show some signs of life. Holidays are an excellent time to get the word out about yourself.  Employers are starting to reload their resume banks in anticipation of better times ahead.

And for those seeking internships, many decisions will be made in the next few months.

Since coming to Missouri University last fall, I’ve had the opportunity to hear and speak to dozens of employers. I’ve combined their job tips with what I learned in the last 20 years as a newsroom recruiter.

HERE’S MY CURRENT TOP 10 LIST:

Be versatile. Gone are the days when you could be a generalist and know a little about a lot of things. Today, you’ve got to have several skills – story telling, producer, editor, web builder – to sell yourself.  Show interviewers you’re prepared for the newsroom of the future.

Teach yourself. Michelle Nicolosi, who is the executive producer of seattlepi.com, was on the Missouri University campus recently and spoke to my class. Her advice to students:  Download test versions of software and master them on your own. In the real world, you won’t have teachers to hold your hand.  Once you’ve tried a new product, you’ll see it’s not that hard. My class did this with Dreamweaver, and they mastered it quickly.

Be persistent. There’s more than one journalist at Politico that got hired because they wouldn’t stop bugging co-founder Jim VanderHei.  In front of a group of journalists in Washington D.C. recently, he said there’s three or four reporters that he’s hired because he liked their job-seeking tenacity.

Seek advice. If you’re driving home for the holidays, schedule some stops along the way to visit with some editors and producers.  The good ones will invite you in to talk about your career. Who knows what will happen from there? VanderHei said that’s how he ended up running a small Wisconsin paper for two summer months when he was just starting out.

Don’t be afraid to go small. Reginald Stuart, who is the corporate recruiter for McClatchy, said he’s seeing openings starting to occur in smaller newspapers and media companies in the South. Stuart advised sending out lots of resumes in these markets, which will be some of the first to show signs of improvement as the economy heals.

Find a way to get a foot in the door. A public relations executive in North Carolina told me about how she took a job in the pressroom of a newspaper so that she could be close to the bulletin board where all of the jobs were posted. When one came open for a reporter, she knocked on the managing editor’s door and told him that she wanted the job.  He looked at her resume and clips, and she started the next Monday in the newsroom.

Think beyond traditional media. In the past, lots of great journalists got their starts in places besides agencies, newspapers and television stations.  Today, a great place to start is at a smaller venue like a newsletter. Some of the good ones offer talented editing, great guidance and will get you noticed in other places.  Newsletters are the hunting grounds of the big agencies, news websites and wire services.

Focus on business journalism. Of all of the media specialties, this one is the healthiest.  Reuters has contacted me twice in the search for quality summer interns. I’ve been administering the Dow Jones test, too, for students. Bloomberg was on campus, and told us that they’ve got jobs for the right people.  One of my students took a summer job with the AP. The Society of American Business Editors and Writers, where I was president in the early 1990s, has an excellent new website (sabew.org) filled with training opportunities, networking possibilities and job listings.

Watch upcoming websites. In every community, they’re springing up.  AOL is launching a number of hyper local sites, and plans to be a large employer of journalists in years to come.  My hunch is that others will battle for the same turf. Scan the web for some in communities where you’d like to work, and see whether they’d be willing to take on an extra hand. The experience could be fantastic.

Work on that resume. I’ve seen too many resumes this fall that start with something like this: BA degree from the University of (fill in the blank). This is going to get your resume moved to the bottom of the pile. If you’ve been in class recently, tell the interviewer what you’ve learned.  If you’ve acquired a bunch of multimedia skills, focus on that. If you developed people skills and set a record selling advertising, tell that story. Make the interviewer curious about what you might do at their shop. Your first line on your resume is your lead.  Set your hook.

Randall Smith is the Reynolds Endowed Chair in Business Journalism at the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia.

In Basics, Career tips, Economy, Networking.

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