I’m finishing up a summer program and I’ve been applying to a lot of jobs with no luck. I know this is no unique story given the state of the industry, but I was wondering if you had any advice about job-hunting at entry level.
I originally thought I was set on New York, but I’ve recently been much more open-minded and have been looking seriously at LA and other cities. I know I can’t afford to be picky about location at this point in my career.
I wish I had some silver-bullet piece of advice to help you. The truth is that it was hard for me to find a full-time job when I graduated from journalism school more than 10 years ago (TEN YEARS. I am a dinosaur!), and it’s harder now. Right out of college, I took a job at a nonprofit rather than an unpaid magazine internship that I couldn’t afford. The job was kind of mind-numbing, but I started contributing to a group blog in my spare time, and it ended up being those blog posts—not my school newspaper or internship clips—that got me a low-paid internship at Mother Jones and, later, an entry-level web editing job. I have two general pieces of advice for you.
1) Meet as many journalists as you can, and stay in touch with as many of those as you can. Think about all of your friends from the student newspaper who’ve gone on to full-time journalism (or even journalism-peripheral) jobs. Think about all the people you met at your various internships—not just higher-up editors, but people from your class of interns. Where are all of those people now? I bet each of them knows at least one person in journalism that they’d be willing to introduce you to. Ask. Ask them for intros! Follow all of your existing contacts on twitter, and interact with them there. (I’m talking about the people you’ve worked with before, not total stranger journalists, though you can obviously follow and interact with those people, too). Think of your network as your security blanket. You’ve got to stitch this thing together, and you need to start with the people you already know, and add from there. Entry-level jobs are always flooded with applicants, so you’re going to need a friend to either tip you off that a position is about to open up, or to slide your resume to the top of the pile. Not to mention that knowing other journalists is going to make you better at your job and be important for the rest of your career, not just now.
2) Do a project. A blog. A kickstarted, journalism-gimmicky thing, if you have to. While you work that shitty nonprofit job or wait tables or whatever you’re doing to pay the bills, it’s ok to do journalism work for free. But do it on your own terms, in a space you control. Do it with friends who are journalists too, if possible. The point is to make stuff that you can put on your resume. That blog, called Feministing.com, was an unknown site when I started writing for it, and it eventually became a known entity. I didn’t make any money from it, but it did give me a place to start from when no magazines or newspapers would pay me. At other points in my career, self-directed journo-projects have really helped me advance, too. I made that silly GIF blog “Real Talk from Your Editor” on a whim, and it ended up getting me noticed by lots of editors I didn’t previously know. I made pie charts for free for two full years before anyone paid me to make one. It takes time for people to notice, but you need to stay creative and stay productive.
I did newspaper internships throughout college, too, and I think it can be an especially tough transition from them to digital media. I know it’s not easy! It’s gonna take time. But keep making connections with people and making cool things on your own, and I really think that it’ll pay off eventually.