UPDATE: Should mention that I'll have the chance to share my pet peeves with journalism students at my alma mater next Tuesday. I'll be addressing the OU student chapter of SPJ, talking about the realities of magazine journalism and the benefits of maintaining membership in organizations such as SPJ.
I get a lot of e-mails asking for career advice these days (though lord knows I don't profess to have all the answers). It’s largely an outgrowth of my role as Freelance Committee Chair for SPJ. But I’m getting increasingly frustrated with the helplessness of some of the recent graduates who have sought my help.
Here’s one I received last night:
I'm a recent graduate from Michigan State with a degree in communications or public relations. I'm looking for a job in journalism. Since I work full time It's hard to fit in an internship. Of course I still looked but no one seems to need any help in any sort of freelancing in Michigan. I've gotten alot of great responces for a lot of job opportunities but they still want to see my work. I was wondering if there was some way you could give me a step by step process on how to use quark or indesign to show my work. Maybe you have some references of someone I could talk to in learning how to market myself. If you could write me back with any suggestions I would appreciate it greatly!
This is cut and pasted from the actual e-mail to show her writing. These were the questions I had upon reading:
• Does she know what her degree is in?
• Does she know what she wants to do with her professional life?
• Does she have any clips?
• Does she know how to use spell check?
• If she has “great responces” then why is she waiting to show her work (presuming she has some to show)?
• I have no idea where she’s from, what her last name is or why she contacted me.
Initially, I wasn’t going to bother responding. But then I realized that what this young woman needs is some direction. Why didn’t she receive better while she was in college? Where were her advisers in this process?
Everyone needs a break and sometimes they need someone to tell it them straight. And so here is my response:
Thanks for your e-mail. I have a few suggestions for you:
1. Determine what kind of communications job you want — journalism, pr, freelance, etc.
2. Try to find some publication that will publish your work. You need to get some clips if you have none from internships.
3. Talk to your college adviser or career planning office about possible paid internships you can apply for even though you’ve graduated.
4. Take the initiative to help yourself by talking to people in your area through informational interviews, informal coffee chats, etc.
5. Read “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser to help you understand the power of your chosen profession and the importance of strong writing.
6. Focus on substance over style. How your work “looks” takes a big back seat to your actual writing and reporting.
7. Visit a local career office for help on resume writing. There’s no one way to do this and much of it depends on what kind of job you’re seeking and how you can package your experience to present yourself in the best possible light.
8. Be respectful of professionals’ time. Do the work in advance of reaching out to others who are pressed for time. They will be willing to help if they see you’ve first done your homework.
9. Be mindful that even your e-mails are a reflection of your writing. Go back and re-read this e-mail you sent to me and ask yourself how you could have presented your need more clearly and professionally.
10. Always include your full name and contact information in your signature line.
You’ve asked a lot of questions here, but I think the first step is to figure out what you want to do with your career. You can’t effectively market yourself if you don’t know the answer. Be resourceful; it’s a big part of being a journalist. And do a little soul searching. In the meantime, keep writing, whether it’s a journal, a blog or stories you’d like to pursue. Keep those writing muscles in shape.
I hope you find this information helpful.
Best of luck,
Chair, SPJ National Freelance Committee / www.spj.org/freelance.asp