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Archive for April 19th, 2007

‘Why is this carbon-based?’

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

As I was reading Paul Conley’s latest post about skills students need to get hired, something clicked. He references another post he made that’s worth reading: Folks with resumes need not apply. The more important post, however, is the three things j-school students need to know to get hired.

I agree with that entire post. But here’s the thing that clicked:

Few things tell me less about a prospective hire than clips from a college newspaper.
Yet most of the students I meet use clips as the center of their job-searching efforts. The students, apparently at the urging of teachers, are often quite proud of their clips. And they have come to believe that the perfect clip will lead to the perfect entry-level job.

Most importantly, a clip ties a student to the part of the industry that is least likely to hire him — print. When a student hands a clip to a publishing executive today he’s likely handing it to someone who has already laid off a slew of print-only reporters. It’s an exercise in absurdity for students to market themselves as talented print journalists to executives who have laid off talented print journalists by the thousands.

I learned this relatively early in my job search from an editor who was impressed with my resume, mostly by my demonstrated new-media experience. But she raised one extremely valid point about my package. In her words, “Why is this carbon-based?” Good question. Why was I, of all people, applying on paper?!

As soon as she said it, I knew she was right. It was the catalyst I needed to organize my professional work online. The next week, I registered a domain, started my blog, uploaded my resume and posted my clips online in one central location.

As I sent out a few more applications for jobs or e-mails to editors inquiring about postings or openings, it was that site I sent. Usually with the note itself serving as the cover letter and an attached resume document. I always offered to send a package of clips. But I was not once asked to.

Until about two weeks ago, I’d still been collecting the papers/tear sheets with my stories at the paper where I work now. Thinking, of course, I should keep my clips, at least the best of them, in print.

Now, I’m going to recycle the papers when I finish reading them unless it’s a presentation I think comes across better or particularly well in print, and even then, I’m saving it for my own benefit. Because, duh, it dawned on me, there really is no need to do that. The job I will apply for next is not going to be one where printed clips are expected. If they are, it’s not the job for me.

In fact, none of the papers I actually interviewed with when looking for a job post-graduation ever saw my clips in print before my in-person interview. A large part of me thinks it wasn’t those clips that got me the interview.

Paul Conley is absolutely on target. If all you have to show for yourself after your undergrad experience is a few solid clips from a newspaper, then you’re wasting your ink. (As well as several thousand dollars in tuition at a school that obviously didn’t adequately prepare you.) Seriously.

People will be far more impressed even by a blogspot or wordpress account that keeps a running list of your latest stories than by a stack of copies that will likely end up in some filing cabinent to be stumbled upon several months later and then tossed (and hopefully recycled). At least post your resume online. But why not step beyond that? At a minimum start a blog about something you care about. It’s free, and it’s easier than ordering a coffee at Starbucks. Then start making some videos or podcasts, start experimenting. Keep a flickr account. Organize your interests in del.icio.us. Etc. Show that you have mastered the technology that news organizations are moving towards not the very thing they’re running from. That will help you land the elusive job you covet.

And as for the alternate story forms Conley talks about in the latest post? You better believe this is important, whether you are writing for print or online. At every paper I interviewed with, I was asked how I would either re-do a story they had already run in an alternate way, OR given a hypothetical story and asked how I’d present it in a unique way, OR asked to give an example of a time where I had opted for a non-traditional story form.

And guess what? I’ve done a lot of non-traditional stories since starting my job at a newspaper. In tomorrow’s paper, I have six “charticles” running as a package for an annual award given instead of a linear story. This is real.