Q&A: How do I change up my career path right now?

Megan Douglass, senior editor of newsroom talent at The Wall Street Journal, offers tips for a career path change during the pandemic.

June 1, 2020
Category: Business & Work

Note: A version of this Q&A originally appeared in the weekly newsletter Journalism jobs and a photo of my dog.

After soliciting pressing career questions from newsletter readers, I sent some of them to Megan Douglass, Senior Editor, Newsroom Talent at The Wall Street Journal, which she answered via email.

Megan also participated in a panel I moderated with and several other recruiters for the Online News Association’s New York City chapter back in February (before the coronavirus really hit the U.S.) if you want to see the recap.

Mandy Hofmockel: What tips do recruiters have for people trying to change up their career paths right now?

Megan Douglass: Even in the era of social distancing, one of the top tips is use your network. Check in with people you know and let them know you’re looking for something new.

Network inside your newsroom. Invite people you don’t know or don’t know well to virtual coffee dates and ask them to tell you about what they do. Your newsroom might be trying new things right now. Is there a way for you to get involved? Look for and ask for stretch assignments, especially collaborations with other groups.

Learn something new. What skills can you pick up or sharpen? Take advantage of internal and external training and networks.

Read. Watch. Listen. There is so much amazing journalism being produced right now. Take notes on what other people do well and try to figure out how to do that.

Have a narrative thread that ties together what you have done before to what you want to be doing next, especially if it’s a pivot. There are skills that translate and prepare you for these next steps, but make sure you can tell your own story.

Be patient. Many newsrooms have dramatically slowed hiring at the moment or had to cut back on staffing. Can’t find a job in journalism right now? What industries are hiring and how could your skills translate? Contact tracers, for instance, are going to need reporting skills — calling people and getting them to talk to you.

Hofmockel: How can job seekers best showcase their value as utility players or problem solvers when they’re part of a team (and competing for jobs against award-winning journalists)?

Douglass: With examples! Tell me about a problem you were facing and how you solved it. Write about it in a cover letter. Practice your answer and bring it up during an interview. What skills, perspective, knowledge or temperament do you bring?

A tip we give applicants is to do a cover sheet with your clips or work samples. Tell us (briefly) the story behind the project. What was your role? What went into the reporting of this story, or the development of this newsroom tool? What was the impact after you published, or after you rolled this out?

FROM THE INSTITUTE: Job seekers, find more than 200 openings on Poynter’s job board

Hofmockel: If a job applicant doesn’t know anyone at a newsroom and neither does their network, what’s a good way to get their name on the radar of a hiring manager or recruiter?

Douglass: The best way is to do amazing work that we wish we had produced.

Other tips: Look for events, in person and online, where someone from that newsroom is participating and sign up. Ask questions during the event, if appropriate, or follow up afterward and introduce yourself.

When in-person events like journalism conferences are a thing again, swing through the career fair.

It’s OK to reach out to editors and recruiters cold, too. Just be respectful about how and how often you follow up. Bring something to the table when you reach out, whether that’s a specific question, example of your work, etc.

Hofmockel: How often is it OK to apply for different jobs at a big company?

Douglass: It depends! I’m probably not going to take someone super seriously who applies to every single opening we post. There are times when I see someone has applied to 30 or 40 very different jobs. So don’t just batch apply. If you’re going to apply for multiple roles, I would want to understand why you’re applying for each one. Tailor your application. Writer a cover letter that is specific to the role and the company. You want to stand out in the pool of applicants.

That said, persistence can pay off. If you’re applying to a few roles that are genuinely a good fit for you over a period of months and years, it makes me think you are really interested in coming to work for our newsroom. Part of hiring is building a pipeline and your goal should be to get on that list. We hired a reporter recently, and during the interview process, I realized she’d been a finalist for a job on another team a few months earlier. I was definitely excited to see her pop up again.

Mandy Hofmockel is Hearst Connecticut Media Group’s Managing Editor of Audience and she writes a weekly newsletter, Journalism jobs and a photo of my dog. Reach her at mandy.hofmockel@gmail.com or on Twitter at @mandyhofmockel. 

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