For the past few years, I’ve been volunteering my time as a mentor for students, recent college grads and young journalists (shout out to Journalism Mentors). I’ve done dozens of mentoring sessions with people all around the country — and world! — trying to impart what wisdom I have been able to glean from my career path and time in the media world.
After session upon session, I’ve found myself sharing the same pieces of advice very often, enough to make a list of them.
Some of these may sound simple, but when put all together I believe it can help set someone up for success when trying to find that first big internship or job opportunity. While everyone’s circumstances are different, I certainly believe these strategies helped me land roles early in my career at HuffPost, BuzzFeed and BuzzFeed News.
Be active on Twitter
I am constantly surprised at how many students I speak to are skeptical of the value of using Twitter or only have an account because they were required to for a journalism class.
Twitter is free and open. You are able to follow anyone you want and learn what they are thinking about (maybe too much sometimes). Especially for someone early in their career with less experience, Twitter is an easy way to stay plugged into the media universe without necessarily being in a newsroom. How valuable it can be in an interview setting to say, “Oh yes, I saw that piece everyone was talking about” or, “Ah, I read that stellar tweet thread your org put out the other day.”
It’s a way of being a part of the conversation in the industry without needing a single personal connection. Twitter breaks down the barrier to entry for young journalists and I believe everyone should be hopping in and joining The Discourse, for better or for worse.
Make a personal portfolio
I saw some debate happening on Twitter recently about this and I fall on the side that having a personal portfolio is always a good thing. Especially for careers in the audience space where you may not have bylines or clips to cite — breaking out your work in a more in-depth way than a resume can be quite valuable.
On mine, I have links to tweet threads I’m proud of and Instagram stories I’ve curated, which otherwise aren’t tied to my name. It’s also a great place to go into more detail on projects or strategies you’ve been a part of — which, again, may go unknown unless highlighted. It’s an effective way for a potential employer to get to know someone a little more and could make a difference in getting your name picked out of the pile of resumes.
Networking can be more casual than you think
Networking can be scary. It definitely took me awhile to warm up those skills when I was a student (just ask any of my journalism professors about my first media conference). But I think it got easier for me once I realized that networking doesn’t have to be about impressing an industry colleague with your skills or forcing a resume into a recruiter’s hand.
I’ve found that my strongest connections have come from natural conversations. It’s my philosophy that someone is way more likely to remember that you’re both from the same hometown or like the same band than if you interned at XYZ place or increased impressions by X percentage.
Some of my best media world connections were forged over late-night games of Werewolf at a conference or via a funny Twitter exchange. There is a time and place for professionalism — but I think networking becomes a lot easier when you frame it as just trying to get to know someone.
These relationships you build can be a slow burn, too. Don’t go into them looking for an internship or a job. Focus on building a rapport and you may be surprised at who may drop into your inbox with an opportunity when you least expect it.
Professional organizations and conferences are your friend
While the average journalist may know of dozens of professional organizations and is maybe even a member, I have found many students haven’t heard of them.
I owe much of my career path to connections that I made through ONA conferences over the years. These events often have student rates or colleges may have funding opportunities to attend. And even if an in-person conference is out of someone’s feasibility, many of these groups have Twitter accounts, job boards or virtual groups on LinkedIn or Facebook.
Quality of applications > quantity of applications
With the wide breadth of opportunities out there right now, sometimes it can feel easiest to start sending our resumes in bulk. But from my experience on both sides of the hiring table, a quality, tailored app goes a long way.
Most of us hate cover letters, but spending even a few extra minutes customizing them for particular roles can go a long way in helping you stand out. Sure, go ahead and do some cookie-cutter applications for peace of mind. But if you find that one dream job that really feels like a good fit, spend that quality time making sure your app is tailored to the role. More applications sent doesn’t always equal more interviews. Remember, you only need one to go right.