This column originally appeared in The Cohort, Poynter’s newsletter by and for women in media. Subscribe here to join the community.
When I applied to Poynter, my resume only included three years of the newsroom experience I actually had, and it was complete with sections like “Journalism + Impact,” “Thought Leadership” and “Notable Training.”
My favorite part? I didn’t waste space sharing the countless things I was responsible for in my roles. Instead, I included a “featured highlight.” I wanted the Poynter powers that be to see my track record of impact and innovation across the newsroom, classroom and even ballroom.
This was my narrative — not for the other job but for this job. My marketing materials used this professional story to set aim at my target: landing a journalism-adjacent role to impact middle management and above. And then, as professional resume writer Ashley Cash advises, I created assets around that target.
Knowing your goal can help you see a path more clearly, but it can be hard to delete parts of your work history. As women, and women of color especially, there’s this pull to share everything, to be better than the competition by making our work history a sort of buffet of skills. But we need to get comfortable deleting what’s not imperative to attaining our goal. This helps us and the hiring manager see the path more clearly.
So, at this point, you’ve read Part 1 of this series and uncovered what you want and what you need. Now, let’s talk about those marketing materials. After all, that’s the point of your resume, cover letter, LinkedIn, website, etc. — to market yourself, right?
“You have to crawl your own resume. Find things in the target to dial into. Instead of one bullet among many, you need to really focus on what you can bring to the table,” Cash says. “The biggest myth out there is that your resume needs to be this broadest version of yourself, which isn’t the case.”
Journalist, journo-career curator and 2018 grad of Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Women Mandy Hofmockel agrees. She talks to hiring managers for her newsletter, Journalism Jobs and a Photo of My Dog, in addition to being one, all the time. Her advice? Use active language, and elevate your experience while sprinkling in details and hyperlinks where you can.
The “resume crawl,” as Cash calls it, will help you know where to add details. Your crawl puts the job description right next to your resume. Examine the two together and highlight work that you want to do more of.
“Aunt” Benet Wilson, senior editor at The Points Guy and well-known curtain-raiser on journalism hiring practices, adds to include the keywords that are true for you, ensuring your resume makes it past those third-party recruiting tools.
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“Every resume needs to be crafted to the position,” she says. Wilson even has a 12-page master resume for this exact purpose. No one may ever see it, but it’s her braggadocious work history, keywords and all, and it makes seeing her value, zeroing in on her target and putting her name in industry hats much easier.
Her 12-pager also allows her to see how best to curate her professional narrative to the job. For working women, this is especially important because, as Wilson has seen time and again, “there will be gaps in your work history and that’s okay. They can be explained in your cover letter.”
Taking time away from journalism — for yourself, for your family — isn’t just okay but for some, it’s absolutely necessary. But this choice shouldn’t limit the future of your work. In fact, it makes customizing your marketing assets even more important.
Wilson, a regular contributor to Poynter’s leadership academies, says it takes her 10 seconds to glance at a resume and decide whether she’s going to take a deeper look at an applicant, which is all the more reason for you to focus, focus, focus your resume and other application assets.
There’s a risk in throwing everything you’ve got at the marketing materials. That risk, especially in our under-resourced industry, is that you can be taken advantage of. You don’t want to keep being some company’s ninja or unicorn. We wear this role of jack- or jane-of-all-trades like a badge of honor, but Cash encourages her clients to take one step back.
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“You don’t want to go into your next interview with that as your default lead. If you want to do the work that you love, you need to know what that work looks like and lead with that narrative instead.”
As mentioned earlier, this dialing-in means being OK with deleting information from your resume that’s not relevant to your target, she adds.
But let me say this plainly — and Tasha Stewart, director of product management at WURD 900AM and 2016 grad of Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Women, would shout this from the rooftops if you let her — you don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t even have to be applying for your forever job. That’s hardly even a thing anymore anyway.
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For Stewart, who left her role at WCPO after six years, what she wanted and needed were one in the same: “a mental health palate cleanser.” After the racial equity protests, the pandemic, its deaths and its anti-vaxxers, the insurrection and the list continues, her answer to that question stays the same.
As you fine-tune your professional narrative, adding details here and deleting details there, Stewart offers some burden-relieving advice: “Think of the endgame in increments. Your endgame over the next two years doesn’t have to be your endgame for the next five. We as women often put everyone’s needs ahead of our own. But you can’t pour from an empty cup, and mine was bone dry,” she says. “Once you realize what you need, everything else gets easier to see.”
And if it doesn’t, then consider who you can bring in to help.
Meta Viers, 2019 alum of Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Diversity in Digital Media, says her pandemic job hunt required her to “use her village more, to be more vulnerable” with what she wanted and needed. And her village was open to giving the feedback that inevitably landed her her current job.
This village can help you see when you’re “watering down your talents,” says solutions-based mental health therapist Dr. Toni Williams. Without even realizing it, we (women) can be timid to step over boundaries based on what we’ve been digesting subconsciously for so long — TV, social media, news, etc.
We have to shift the narrative of our personal and professional selves, Williams says, and our village can be that “safe space to process these thoughts and feelings as we prepare for a new challenge.”
EXPAND YOUR VILLAGE: Sign up for coaching on digitalwomenleaders.com
If your current new challenge is knowing you just can’t stay where you are, then you’ve got a game plan to execute:
First, name your what.
Then, identify your target.
Then, write down your goal.
And then — and only then — are you ready to get working on the tactical stuff:
Start with your LinkedIn.
Then, move on to your custom resume.*
Then, have some fun with your online portfolio or highlight reel.*
These last two have asterisks because you need a job posting before you start. Remember what Hofmockel said: Apply to fewer places with high quality materials.
Listen, we’re all journalists here, and storytellers at our core, but it can be difficult to cull through our memories of experience to find the right narrative for the right job listing. This is why people hire resume writers.
As Cash says, it’s her job “to synthesize a career’s worth of experience and accolades into a well-crafted resume. How? I’m writing from the vantage point of the audience,” she says. “A decision maker wants to see one thing, a recruiter wants to see something else, and an applicant tracking system is looking for something else. I can interweave those perspectives into one narrative.”
Still, one thing remains true of your current role and whatever future one you may land. You were hired for a reason — then, now and forever.
“And so, if you’re a journalist, you know journalism,” says Lindsay Claiborn, a print-lifer-turned-TV-strategist at TEGNA. “You have that and the surrounding stuff is really just decoration. You can adapt to other spaces so long as you know and do the journalism.”