Entries from July 2009 ↓

Finding a Job: Following up, the interview, following up

Once you’ve sent your cover letter, resume and work samples to a prospective employer, don’t just sit there. Follow up!

Give them a call and ask if they received your materials. Ask if they have time for a cup of coffee, just to chat. Figure out if you have any mutual acquaintances with the hiring manager and ask that person to send an e-mail and ask what’s up or make a recommendation for you.

If you’re applying for jobs from a distance, it really helps to arrange a trip and go there. Tell prospective employers when you’ll be in town and ask if they have time to meet with you, however briefly.

If you get that coffee date – or an actual interview – prepare yourself! Research the company – know what they do, who their clients are, what successes they’ve had, what challenges they face. Research the person you’re meeting with – where have they worked in the past, what’s the role they have now, what might you have in common.

Consider the questions you’ll be asked and prepare some answers. Rehearse them – you don’t want to sound rehearsed, but you don’t want to appear dumbstruck either.

This site has some great examples of questions you might be asked, as well as other tips on preparing for an interview. You’ll also want to come up with some questions about the job and the workplace to ask when the time comes. And the time will come when they’ll ask for your questions, so you’d better have some!

When the day comes, dress appropriately, even conservatively. This is one time you’ll want to stick to basics – a simple skirt and blouse, or basic dress (not too short!), slacks, shirt and tie for guys. Consider your accessories – i.e., pare down the piercings and make sure they’re nothing too racy. You’ll probably want to cover up the tattoos, too, i hate to say.

When the time comes to talk to a prospective employer, relax! Look them in the eye and talk with them as you would a good friend (tho not too casually!).

Keep track of everyone you meet or talk to at the interview – get their cards so you know their titles and the proper spelling of their names.

Then, follow up some more! Send e-mail or written thank-you notes to everyone you talked to. Mention something you enjoyed about the conversation, or expand on an answer you gave with more information or an example (like a link to work you didn’t show them).

If you have enough work to hold back, this is a good time to send one more clip, link or example. If you’re working, a good goal is to produce something each week or each month that will be a great sample to show prospective employers. (That’s a way to stay motivated about your work, too.)

Keep track of those people you talk to and follow up with! The connection you’ve made may not come through this time, but you never know what will happen down the road!

Next up: Some pitfall examples!

Something that’ll ruin your prospects

Each semester, in every class, i include a segment on syllabi that outlines what plagiarism is, why it is wrong and what the consequences are – in my class, at the university and, most importantly, in the real world. i talk about it in class and offer up examples of how people have made this deadly sin and what happened to them.

Still, each year, i find an instance or two when students lift from a Web site. They often seem confused when we discuss it, as if no one ever told them it was wrong.

i suspect these students think i’m being mean, harsh, a total bitch. Well, it’s far worse in the real world. And here’s the latest example.

A summer intern at the Gazette in Colorado Springs was found to have copied paragraphs in four stories from the past month. It’s bad enough that she’s lost her job (as she should).

But in this day and age, she’s also been prominently featured on Gawker (complete with photo and quotes from past blog posts) and on Romenesko, one of the most highly trafficked sites for journalists.

Soon, those will be the top hits for this woman on a Google search, if they aren’t already. Any employer looking at her will learn about this incident.

Let that be a lesson to you!

Finding a Job: Show your work!

So you’ve created a brand and targeted a job market, come up with a great resume and cover letter.

But a key feature of getting a job in journalism is showing potential employer examples of the work you’ve done.

How to do that? The Web makes it easy. Sure, you can post things on a LinkedIn account. But you’re better off creating your own Web site.

First, buy a URL, preferably with your name in it. There are plenty of places to do this, i’ve used a Denver company called Name.com lately. Then get a hosting account (i’m not going to go into this, e-mail if you’d like info), someplace to host your Web site. Getting your brand out there on the Web via a URL is essential.

Next, create a site using WordPress. It’s free software that you can use on your hosting site, and it’s versatile because there are so many template options – most of them free. You may think of WordPress as blogging software, but it also serves static pages, where you can offer links to your work, a resume page and more. Believe me, having a Web presence will go a long way with potential employers.

How to display your work? Links to stories, videos or other materials are a good start. But if you can embed videos or soundslide presos, do so. And you might also consider uploading PDFs of stories, especially if they’re well-designed. This gives folks the option of downloading and printing them out. (Clearly note that they’re PDFs, however, and try to keep the size reasonable.)

How much of your work to display? Four or five of your most recent pieces is a good start. You may want to use your Web site as an archive of sorts for your work. But you’ll also want to check the links fairly often to make sure they still work.

Here are a few examples. Check out the sort of work they highlight and how they highlight it. Keep in mind you already have this content ready; you just need to put it on the Web:

Lisa Marshall uses her middle name because the basic name was taken. She has PDFs of her work and JPGs of magazine covers. She isn’t using WordPress, but you could accomplish the same thing with it.

Amanda Mascarelli is a Boulder freelancer; her site is also done independently but she has some good examples of the sort of things you’d want to display.

Staci Baird has a great WordPress site – no blog per se, but great examples of her work.

While the online presence is essential, there will still be those out there who want to receive paper copies of your letter, resume and work samples. When applying for an advertised job, do as the ad says – apply via e-mail or via snail mail. But if you apply via e-mail, ask if they’d also like to receive paper copies.

This is where those PDFs come in handy – when you have a story run, ask the designer or your editor to grab a PDF for you, it’s typically pretty simple. If you’re a photographer or videographer, you’ll probably provide your work on a CD.

And what work should you show? Make it your best. Use entire stories or pieces. Make sure there weren’t any errors published later – it’s easy to find out about such things these days.

Next: following up, interviewing, following up.

Finding a Job: Cover letters and resumes

So you’ve defined your brand and targeted your job search. Now it’s time to spiff up your resume and write a kickass cover letter!

First, create a letterhead to use on both cover letter and resume. Use Illustrator or InDesign if you’re really into design, or just create it in Word. Your name is the central feature – in 18 point or larger type. Keep it simple, find an elegant, readable font.

Put your Web site URL beneath your name in a smaller font (say 12), then beneath that your contact information (address, e-mail, phone number).

If you aren’t a designer, check out some examples, like by googling!

On to the content of the resume! i highly recommend a single-page resume. More than that is too much for most folks to sift through.

Some folks state a job-search objective on their resume. i typically leave that for the cover letter, with an objective tailored to the employer.

Experience and work samples are the key elements in getting a job. So list your experience first. Don’t bother with the bartending or nanny jobs unless they were long-term gigs and you really need them to fill things out. If you’re looking to fill things out, explain the duties at your professional jobs/internships. Make sure you include dates, job titles, name of employer and location (city and state).

Next, education. Your university degree/s, year awarded, major, any special honors.

My resume typically includes an “activities” section that lists professional organizations i belong to (IRE, SPJ, etc.), as well as activities that give potential employers a sense of my personality – running, cycling, weaving, climbing, knitting. (Well, at least the resume i’d use for a non-academic job.)

If you’re looking for a first job, i highly recommend listing three references: names, job titles, employer, phone number and e-mail address. Make sure you’ve asked them if it’s OK to list them! If they hesitate when asked, take the hint and move on.

When you’re done, print it out and take a close look. Fix the mistakes (there will be some!). Then ask someone else who has a good eye to look it over too!

Here’s a good blog post from someone who recently did some communications hiring in the Denver area on resumes.

Then it’s onto the cover letter.

While you’ll likely send the same resume out to each employer (tho if you’re using a job-search objective, you may need a different one depending on the type of job), each cover letter should be tailored to the job and the employer.

Do a little research first. Do you know anyone who’s worked with the company or the manager you’re writing to? Can you get a better idea of what their needs are than in the job description listed on a Web site?

The first sentence of your letter is the most important – you’re marketing yourself, your brand in this sentence and telling someone why you’re the one for this specific job. Make it count. This blog post has some great examples of good and bad cover letters.

Once you’ve got that first killer sentence/paragraph down, back it up. Give specific examples of how your experience will serve this employer.

Typically, for journalism and communications jobs, we offer up samples of our work in addition to resumes and cover letters. Mention one or two of those attached samples in your cover letter.

Finally, let them know how to contact you – that you’re available by phone (and give them the number) or e-mail (and give them the address, even tho it’s in your letterhead). Tell them you look forward to hearing from them.

Print the letter out. Proofread it. Have someone else proofread it. Then send it off!

Next week: Work samples.

Finding a Job: Define your brand, target your market

You might think the job search starts with getting a resume and standard cover letter together, but if you really want to succeed, there are other steps to take first.

First, define your brand. Yes, you’re the brand, as former Rocky Mountain News Editor and Publisher John Temple noted in his spring 2009 commencement speech to the University of Colorado School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Of course, your brand includes your name. And you should try to own your name on the Web – as a URL, on facebook, on Twitter, on LinkedIn and where ever else you might want to go online..

Then, ask yourself: What are my specialties, my strengths, my interests? Consider defining yourself in six words. Then define yourself in a complete sentence. Here’s how i define myself: “Sandra Fish is a journalist and journalism instructor at the University of Colorado who specializes in politics, government, data analysis and interactive reporting.”

Once you’ve defined your brand, use it! Put it on your twitter description, on your facebook page (mine says: “It’s all about the learning.”), on your Web site, on your resume and cover letter letterhead even.

Why go through this exercise? Because you want to be able to give potential employers as well as the outside world a clear idea of who you are and what you’re all about.

Next, determine your job objectives so you can target your search.

What is your top priority? Do you want to live in a particular place and would you do any sort of job to live there? Or is your dream (as mine was) to be a news reporter and you’re willing to do it no matter where you start?

Answering these questions – even writing out your search objective – will help you target your search. Consider this objective, for example: Searching for a communications job in the Denver metro area.

If that’s your objective, you can begin to target your job search.

First, consider who you know who might help you. Never be afraid to ask friends, acquaintances, former employers, teachers and others for help. Most people love to give advice (i know i do!). The one instance where you shouldn’t ask: If you’ve let someone down (and you know if that’s the case). Take people to coffee, tell them what you’re looking for, ask for their advice in your search.

Second, check out the Web sites to see what jobs are out there. Check out craigslist, no matter where you’re looking. Search the listings on LinkedIn for key terms or locations. (Not on LinkedIn? Get on there, make connections with those folks you’re asking for advice, maybe even ask for a recommendation or two.)

If you’re looking for journalism jobs, this is the place to start. Poynter, the nonprofit journalism education center, also has a job list. Here’s a great list from the Berkeley grad school. And there are plenty of others. Google around some, and ask your advisers what sites they recommend!

If you’re looking for other types of communications jobs, figure out where those businesses might advertise outside of craigslist or LinkedIn. Here are a few sites i recommended to recent graduates:

Colorado public relations jobs: http://andrewhudsonsjobslist.com/

Colorado nonprofits: http://www.coloradononprofits.org/board.cfm

This is a national nonprofit job clearinghouse: http://idealist.org/

OK, that’s the work you need to get done before you send out the cover letter and resume. More on that tomorrow!