What makes a job applicant stand out to hiring managers at top news organizations?
Priska Neely, managing editor for Gulf States Newsroom, Traci Schweikert, chief talent officer at POLITICO, and Mizell Stewart III, vice president of news performance, talent and partnerships for Gannett/USA Today Network, kicked off a weeklong career workshop hosted by the National Press Club Journalism Institute last week.
They offered direct insights from the hiring manager perspective on how to conduct a successful job search in today’s market.
Before you apply
Do your homework on the role before submitting an application.
“We want you to be a reporter and to actually do some research on the position and on the organization to tailor your approach and apply to positions that really fit with your sense of where you would like to go with your career,” Stewart said.
Don’t send one blanket application for multiple roles at an organization.
“What y’all should know is, especially those of us in large organizations, we can often see all the jobs you’ve applied for,” Schweikert said. “When I was at NPR, I would see people literally apply for 12 jobs at a time — everywhere from host to assistant producer. And when I see that, my first question is: What job do they really want? What job are they really hoping to get? Or are they just throwing spaghetti at the wall hoping that it’ll catch in one job or another.”
Let storytelling shine in your cover letter and resume
Do customize your resume for a specific role.
“Your cover letter should tell a succinct story about why you’ve come to this particular role,” Schweikert said. “Why are you excited to work for this organization? Why this role? And why should we hire you in particular? It should be absolutely tailored to each and every job.”
Don’t rely on a single-page resume to tell your story.
“What the one page resume tells me is very little,” said Stewart. “What I recommend is that you upload multiple pages. You upload a resume first, then a cover letter, then samples of your work. Show me what you can do, don’t just point me to a website and call it a day.”
Additionally, you can also lean on your existing network to expand on the story you’re telling on paper.
“The world of journalism in general is small,” Neely said. “Figure out if you know someone who may work [where you applied], and have someone vouch for you.”
Align your digital portfolio and web presence to match the job you want
“A great cover letter is, you know, table stakes. What comes after that, and what so many people don’t pay enough attention to, is curating your work product,” Stewart said. “Is all of your work on your website necessarily your best work? … How are you tailoring your presentation to the job? A real opportunity for you to do that is through links to samples of your work. And you can lead with links to the job that you want.”
Advice for early-career job seekers
“Wherever you are, you make connections while you’re there,” Neely said. “Your professors probably were working journalists at some point. Talk to them. Find out who they know, who they may be able to connect you with.”
Do stay in touch with people after you move on to the next experience.
“Find subtle ways to remind people that you exist, so that when you need to ask them for something, you can do that,” said Neely. “Find ways to just connect with people on a human level — those things really make a difference.”
Don’t wait until the end of an internship or opportunity to cultivate relationships.
“Use that time that you are inside an organization to learn and to meet as many folks,” said Schweikert. “When you’re an intern or a temp, start looking at the internal-only postings right from the start to get a feel for the jobs that are filled internally first.”
Advice for mid-career job seekers
“Don’t just apply to any job, apply to jobs that specifically ask for that level of experience,” said Stewart.
“If you’re in a situation where maybe you’ve been a leader or a people manager for a while, and you’ve decided, ‘I’d rather go back to daily news for whatever reason,’ make sure that that’s clear to folks as well,” Schweikert said.
And always keep your long-term goals in perspective
“You have your compass and you have your GPS,” Neely said. “If you want to be an NPR reporter, that can be your long-term goal. That can be the direction that you’re heading in. But it may not be your next turn. … What’s the best next turn for you? And does that align with your overall compass, your overall long term goal? That can be as broad as being in public service journalism or being a host. You can work on that and build your skillset so that you’re getting closer to that long term goal.”
“As you take those twists and turns, make sure that the hiring manager or the organization that you hope to work for someday appreciates all the right and left turns that you’ve made,” Schweikert said.
“Hiring managers really want to know that you have a direction for your career, that you want to go somewhere, you want to accomplish certain things,” Stewart said. “And it may not necessarily be that straight line.”