Standing out in the journalism graduate crowd

20 September 2011

Written by: MATTHEW DIXON

We’re reaching the time of year that university graduates dread – the point where we have to start applying for jobs.

No longer will we be able to head out on a Thursday night without worrying about being hung over on Friday.  Nor will we be able to have that weekday afternoon nap some of us have become so accustomed to.

The main problem for those of us studying journalism though is not that we will be heading into the real world.  It’s that our degree or a nice portfolio of work may not be enough to make short lists of the best graduates.

Amid ferocious competition and a deluge of applications some media companies are now taking a different approach to the way in which they hire journalists.

For instance, Northcliffe Media in the United Kingdom has decided that job hunters should be submitting their applications via Twitter.

Yes, that’s right.  Your simple but witty cover letter just won’t cut it anymore.  Nor will being on the student representative council at your local high school.

That sort of information and experience has become almost irrelevant; the ability to be concise and clear in 140 characters is now just as important.

It seems to ‘make it’ in the journalism world we don’t need a regular resume listing our hobbies at the end to make us appear human. What we need is a snazzy blog and to prove that we can tell a story.

So how do we get ourselves noticed in a world of graduates who all look the same? Some among us have pretty big portfolios, but is that really enough?

They were the questions La Trobe journalism graduate, and now journalist, Tom Cowie, began asking himself when it came time for him to leave university.

‘It was as much about hard work as it was about luck,’ he says. ‘So I kind of decided to make my own luck and try and stand out from the crowd.’

Like most journalism graduates in Australia, Cowie had a nice portfolio of work but it became apparent that wasn’t really enough.

So Cowie decided to make a name for himself by taking advantage of the new journalistic tools of blogging and Twitter.

To stand out from the crowd he created a blog called ‘Tom wants a job’.

The blog acted as a diary which documented life after university as Cowie hunted for his break.

‘I tried to go one step further and get my name known by people who can get you a job…so they can say “oh I remember him from that blog”,’ he says.  ‘So when they are giving out jobs they might send me an email or find me on Twitter.’

It is this ‘self branding’ that has become so important in the journalism world, according to Cowie. Having a blog or an active Twitter account can make a huge difference when you apply for work.

Employers want to know who you are without having to read through an excessively long resume and portfolio.

‘The less information they have to sift through the better.  They just want a bare bones look at you,’ he says.

Cowie now works for Crikey media on a new project called The Power Index.

He says all those little tweets you’re sending might seem pointless now but the online persona that you are creating can make a huge difference in the industry.

‘There have been quite a few people who I have met in the industry who as soon as I say my name they say “oh I know you from Twitter”.’

Yes, it may be almost impossible for us to get a job in journalism but all we can do is try.  So start that blog and begin tweeting to your heart’s content because it may just be the edge you need.

Matthew Dixon is a final-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University and is part of upstart’s editorial team. You can follow him on Twitter: @matthewdixon23