Search

Advice from Joe Boyce

Retired Wall Street Journal senior editor and adjunct lecturer Joe Boyce offers these tips and reminders for journalism students preparing for jobs and internships.

Internships:

  • Internships are essential in today's competitive market. The more, the better.
  • Paid internships always trump non-paid.
  • Try to find internships that give meaningful, career-related experience. This does not include running errands and making coffee.
  • Good internships allow for the development of a body of work to show potential employers, i.e., clips, tapes, photo portfolio.
  • Unless an internship opportunity is spectacular, an actual job is preferred upon graduation.
  • Take advantage of every opportunity to learn various media delivery platforms. In today's journalism world, the candidate whose skills include working in print, video and the Internet is the most competitive.
  • If you have not had an internship that produced a portfolio of your work, you can submit to a prospective employer any freelance materials you've had published or broadcast. Many recruiters consider blogs as evidence of a candidate's writing abilities.

Jobs:

  • Jobs advertised in the want-ads and on the Internet represent only about 20 percent of the available jobs in most fields.
  • It is perfectly fine to have several versions of your resume, each of which might highlight a different aspect of your qualifications. Just make sure each version is truthful and accurate.
  • Networking, including that with university acquaintances and membership in professional organizations such as SPJ, is an excellent way to learn about available jobs in the field.
  • If your background and ability is not an exact fit with the job's description but you really want the position, apply anyway. Most employers don't demand or expect a perfect match.
  • While tattoos, piercings and pink hair may express the inner you, they can keep you out of contention for that job you covet. Take appropriate measures to downplay them.
  • Modest, businesslike attire is always preferred for interviews. The goal is to be taken seriously.
  • Always be on time for interviews.
  • Lying about your previous work history and education is a no-no.
  • In interviews, sit up straight, speak clearly and look the interviewer in the eye.
  • During interviews, keep your cell phone off and do not glance at your watch.
  • Do not hesitate to ask job-related questions during an interview. After all, you are interviewing them as well.
  • Emphasize the value you would bring to the company or media outlet, rather than what it can do for you.
  • Remember, you are not just negotiating salary, but a full compensation package. Besides salary, this includes vacation and sick time, benefits such as health care and tuition assistance, and, in some instances, even future raises.
  • If at all possible, avoid giving a figure when asked how much you wish to be paid. Any number you give is the wrong one. (Think about it.) Instead, ask them to make you an offer.
  • Do not disparage previous employers, bosses or colleagues when during the interview.
  • If you do not get the position, do not take it personally or see it as failure on your part. Just become more determined. The reasons why one is turned down for a job can be as numerous and mystifying as quills on a porcupine.
  • Research the company or media organization before the interview.
  • Try to talk with someone who already works for the company or media outlet to which you are applying, preferably someone who has a position identical or similar to the one you are seeking. Ask her or him about the company and working conditions (off the record, if need be).
  • A passion for your profession and your potential place of employment is a plus in interviews.

Information Interviews

An information interview is simply a meeting you schedule with a professional to gain information about a specific job, an industry, a career path or all of these. An information interview is not a job interview, but is a way for you to go on a fact-finding mission merely to gain knowledge. An employer may not grant a job interview because openings do not exist, but most of them will grant an information interview.
It’s never too early to start and you can’t do too many information interviews. Ultimately, information interviews are an excellent way to meet people in the professional world and to start your own network.

Why do them?

  • To get valuable information. It’s a good way to check what you’ve read, heard and think.
  • To learn about a particular organization and industry, how you might fit in and about the problems or needs of the employer. This information will help you direct your qualifications toward the needs of the organization and industry.
  • To gain interview experience and confidence by discussing yourself and your career interests with professionals.
  • To enlarge your circle of contacts in the field. It is often whom you know or meet that helps get you an internship or job. It’s never too early to establish contacts.
  • To ask for other referrals (for example: Can you suggest some other people that I might talk to about careers in this field?).

Whom do you call?

Look for those who:
  • Share a common academic major or interest, enthusiasm or involvement in some activity or lifestyle that appeals to you or
  • Work in a setting you like or
  • Work in career areas you’re interested in or
  • Work in specific jobs in specific organizations.

How do you find them?

  • Ask friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, former employers, anyone you know for an interview or for a referral.
  • Contact faculty, the Journalism Placement Office, other university offices. Call community service agencies and trade and professional organizations.
  • Scan the Yellow Pages and articles in newspapers, magazines and journals. Attend meetings (local, state, regional) for professional associations in your field(s) of interest.

Preparation for the interview

Remember, people are generally interested in talking about what they do and how they do it. But, don’t waste their time or yours. Be prepared! Know your interests, skills, values and, if possible, how they relate to the career field represented by the persons you’re interviewing.
Take a pad and a couple of pens. It’s smart to take notes, but don’t take notes as if you’re in a lecture. The interview should feel like a conversation.
Read about the career area and the place where the person you’ll be interviewing works. Have a list of questions in mind. Don’t ask a question that you could have easily answered from another source. Libraries, public relation officers, personnel directors, chambers of commerce, and occupational organizations and associations are sources that provide information. Most media organizations and companies have information online. If they don’t have a Web site and if you can’t find printed materials in the library, call and ask the organizations if they will send you literature (for example, annual reports and promotional brochures). Use the following list of questions to help in formulating your own.

Sample questions for your information interview

  • Tell me how you got started in this field. What was your education? What educational background or related experience might be helpful in entering this field?
  • What are the daily duties of the job? What are the working conditions? What skills/abilities are used in this work?
  • What are your toughest problems? What problems does the organization as a whole have? What is being done to solve these problems?
  • How many hours is your typical work week? How much flexibility do you have in terms of dress, work hours and vacations?
  • What do you find most rewarding about your job besides the salary?
  • What salary level would a new person start with? What are the fringe benefits? Are there other forms of compensation?
  • Where do you see yourself in a few years? What are your long-term goals?
  • Is there much turnover? How do employees move from position to position? What is your company’s policy about promotions from within? What happened to the person(s) who last held this position? Do you know how many have held this job in the last five years? How are employees evaluated?
  • What trends do you see for this industry in the next three to five years? What kind of future do you see for (name of organization)? How much of your business is tied to circumstances beyond your control such as the economy, government spending, weather, etc.?
  • How well-suited is my background for this field? (You should have a resumé with you. This would be a good time to ask the person to take a look at it.) When the time comes, how would I go about finding a job in this field? What experience, paid or volunteer, would you recommend? What can I do to make my resumé more effective?
  • What other career areas do you feel are related to your work?
  • What are the most important factors used to hire people in this work (education, past experience, personality, special skills). Who makes the hiring decisions for your department? Who supervises the boss? When I am ready to apply for a job, whom should I contact?
  • How do people find out about your jobs? Are they advertised in the newspaper, by word-of-mouth, by the human resources office?
  • Can you name a relevant trade journal or magazine you would recommend I read regularly? What professional organizations might have information about this career area?
  • Based on our conversation today, what other types of people should I talk to? Can you name a few of these people? May I have permission to use your name when I contact them?
  • Do you have any other advice for me?

Arranging the information interview

  • Phone or write to ask for an appointment.
  • Introduce yourself by saying “I’m a (name your year) majoring in journalism at Indiana University.” If you have a personal or professional referral, use it. For example, professor Jane Smith in the School of Journalism suggested I call you.
  • Explain your request to schedule an appointment for gathering information about his/her career. If questioned, make it clear that you are not seeking a job, but doing career research to help you make better decisions. If the person you want to meet with is unavailable for an extended period, ask the receptionist if there is someone else you might speak to. Or, you may choose to wait until the person is available.
  • Schedule a 20 to 30 minute appointment in person or by phone at the person’s convenience.
  • An in-person interview appointment is best because you get to see the facility, experience the atmosphere, observe the employee dress code and personal conduct and possibly meet people other than the one you’re interviewing. Do not let your phone call to schedule the appointment turn into the interview. Be sure and ask for directions and parking information. However, if the location is too far away or the person you want to interview insists on a phone appointment, then do it. You can still get answers to many questions.
  • Letter requests for appointments are most effective if followed up by a telephone call to confirm an appointment time.

Tips for the interview

  • Do not exceed your time, but be prepared to stay longer if the contact wants to talk longer.
  • Dress as if it were an actual job interview. First impressions are important.
  • Get to your appointment a few minutes early and be courteous to everyone that you meet, including security people, secretaries and anyone you happen to encounter.
  • Take the initiative in the interview. The interview is in your court. You ask the questions, you interview the person. Ask open-ended questions that promote a discussion and cannot be answered with one word responses.

Follow up

  • Evaluate your experience. How well did you do in scheduling and conducting the information interview? Were you well prepared? Did you get the information you wanted? What information do you still lack? Do you need to interview more people to get more than one viewpoint or additional information? (For example, if you interviewed a senior-level person, how different is his/her experience from that of an entry-level person? If you interviewed someone at a large organization, should you try to interview someone at a similar, but smaller organization?) What do you need to do next?
  • Follow up with a thank you note. Thank the person(s) for her/his time and interest and cite your conclusions resulting from the interview. If appropriate, you may decide to follow up now or later with a resumé and an application letter or form.
  • Record the information that you obtained: names, comments and new referrals for future reference.
  • Make appointments to interview the referrals.

Interviewing Mistakes

Once you do land that in-person interview, be prepared. Below is a list of  behavior to avoid:
  • Poor appearance
  • No eye contact
  • Lack of courtesy
  • Lack of career plan
  • Slang language – not speaking in complete sentences
  • Short-term employment
  • Being overbearing
  • Late
  • Sloppy application
  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Lack of confidence
  • Showing nervous habits
  • Over-emphasis on money
  • Poor scholastic record
  • Lack of tact
  • Lack of maturity
  • Lack of knowledge of field of specialization
  • Unwilling to relocate
  • Intolerant prejudices
  • Never heard of the company
  • Wanting too much too soon
  • Being cynical/lazy
  • Limp-fishy handshake
  • Unwilling to start at the bottom
  • Not speaking well of past employer

Job and Internship Interviews

A job or internship interview is a focused, goal-oriented exchange between you and another person or between you and a group of people. You will discuss your education, experience and present your personality to an employer. The key is to be prepared. Start with these guidelines:


Before the interview

Spend time thinking about yourself. Are your interests consistent with the general career area and this position? What are your work-related skills and how do they fit with this job? Is this opportunity compatible with your work values?
Get to know the organization, its products or services, hierarchical structure, location(s) and needs. Be prepared to verbalize your thoughts. Preparation will strengthen your self-confidence and will show a sincere interest in the job.
Practice
Interviewing is a skill. It improves with practice. You must be able to communicate information effectively. Verbal communication is among the most important evaluation criteria.
You do not want your answers to sound rehearsed, but you do want to communicate readily and easily about yourself. Know your general points and supporting examples; allow them to come together as the questions are asked.
To help you practice for interviews, you might find a friend willing to act as an interviewer. Respond to some of the questions listed below. If you have a tape recorder, play back your responses and evaluate yourself.


Appearance

Dress conservatively and professionally, using your appearance to enhance the image of maturity and self-confidence that you want to communicate.
Generally, men should wear a conservative suit with a traditional shirt and tie or a blazer with a traditional shirt and tie and dress shoes. Hair should be clean and neat. For women, a dress suit or pants suit with limited accessories is appropriate.


During the interview

Be punctual. Never be late for an interview!
To avoid an awkward situation, decide before the interview whether to offer your hand if your interviewer does not extend his or hers. No rule exists about the handshake; do what comes naturally. This initial introductory period will usually include a social comment about the weather, etc. to put you at ease.
Always carry extra copies of your resumé. If you have updated your resumé for a specific job for which you are interviewing, bring along the revised version and give it to the employer. Take business cards, if you have them (optional).


Questions and answers

Try to hear what an employer is really asking you. What are the underlying questions?
Put yourself in the employer’s place and ask yourself, "What reservations would I have about hiring me?” Your purpose is to alleviate these reservations in the interview and calm any doubt about your suitability for a position.
It may be helpful to use an interview answer format to guide the content and direction of your responses. The three components of an effective interview answer are:
  • State your skill or ability.
  • Cite an example surrounding that skill area.
  • Relate the skill and experience to the position for which you are interviewing.
The list of sample interview questions that follows will give you an idea of what you may be asked in an interview. You will not be asked all of these questions; in fact, you may not be asked any of them. But these are the types of questions you may get:
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are your major strengths?
  • What is a major weakness that you have and what are you doing to correct it?
  • Where do you hope to be in five years? Ten years?
  • Why should I hire you over other candidates?
  • Why do you want this job?
  • How did you get interested in this career field?
  • Why would you be successful in this job?
  • How did you decide where to go to college?
  • Have you been pleased with your choice?
  • Why did you major in___?
  • Did you always plan to major in it?
  • What is your GPA?
  • Tell me about your extracurricular or community activities.
  • What would you like to change about your college experience?
  • What were your favorite and least favorite subjects in school?
  • What kind of professors did you like?
  • Did you do your best in college?
  • Why or why not?
  • Tell me about your work habits.
  • Tell me about some of your work experiences. What have you learned from them?
  • What kind of boss do you like to have? (Avoid criticizing a former boss.)
  • What annoyed you with people you have worked with?
  • What qualities do you admire in others?
  • Why are you interested in this job?
  • To what other organizations are you applying? For what kinds of jobs are you being considered?
  • Tell me about an accomplishment you are proud of.
  • What do you know about our organization?
  • Do you work well under pressure?
  • What are your salary requirements?
  • How do you feel about traveling as part of your job?
  • Do you mind working overtime?
  • What questions do you have about the position and our organization?
  • What are your geographic limitations?


Ending the interview

When you sense that the interviewer is ready to wrap things up, let it end. Another interviewee may be waiting or your interviewer may have other commitments. Listen for end-of-interview signals and respond promptly. If the interviewer does not indicate the next step in the job selection process, ask what to expect.


Follow up

As soon as possible, make notes about what was discussed. Respond promptly to any employer requests, such as to send transcripts or samples of your work. In addition, write a letter thanking the interviewer for the time and consideration given to you and clarifying any questions.

Resume FAQs

Career services directors field many common questions such as these below. Read, make notes and incorporate this advice into your job or internship strategies.

Q: Does a resumé always need to be only one page?

  • A: Not always, though employers often believe that undergraduates should be able to describe their qualifications in one page. If you use more than one page, make sure you have two pages of good material, not filler or redundancies. If you have an advanced degree or a lot of work experience, you may need more than a page. Resumés sent electronically as one file may also be longer. Resumé scanners and software convert resumés to one file for scanning, so two pages is fine.

Q: Is an objective always necessary?

  • A: You don’t have to have an objective, but a concise, relevant objective can help the person considering your application decide if your goals fit in with the organization or company. Because employers favor those who demonstrate a sense of career direction and because word processing allows you to change objectives easily, you should think carefully before omitting an objective or trying to use one objective for different positions. Keyword summaries at the top of resumés can be used in the place of objectives if you are submitting a resumé online. Often these resumés are scanned electronically for keywords.

Q: Should the Education section always appear at the top?

  • A: It depends. Most journalism-related fields value related experience above degree work and expect to see academic information further down the page. For students seeking jobs in other fields, your Education section can be first, especially when you include or course work or projects and honors that can help make you a more attractive candidate.

Q: Should high school information be included?

  • A: First year students and sophomores might use high school academic, extra-curricular and work experience, but once you are an upper-level student, most of your entries should be from college. Rare exceptions would be top state or national honors or achievements or a professional internship held during high school.

Q: Does GPA need to be included?

  • A: If you are proud of your GPA, include it. High GPAs trigger more positive reactions from employers, but GPA is only one factor. GPA information may be offered selectively in some cases, such as GPA in a major or GPA in recent semesters for those whose starts have been poorer than their work lately.

Q: What if I don’t have any experience?

  • A: Any experience has value, whether paid, unpaid or volunteer, as long as you focus on transferable skills and work habits rather than only on what is identical with the field(s) you seek to enter. In your Experience section, focus on skills you’ve used rather than just tasks you’ve done. However, keep working on getting career-related experience!

Q: Do interests, hobbies and other personal background need to be shown?

  • A: It’s not necessary, but such information can help demonstrate success, energy level, commitment and paint a picture of who you are, which an employer may use to evaluate “fit” to a position and with an organization. Unique experiences may also demonstrate traits employers value. Age, marital status, height, weight and other data unrelated to qualifications should not be included to avoid biases or discriminatory practices.

Q. What are some other things that shouldn’t be on a resumé?

  • A: If you’ve had a bad work experience, for whatever reason, you should omit it. If you are a member of an organization that you or others consider controversial or offensive (for example: student political groups or activist organizations) and you don’t want your membership to jeopardize your chances for landing a position, you may want to exclude it. Also, if you joined a student organization, but never participated, you should omit it because lack of involvement can be interpreted as lack of commitment and a ploy to pad your resumé. The bottom line is this: everything on your resumé is fair game for an interviewer or company representative. If you’re not proud of it or don’t feel comfortable discussing it, leave it out.

Q: Must references be included?

  • A: These days, opinion is divided. One opinion says don’t include them because most employers will assume that active job seekers have references to offer at the appropriate time. This opinion would argue that even space devoted to “References Available Upon Request” is not needed. The other opinion is that especially in the case of entry-level jobs and for internships, references are a good idea because you are competing with many others who have similar educational backgrounds and levels of experience. Providing references will give already understaffed and overworked recruiters the opportunity to save some steps in their screening and interviewing process. It is perfectly acceptable to include a section sheet of references with your resumé.