Advice from Alexandra Posadzki

The piece of advice that helped me land my first big break came from an unexpected source.

I was just finishing up my third year of psychology studies at York University and had just gotten hired as the editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper, Excalibur. My business manager — someone who has never worked in journalism apart from running the finances and advertising of a campus rag — told me that I would never get a job if I was just a sheet of paper covered in type in a giant, toppling stack of resumes. I took his words to heart.

In an effort to create more networking opportunities for myself and my peers, I reached out to several media organizations in the Toronto area in the hopes of fostering some sort of mentorship. In the process, I met Roger Gillespie, the editor tasked with hiring interns at the Toronto Star. Next thing I know, I had landed an eight-month gig in the Star’s radio room.

Not a glamorous job, exactly, but not bad for a psych major with nothing more than a couple dozen articles in the student press under her belt.

Alex’s twitpic of a burning police cruiser garnered more than 15,000 views on her first day of a CUP intership.

In my opinion, there are three things necessary to succeed in journalism:

  1. Skill
  2. Persistence
  3. Luck
The first two things you can control. The third you can’t. But all three are crucial — here’s why:

You need to keep persistently trying in the face of one devastating failure after another until a bit of luck comes along. And you need to have the skills to succeed — scratch that, excel — when that moment comes along.

Below are a couple of tips that have helped me land not one but two miraculous big breaks (this past January, just months after my September graduation, I got my first job as a general assignment reporter — at the Canadian Press!).

1. Do the prep work

Preparing your an internship application starts NOW. Don’t think that you can pull together a solid cover letter, resume and portfolio in a week. The portfolio part is especially tricky. When I set my eyes on a particular gig I’d love to land, I often spend months in advance pitching and writing stories to make sure I have the kind of clippings that the employer would most value.

I applied for the radio room gig three times before I landed it. The final time I spent months putting together a portfolio of solid news clippings, drilling the one girl I knew who had worked in “the box” for advice and vying for a face-to-face with the hiring editor. It paid off.

2. Make sure your application is perfect

Your cover letter should open with an anecdote that’s so tight and loaded with action words that it would make any editor cream his or her pants. The anecdote must, of course, be about a significant piece of journalism you have done; something that showcases your quick thinking, your ingenious sourcing skills or your creativity — and makes good story.

All of your clippings must be neat and tidy; I like to photocopy mine on semi-glossy paper and in colour, even if the clippings are black and white. It just looks nicer and shows you really tried.

There cannot be so much as one comma out of place in your cover letter or resume. Have three copy editor friends proofread both documents to be sure. And make sure that your application adheres closely to the style guide that the publication uses (for instance, Canadian Press style) — especially if you’re boasting in your resume that you’re proficient in CP style.

3. Bring your A-game to the interview

Over-prepare for your interview, but be ready to ditch your notes and just talk; it comes off a lot more natural. If you can put your interviewer at ease and get him or her talking, that’s a huge bonus. It will not only foster a more genuine connection with the person deciding whether you’re a good addition to their team, but it also showcases your interviewing skills. After all, getting people to open up is an important skill in this industry.

Make sure you come prepared with at least three solid story pitches that you could write on your first day. They should be stories that are unique and compelling but that wouldn’t be out of place in the publication you’re applying to.

It’s not a bad idea to rehearse the interview with a friend or a mentor. Practice answering questions like “Out of all of the candidates, why should I choose you?” Be prepared to discuss your strengths and weaknesses, as well as what type of reporting you’d like to be doing five or 10 years from now. Your future employer wants to know that you’re someone with goals and a vision.

About Alex