Networking tips for journalism students

By Mary-Katherine Boss, Student Lounge Editor

It can be unnerving for students and recent graduates to find journalism jobs in today's competitive market. J-schools often suggest that networking is one of the best ways for new journalists to make connections in the industry but rarely explain how to do so effectively.

By Mary-Katherine Boss, Student Lounge Editor

It can be unnerving for students and recent graduates to find journalism jobs in today's competitive market. J-schools often suggest that networking is one of the best ways for new journalists to make connections in the industry but rarely explain how to do so effectively.

Networking can expose you to potential jobs or sources and provide you with an opportunity to learn from people more experienced than you. Networking has also changed a lot in recent years—it's more than just attending events and shaking hands. You have to use many different approaches and tools, including social media, to be effective.


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Here are some dos and don'ts of networking for new journalists:

Do ask for help

Experienced journalists won't to come to you—you have to take the first step, as intimidating as it might seem. "I think journalists tend to be quite helpful to student journalists as long as they're not looking to have their hand held all the way to a job," said Matthew Pearson, a reporter for the Ottawa Citizen. The kind of young journalists he's excited to help are those who come to him with thoughtful questions or stories they're working on that they want to take to the next level.

You also have to be the one to keep up the relationship. "If you've ever got an editor or producer or web editor that pays attention to you, then cultivate that relationship," Pearson said. "Stay on their radar as much as possible."

Don't harass journalists for help

As you can imagine, journalists are busy people. When they have a story to file by the end of the day, the last thing they want is 17 phone calls from a student asking if they've read your story. So, while Pearson thinks it's important that you stay on their radar, don't inundate them with questions.

 "Take them out for coffee I wouldn't say more than once every couple of months," he said. You can also follow up with a quick email or phone call.

Pearson said whatever you do, avoid asking "'Can you help me get a job?' 'Can you pass my resume on?' or 'Can you send me the email address for your editor?' Those are all things you can do on your own," he said. "That doesn't help your cause."

Do use a variety of approaches

It's important to network in different ways: attend a conference, make personal connections with your professors, get your own business card, email your favourite journalists, tweet or join LinkedIn.

Every summer, Jim Sheppard, executive editor of globeandmail.com, hires 12 to 18 new journalists from a pool of 500 applicants. "The market for journalism graduates these days is so very tight that it's important for job candidates to use whatever advantages they have and try every technique that there is available in order to be one of the lucky ones selected," he said.

Allison Leonard graduated last year from the journalism program at Wilfrid Laurier University's Brantford campus and currently works as president of Wilfrid Laurier University Student Publications and communication manager at Canadian University Press. She advocates for a hybrid approach to networking: "I've been to events where they throw everyone in a room and it's like 'I've got to get as many business cards as possible' and that's not effective if you're not following through with modern practice. But modern practice like using social media isn't enough either. You've got to build personal relationships."

Do be respectful of people's time

It may sound obvious, but if a busy journalist offers to help you, make sure you use that time effectively. "If an editor has agreed to spend time with you—go for coffee with you—don't answer your phone or check your email or your Facebook," said Pearson. "Show respect."

Minding your manners goes a long way toward making a good first impression. When you're sending a journalist an email, taking the time to check your grammar and spelling can make a big difference.

Being respectful also means doing your homework. Have some questions ready ahead of time and choose a few pieces of work you've done that they can look over.

Don't assume networking will automatically land you a job

You won't get the job you want just because you know someone—you still have to put in the work. "If I don't know who you are or haven't seen something that you've done I'm not likely to spend time figuring out who you are," Sheppard said. "If you catch my attention, then I will."

When he hires young journalists, an excellent cover letter and resume go further than networking.

Sheppard said there is a very small group of journalists who could recommend an interview candidate and he would take it, no questions asked. He thinks networking won't hurt your cause, but ultimately, you just have to be good at your craft.

Leonard agrees. "I think everyone can see through the obligatory handshake and business card method. You need to back up that business card with intelligence and the ability to do a job correctly because that contact may not mean much for you later."

 

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