Application deadlines for spots next summer at many of the largest (and paying) media organizations have come and gone. For students still looking to land an internship, there’s still time, especially at smaller companies and in newsrooms with new programs.
Here are some tips for aspiring journalists to consider over winter break:
1. Get experience on campus.
Many university campuses have daily newspapers, monthly magazines and 24/7 television and radio stations, all venues for building a strong portfolio. Those outlets are always seeking talent, given that the staff turns over each year, and starting there during freshman year is a good introduction to the industry. Schedules often are flexible enough to accommodate working students. Work for them. A ton.
Journalism is an industry that’s about what you do and students can learn just as much – or more – on the job than in a classroom. Spend time next semester updating holes in your body of work.
2. Think big …
Look at the job descriptions for internships way ahead of when you plan to apply. What is the media outlet looking for in an applicant? If you don’t have those skills, work on getting them now, perhaps for next year’s round of applications.
Applying for an internship is much like applying to college: Pick reach, match and safety employers. A reach employer is one in which you don’t quite match up to the competition. You never know; you might be the one to get the big gig in the bigger city. If you meet the requirements, don’t be afraid to go for it.
3… and think small.
Many students want to work at name-brand media companies like CNN, The Wall Street Journal or The Washington Post. But It’s statistically easier to get into Harvard than to land an internship at The New York Times, which received 5,000 applications for 25 slots this past summer. Many interns at the large organizations require at least one or two previous internships. Get that experience at a smaller outlet, or at your local paper, where you might get more experience and face less competition.
Also, New York, San Francisco, D.C., Los Angeles and other coastal cities have high costs of living, which can quickly cut into a student budget. Media outlets are all over the United States, and all of them need talent.
4. Use your college resources.
Many journalism schools have a career services director or Office of Career Services, which help students at every juncture of the application process. Use them. Make an appointment and make yourself known. A staff member can help define goals and flesh out an application. Internship opportunities often come in through the office. Staff members also administer tests for organizations like Dow Jones News Fund and the Associated Press.
Journalism professors are also a good source as they often work or have worked in the field and can offer advice or introduce you to the right people.
In some cases, schools can help financially needy students. Every student at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York is guaranteed a minimum of $3,000 for the summer. If the media employer doesn’t pay, CUNY does. They aren’t the only school that does. The Gallivan Journalism Program at the University of Notre Dame financially sponsors summer internships at several news organizations,
5. Join the club(s).
Professional organizations, whether on campus or off, offer endless opportunities for growth and networking. There’s the Society of Professional Journalists; affinity groups such as the National Association of Black Journalists and the Asian American Journalists Association, which have their own internship programs or the South Asian Journalists Association, which has an internship fund. There also are specialty groups such as the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing and the Society of Environmental Journalists.
Membership fees for students are nominal and offer a good return on investment.
Some like NABJ even offer their own student projects, where undergraduates can get experience on a publication or television broadcast at the organization’s annual convention. Most conferences also have career fairs, where media organizations recruit for internship and full-time positions.
6. Craft a solid resume.
Know what you want and organize your resume so that it is targeted to the type of job you’re seeking. This is where students often miss the mark, says Eric Minor, director of career services at West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media. Be specific as possible when talking about accomplishments, he advises.
When the resume is done, get a friend or professor – or two – to read it over. Double and triple-check it.
7. Mind your cover.
A cover letter, often the first impression to a potential employer, can make or break an application. One typo could send your application to the recycling bin. Make sure you read and re-read your letter – and keep it to one page.
Use it to say what your resume can’t. While some career advisers or professors may tell you to write it straight, feel free to use this space to tell a story, says Minor. Cover letters are a good way to deliver something of value, he says.
Want to work at Reuters? Serious candidates are advised to include in their cover letters Reuters reporting they admire most.
8. Read the directions.
If the application calls for “two printable writing samples,” submit two, not three. Also, in this instance, send a PDF instead of a hyperlink.
Read the internship job description carefully. This is where the employer is communicating what it’s looking for.
Apply with all materials requested by the deadline.
9. Think outside the box.
It makes sense to apply for internships in your hometown or in the city where you attend college. Cast your net a bit wider, for better results. Also, look at fall and spring sessions.