Qualifications themselves are not an instant ticket to success â€“ in any profession. I look back on my schooling, and appreciate the value it played in my career, but ultimately it was only part of the winning formula. When first trying to crack into journalism (straight from High School) I didnâ€™t have a portfolio, I didnâ€™t have a mentor, and I didnâ€™t have the habit of reading a wide range of news items to develop a good understanding of current affairs, I didnâ€™t have a friend or relative in the field that could provide insight. As one of 550 applicants to the daily newspaper, I didnâ€™t stand a snowballâ€™s chance. However I was lucky. I didnâ€™t give up. During the next three years of formal university studies (to acquire qualifications), I was also fortunate to quickly close the gaps in what I didnâ€™t have.
What should you do?
1: Write heaps. (Or take heaps of pictures if your leaning is to photography). Letters to the editor. Blog. Reviews. Quirky human interest yarns. Sure items in the university press is better than nothing â€“ but also try peddling your material to mainstream. It doesnâ€™t have to be the countryâ€™s leading newspaper â€“ even items submitted free to the local rag will look good in a portfolio.
2: Work for free. Doing the weekend sports coverage of the local team can help build a relationship with the editor. If he/she can see you have potential, and can provide regular copy throughout a season, then your name might be easy for them to recall the next time they are wanting to fill a staff vacancy.
3: Apply â€“ even if there is no vacency. If I had waited or a spot to open on one of the two daily newspapers in my city, then I might never have got a start in the industry. There were just too many people like me wanting a break on a metro daily. Instead I started writing letters of application to every single newspaper across the state. I didnâ€™t wait for an advertised position; I just wrote to the editors repeatedly. (But you need to be careful not to go overboard â€“ as youâ€™ll be deemed a serial pest).
4: Keep positive. I was lucky. It only took 60 letters before fortune smiled on me. And from those 60 letters, I had only about 5 replies (mostly â€œnoâ€). Donâ€™t get stressed if you donâ€™t hear back. And donâ€™t worry if the answer is â€œnoâ€ â€“ it might only mean there is nothing available.
5: If the reply letter says your name has been put on file for possible future consideration, donâ€™t rest on your laurels. If they have filed your letter, it might also be sitting there with hundreds of others. Follow up with a call to the editor and ask if you can work under a â€œfreeâ€ internship for a week or so (just to help build your resume and level of experience). Even if there is nothing available, you have at least done something extra to possibly impress a potential employeer.
6: Get lucky. I stated on a rural weekly. If I had applied one week earlier â€“ my letter would have been dismissed. (At that stage they wanted an experienced editor). And if I had written a week later, I might have missed the spot. I just happen to be asking at the right place at the right time.