The job coach reviewed my resume on his desk, used his thumb and forefinger like pincers and picked up the sheet.
“We can work with this,” he said.
I was leaving the newspaper business. This guy was supposed to help me. And he was treating my resume—my career—like a dirty diaper.
He read my face. “This is what you were,” he said. “We are going to talk about who you are. What your skills are. Not the jobs you’ve had.”
And for the first time in nearly 30 years I began to think that there were jobs out there that did not start with journalism.
My job coach was the first person who looked at my skills, not at job titles.
This column and this magazine is about the newspaper industry, but it’s instructive for your future—whether it is in the industry or out—to look at the extraordinary set of skills that newspaper people possess. Believe me, these are not in the skill set of many people outside the industry.
Unfortunately, I’ve had this conversation dozens of times in the past decade with newspaper people looking for a new career.
Like many who left, I chose to start a consultancy that turned into a small business. Others found new jobs. In either case, these skills—rather this combination of skills—learned in the newspaper business proved lucrative in new careers.
Rapidly synthesize complicated information. Journalists take it for granted that they can take notes during a four-hour meeting and then compose 800 words that capture the essential actions. This is an exceptional skill.
Make a deadline. In all the disciplines across the newspaper industry, deadlines are sacrosanct and daily. But talk to people in many other industries and they find deadlines, well, deadly. They are blown off or pushed back. The fact that you can make a deadline each day makes you valuable.
Compose coherent sentences. Even write some that sing. In the newsroom, we get used to a minimum level of composition competency. Step outside the business for a few weeks and you will appreciate those who can take subject-verb-object and write it clearly, and often with panache. This ability is not to be taken for granted.
Ask questions. Sometimes in my new job I am interviewed by a journalist who just won’t run out of questions. That’s great. A natural curiosity makes one smarter.
Great facial architecture. The best journalists remember that the head has two eyes, two ears and one mouth. According to that ratio, one should listen and observe four times as often as one speaks. This is crucial in another career you are just learning.
The ability to reserve judgment. Newspaper people learn to wait and listen with disinterest. The best never take a side. They explore points of view and ask for facts. But they never choose a side. No matter what field you might enter, the ability to stay neutral (until there is time to take a position) is important to building the strongest position. Aristotle advised us to know the other side as well as we know our own position.
Manage multiple projects. The best people in our business keep several balls moving at once. They can drop one to work another. This isn’t prevalent in everyone’s skill set.
Motivate. If you’ve been a manager in the business for the past decade and managed to keep your team focused on moving ahead in spite of the challenges, then you are exceptional. You’re a great motivator and other industries need that skill.
Creatively problem solve. Some of my newspaper colleagues once put out a newspaper after an earthquake that knocked out power by powering laptops with a car’s battery. Enough said. We know how to work under difficult circumstances.
Know the ins and outs of a community and who makes it run. We take for granted our knowledge of civics and which level of government or which business leaders make our communities work. If you move outside the newspaper industry, that intimate knowledge will make you exceptional.
Like many former journalists, I built a new career after thinking I would be a journalist forever. I hope those reading this do stay in a business that gets healthier than it has been. But if you don’t, take comfort in knowing that your skills are unique and extraordinary and can help you make a living.
Tim Gallagher is president of The 20/20 Network, a public relations and strategic communications firm. He is a former Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and publisher at The Albuquerque Tribune and the Ventura County Star newspapers. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.