Here a Clip, There a Clip

By: Randy Dotinga

***Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of columns looking at the three vital parts of a job application packet — cover letter, work samples, and resume. The columns are archived for E&P subscribers only at

Where would Kinko’s be without newspaper reporters? When it’s time to apply for a new job, some scribblers may feel like they spend half their lives at the copy shop, trying to fit 90-inch opuses onto 8.5 x 11 inch pieces of paper.

Their co-workers know the drill too, even if they don’t write stories. The city editor spends a weekend searching through computer files for stories that he selflessly saved from horrible writing. The vice president of marketing socks away copies of her most creative house ads in a drawer somewhere. And photographers stay late trolling through old issues for their best pictures.

Then, when it comes time to send their work samples to potential bosses, many sensible employees go overboard. They wander the aisles of Office Depot, buying glossy folders and binders at $8 a pop. But the reality is that most recruiters and personnel directors don’t want to get an expensive portfolio in the mail. In fact, the packaging may even annoy them.

At the Detroit Free Press, for instance, fancy binders that come with applications end up going home with a newsroom employee who has kids in elementary school. Like many recruiters, Joe Grimm of the Free Press needs to copy work samples for other editors to review, and the binders just get in the way. “Save your money,” he said. “Just send it in with a paper clip on it. Don’t use all that plastic and the folder and the portfolio. And you don’t need to take it to Kinko’s and have it bound.”

The only applicants who may want to bother with extravagant binders are graphic designers who consider them part of the overall presentation of their work, he said.

Grimm and other recruiters mentioned another pet peeve — tiny print. Sure, you may be young enough to read 4.5-point type without a magnifying glass and a wrinkle-inducing squint. But the person you’re trying to impress is probably of a certain age, so stay away from the “reduce” button when you copy your work samples.

You’re not likely to bug anyone too much if you send a big pile of work samples. But remember that samples — whether they’re photos or articles or ads — reach critical mass after a while. Send too many and the ones at the back will be ignored.

“I start to glaze over after about eight stories,” said newsroom recruiter Selwyn Crawford of The Dallas Morning News. “But less than five probably isn’t enough to make a clear impression.”

Other newsroom recruiters like somewhere between six and a dozen clips. If you’re a photographer, you’ll probably need to send about 20 photos in whatever format the newspaper prefers — probably burned onto a CD.

“The point isn’t the number, the point is having a well-rounded portfolio that accurately shows what kind of photographer you are,” said a West Coast photo editor who’s shy about seeing his name in print. “Ask for help. Get opinions from other photographers and photo editors. Don’t edit a portfolio alone.”

And feel free to try something new. Recruiters and personnel directors are probably more likely to appreciate creativity in work samples than in resumes or cover letters.

If you did extraordinary work on a particular story, for example, consider attaching a note explaining what happened. Crawford said he appreciates what may be a new trend — reporter candidates who include a copy of a newspaper page, showing where a story was played, along with a copy of the story in regular-sized type. “It was really helpful to see where the story ran and read it too,” he said.

But creativity does have its limits. Don’t direct someone to your Web site instead of sending clips, for example. The last thing you want to do is make an editor cranky by forcing her to download, print, copy, and distribute your work. Assume that the Internet connection is down, the printer is broken, and she’s misplaced her bifocals. And act accordingly.

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