No Personal Connections? No Problem

By: Randy Dotinga

Connections are a priceless commodity when it comes to a search for a newspaper job or internship. But what if you don’t have even a fourth degree of separation from the person who’s sifting through a big fat pile of identical-looking resumes?

Don’t despair. Forget all that business about the importance of “who you know” and follow these tips to set yourself apart from the pack.

** Personalize your cover letter: Make it sound like it actually came from a live human being. Otherwise. you’ll make the mistake of most of the 60 people who applied for an entertainment editor position at The Tennessean in Nashville last year. Only a handful of their cover letters got the attention of Assistant Managing Editor Laurie Holloway.

“There were so many that read just like the sample letter from those textbooks in college,” she said. Some, she added, actually sounded like this: “One of my objectives is to interface with the community and be relevant to every demographic area in the greater mid-state region.”

Holloway prefers short cover letters written in a conversational style. “I love letters that are very idea-heavy and quickly tell me what makes a good entertainment section or what makes a good feature section, why their ideas would make a difference at my newspaper.”

** Do your homework: Make sure you’re qualified for the job you’re applying to get; otherwise your resume will end up in the dreaded circular file. And spend some time researching the newspaper and its region.

“I love it when applicants take the initiative to read our paper online and comment on the coverage area to which they are applying,” said Catherine Straight, managing editor for features and sports at the Saint Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press. “For instance, several months ago when I was hiring a sports editor, one of the applicants started to tune into our baseball team’s run for a shot at the World Series. Every time we had an e-mail or phone conversation concerning the job, he would mention something about the Minnesota Twins. It made me see him as someone who makes sure he is engaged.”

The applicant got the job.

** Don’t sweat the frills: You shouldn’t need to spend a bundle at Office Depot to make your application look good. Stay away from the thesaurus too. “Fancy fonts, flashy paper, and big words don’t have much impact,” said Cara Brennan, human resources manager at The Monterey County (Calif.) Herald.

Straight, the Pioneer Press managing editor, can’t stand plastic covers. Some editors hate portfolios that they have to take apart in order to feed work samples through a copier.

But don’t go too far the other way and assume no one cares how your application packet looks. “Clean presentation is really important,” said Bob Nishizaki, assistant managing editor of news operations at the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek, Calif. “We sometimes see resumes where they’ve photocopied something and the type is so small that you’re really struggling to read it.”

And remember that bosses may not mind a little bit of pizzazz in an application, as long as it doesn’t make their job more difficult. “When I was hiring for a job recently, I had about eight resumes on single sheets of white paper. The candidate that I knew I liked had his on a yellow piece of paper, so it was easy to find him,” said Holloway of The Tennessean.

Yellow paper may be just as likely to annoy another editor. But at least you’ll stand out.

COMING NEXT WEEK: Who hasn’t been tempted to fudge a resume? It’s true that many newspapers don’t bother checking the background of applicants. But in the age of Google and Lexis-Nexis, even the smallest fib could doom your job prospects.

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