Posted in Navel-gazing

How to score a newspaper internship (I think)

I promised an aspiring student journalist I’d post this to my blog a while ago, but never got around to it. Apologies if she’s been checking this site every day since.

In March, I was invited to give a talk to a group of students from university newspapers across Quebec and Ontario at a regional conference of Canadian University Press. Unfortunately, I was up against Todd van der Heyden, so my audience was small.

I talked about a few random things, like blogging, copy editing and freelancing. I also figured these kids would like some tips on how to get a job once they graduate, so I dug up my old internship application for The Gazette.

It was the fall of 2004, and I really wanted a job at the local anglo newspaper. I collected clippings (I selected five stories that I wrote, edited and laid out myself), compiled a CV that highlighted my experience in the student press, and wrote a cover letter.

I also included this:

A page from my internship application to The Gazette

A page from my internship application to The Gazette

Since I was applying mainly to be a copy editor, I figured I needed to demonstrate my skills. I took a page from the newspaper (I went through a couple before I found one with enough errors), scanned it and pointed out things that were wrong with it. It took me hours to lay it out properly, but it was worth it.

In January 2005, when I was interviewed by then-city editor George Kalogerakis, he asked me the usual boilerplate questions (I completely bombed a question that asked me for story ideas – among my answers were “it’s winter … maybe a story about that?”). I quickly learned he hadn’t seen the special page I spent hours working on. Leafing through dozens of applications, it apparently didn’t catch his eye.

I’m not sure what bearing it had in the decision, but I got a phone call while I was at a CUP conference in Edmonton later that month offering me the summer copy editing intern position.

A few months later, when I first met my new boss (who wasn’t Kalogerakis, because he abruptly left for a job at the Journal de Montréal), she identified me as “the one with the page.” As the person in charge of copy editors, she’d clearly been more impressed.

Anyway, enough about how awesome I am. The moral of this story is that when you’re applying for a job, especially in an environment where demand is much higher than supply, you should consider thinking outside the box to get noticed. Companies get dozens of CVs for every job, and even after throwing away those with spelling or grammar mistakes, there are a lot of candidates left to choose from.

I had learned that lesson from Andy Nulman, the former Just for Laughs organizer who has since become an expert in surprise marketing (you can see him with his fly open on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on Tuesday). He had done a television segment long ago (I don’t even remember for what program UPDATE: Nulman tells me it was a five-part special for CBC Newswatch in the mid-90s) about resumés, and said candidates who want to get noticed should eschew the standard resumé for a “presumé” that stands out (within reason of course, it should still have a CV and references). He talked of a CV he’d received that was in an oversized envelope that said “don’t read this” (or something to that effect). Clearly, he couldn’t not read it.

I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader how this idea can be used to apply for other kinds of jobs.

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