Tuesday, May 13, 2014

My advice to jornalism college students graduating today

If this falls under TL;DNR for you, skip the first five paragraphs:

A few weeks ago, I was invited be on a panel on journalism composed of my school's alumni to speak to current students and provide career advice. I'm not sure if my career trajectory was that impressive  but I have dabbled in writing and giving advice about journalism on my blog and I believe that stood out to them.

The experience was easily one of the highlights of the year: It was fun to take a road trip to a place I hadn't been to in over five years, I made a lot of beneficial contacts, it was fun to briefly see old professors who all remembered me to varying degrees, and it was really flattering that my college thought I was important enough to give a speech to their current crop of journalism students.

This might be called my first public speaking engagement and I picked up the challenge of trying to think about how I'd distill my successes and failures into bite-size bits of useful advice. Because I'd written on this but have never spoken about it, I tried getting people to ask me questions in advance so I'd have some idea if I would be articulate or not when asked questions on the spot.

The whole thing happened in a whirl and I didn't really get any of the questions in advance except for the moderator telling us the night before to prepare a response for "What do you wish you'd known then that you'd known now?" It's hard to say how I did for sure but it's likely somewhere between completely terrible and amazing. I'm pretty sure I didn't self-destruct on stage and likely said something that was useful to some of the people there so I was pretty pleased.

However, I'm now looking back as college graduations are prevalent in the news right now this and it just occurred to me that I had something really important to say and that important thing was an entirely unique message compared to the six other panelists that day. Furthermore, this message could save some people from being miserable in the following months after college, so I want to say this with more clarity now:


A lot of the career advice you're going to get is how to get a job. It's good advice and you should listen to it. BUT here's the thing:

Some of you will get jobs and that will be great. But some of you will take all of that good job advice and do everything right and either still not got a "job" or get an internship that will frustrate you because it's not a "job." OR you'll work retail or substitute teach or wait tables to keep you afloat in the interim and be frustrated because it isn't yet a "job." OR you might get a job that takes a long time to get a security clearance for. OR you might get a job that doesn't look entirely what you envisioned as a job (it might be with a start-up that can't pay you much as they are getting their operations off the ground). OR you might get a job and then get laid off (this happens a lot in this industry. I know someone who worked for CBS but was laid off and went to work for the New York Post. I also know someone at Newsweek who was laid off and went to work for CBS).

The point being there's a lot of different things that could happen to you other than "getting a job" and while it's important to know how to land said "job," it's equally important to react to not getting your dream job. You have to know how to make lemonade out of lemons if said "job" doesn't come, because that will likely happen far more often.

The important thing is to have a strong mental constitution through the process and ability to adapt to professional rejection. Understand that there's a lot of randomness to who gets jobs and it's not as much of a measure of your personal worth whether you get one or not. Also, consider that when you apply for a salaried job, you're essentially asking someone to give you tens of thousands of dollars every year. Unless it's the government or a humongous company, people do tend to care about who they give that much money away to and they can't just do it for you unless they're pretty darn sure it will be a good investment. They can't just do it because you're a college graduate and society dictates someone give you that much money.

The other important thing is to reconsider your definition about what a job is. For example, in the field of journalism, what would happen if you got hired as a staff reporter for a newspaper?  You'd be writing articles for a living. This field is a unique one in that you can often write articles for money for a newspaper without being on staff. So take solace that you're doing the same thing you would be doing anyway. In the vast majority of scenarios, being a staff writer is a more ideal position to have but I'm talking about the life skill of adapting to not having a job. If you can't get a job on a staff, look into the avenue of writing articles freelance.

Similarly, what does a PR firm do? They handle PR accounts one at a time. It's entirely possible to get someone to pay you (likely a smaller amount at first) to do PR work for them if you don't belong to a PR firm. Opportunities can be found on Odesk or Craigslist. Again, I'm not suggesting this will necessarily pay as well, but it is an option. I've attracted some attention from clients by going to small business meetings. You're not completely cut off from earning money just because you haven't been hired for a PR firm is my point.

There are a number of ways to earn money out there, big and small, and I recommend seeking out both the big and small ones.

I essentially don't believe that finding a job is a full-time job. Sure, keep job searching, but it's not a productive use of your day to devote it entirely on finding a job that might or might not benefit you in the future when there's something you can do in the here and now. Spend at least some of it working on something productive in the here and now. You'll pick up experience along the way and you won't look back at 2014 and remember it as the year you sat around applying for a job.

No comments: