Landing that design/edit job: 3 tips students need now

Friday, Feb. 11, 2011, 1 pm: Staff of the Indiana Daily Student engage in the decades-old tradition of Slash, where they review the best work of the previous week and look ahead to upcoming stories.

For a while I’ve been regularly visiting the Indiana Daily Student campus newspaper, and it’s been fun to follow a few of the students in recent years, track their internships and jobs, and field questions like: what do we need to do to improve our chances in the job market? That topic was tackled again this past weekend, during a visit to advise students on their in-house redesign of the newspaper. (More about that here on Charles Apple’s blog and launch-week visuals and more background info here on my own blog.)

As students prototyped a new format and fonts, I encouraged them to think of creating a newspaper (and soon, a redesigned website or apps) that would serve readers better, but at the same time, boost their portfolio. What do I mean by that? I encouraged them to consider destinations in the paper – and to produce content to fill them on a daily basis – that would be viewed by recruiters as unique, surprising, intelligent, and yes, multimedia. Yes, news products have to tell the news of the day, but also captivate, surprise, take chances, have fun. These are the things that any recruiter is going to look for.

The following tips apply not just to the students at IU but pretty much all student work I’ve seen in recent years (including many years of directing fellowship programs at Poynter):

  • Now more than ever, headlines matter. Whether you are a designer, editor or writer, you need to take more responsibility for making sure that any headlines that appear on your work are top-notch, and put only the best ones in your portfolio. Why? Because of Twitter and Facebook, the bar has been raised for the ability of a few words to capture our attention. (Try this: review your Twitter feed and ask: which of these items do I REALLY want to take a detour and read? In my case it’s maybe 1 item in 100 or 150. As we read print publications as well as digital, we expect to be captivated, not bored, and we don’t want to read what we’ve already learned elsewhere. The few key words of a headline make or break interest in your work.) The Daily Student often does a good job with headlines on their Facebook feed. Think about bringing the energy from your social media or digital work back into print media.
  • Portfolios must be online. If you want to be a web producer, or a copy editor for a magazine, or a writer for any medium, including PR, you need to show that you can do video, you can Tweet, you can blog, you can take photos. The best way to corral all this information is in an online portfolio. I’m shocked at how many students I encounter across the country who don’t even have a basic blog. If I’m a recruiter, I don’t want to see paper clips and I don’t want DVDs arriving in the mail, sorry but I’ve got enough clutter to deal with already – and so do media consumers. If you can’t compile it online, don’t bother applying. Download times must be fast and page design must be clutter- and gimmick-free. The good news is: It’s easy enough to set up a personal website via free blog software like WordPress. (That’s actually where I got the template for this blog, though I customized it a bit after plugging it into my website, put my own logo on it and adjusted a number of options to make the blog do what I needed.) Every college journalism program should require a “personal brand” blog to be started by freshman year, and developed further in years 2, 3 and 4. New work should be added regularly; older work should be weeded out. BONUS TIP: Don’t bother putting resume stuff on your blog or site. Start that now on Linked In, as I have done here, and you can carry that with you through your career with minimal technical hassle. It’s also a terrific place to park verifiable recommendations from professors, bosses or mentors, or clients, as I have done here. If you’ve done great work, be pro-active about soliciting recommendations; don’t wait for the recruiter to call your references, it may never happen.
  • Portfolios need short, quick items, as well as depth. In most cases, yes, you need to show that you can produce items of some depth. But this absolutely needs to be balanced with other items that are short, to the point, and intelligent. Years ago I learned how to be short and smart from the masters at The Wall Street Journal, while working with the team there to launch the paper’s innovative Personal Journal section. It was the first section of the paper to produce “charticles,” and at first glance, they looked like basic graphics, tab charts heavy with text. Upon a close read, these items were often humorous, edgy, snarky, but in the end, they had to be extremely informative, accurate, and enterprising. Student portfolios must include these kinds of things as well. (It was a treat to work with SND Student Designer of the Year Larry Buchanan on an array of magazine-like alt story forms, which we hope will serve as a template to get more of this kind of writing into the Daily Student, and into student portfolios, for designers as well as writers. More about these later on this blog; follow me on Twitter to keep up to date on future postings.)

[Update, April 2015: Larry Buchanan has quickly emerged as one of the top young visual journalists in the world. Explore his robust updated website here, a real model for a portfolio site if ever there was one, with tons of links to his current work as a graphics and multimedia journalist at The New York Times, and previous work with The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, and many other cool places. For some of his coolest multimedia work, dive in here.]

Add your views below in comments if you are a student and have your own tip, a recruiter who has another point of view, or an educator who has something further to add, about how these areas of resume-building are (or aren’t) covered in your curriculum.


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  1. stratosphere

     /  February 21, 2011

    I get the need for an online portfolio, but what about saving and sending clips of pages or of complete sections or editions of a newspaper, for those applying for newspaper jobs?

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