post-starving-college-student quandry
July 18, 2007 11:04 PM   Subscribe

How does one make even make an attempt at getting an entry level job in the journalism or PR fields, when he or she has no real access to those fields (and no experience)?

After six years in college (and four universities) I've finally obtained a BS in Communication Studies. During this time, I worked full time at a local grocery store to make ends meet, and make a small dent in the ammount of debt i have. Working at a grocery store has many wonderful perks for a young college student (such as staving off starvation and discounted beer). Regardless, all of this surviving didn't allow me to take advantage of internships, and aside from helping out with our (now defunct-ish) local pirate radio station, and promoting a few vintage Vespa rallies, I have no real practical experience in any sort of media field.

Now that i'm out of school, and looking for a "real" (read: non-grocery) job, I'm at a complete loss. I've got a decent resume for someone starting out, two killer letters of reccomendation and plenty of good references outside that, including from my current boss who knows i'm looking for work elsewhere.

How on earth do I attempt to break into the media or PR fields? Every post i see on craigslist, monster, or any other site requires 5-7 years experience...which i don't have. How does one actually make contacts and connections in this field?
posted by furnace.heart to Work & Money (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Network, use referrals, and apply directly. Many of these companies do not bother to advertise entry-level positions, because they don't want to pay the ad fees.
posted by acoutu at 11:13 PM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Clips (work samples) are key. The more quality work you have published, the better off you are. You have a degree, and that's good, but for the most part employers are going to look for material that shows you're up to the tasks they'll assign you.

Ideally, you would have worked at the student newspaper. This would have given you guaranteed publications that you could show to prospective employers. It doesn't seem from your post that you did this. But don't worry, there are other ways. (Also, if you're talking about P.R., even the Vespa promotion you did might be a solid enough sample of your work, depending on the job you're applying for.)

There are three strategies I suggest.

First, internships are good entry-level ways to start out, and are not just for college students. I know several journalism professionals that did multiple internships. You might have to work unpaid for a period of time to build your resume and clips, but some of these are paid as well.

Second, freelance. The web (including some previous AskMe threads) have good basic instructions for how to get started freelance writing. Here's my post from one of those threads. You won't get rich off it, and you have to pay your dues before you pay the rent, but you're not looking for a career here, you're looking for clips to help get you future jobs. You can do this while keeping your day job if that makes financial sense. I did.

Third, join professional associations and go to meetings. There's the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, and most states have newspaper associations you can join. Join these groups, or just contact the people involved. Show up at their parties and tell the folks there what you've just told us. They can help. There are also terrific groups for journalists of color, like AAJA, NAJA, and Northwest Journalists of Color in the PNW. Like acoutu said, network.

For PR, consider doing the same at your local chapter of the P.R. Society of America. These people can also help you with your resume. Many large P.R. firms have recruiters that can help you find entry-level work, and if they're impressed with you, will even help you tailor your application. My advice is to find the P.R. firms in your area, send in your resume and a cover letter, and follow up with a recruiter explaining your goals.

Also, consider that sucks. Craigslist is better, but there are tremendous journalism and P.R.-specific job boards that have lots of entry level opportunities. Try these:

Editor & Publisher

Don't get discouraged. It's tough to break in, but rewarding. Good luck!
posted by jeffmshaw at 12:13 AM on July 19, 2007 [7 favorites]

Also, I see that you're in Portland. That's where I'm from, and I may be coming back there. I have some specific regional tips for you if you like: e-mail is in my profile.
posted by jeffmshaw at 12:31 AM on July 19, 2007

Journalism and PR are massive areas. It’s like saying that you want to work in ‘engineering or technology’. The world is full of recent lit grads who apply to writing jobs saying that they ‘want to do something creative’ knowing nothing about the job or the field. I know that without experience it’s tricky (and you can easily fall into a vicious circle thereby) but you can stand out from the crowd by being properly informed.

Perhaps you have done this already, but I would suggest narrowing your focus. It doesn’t have to be forever. Decide if you want to work in journalism or PR to start with. Then decide what kind of (for example) journalism – editing, reporting, writing, and for what field – newspapers, magazines, websites. Learn more about what working in this different fields and job roles actually entails. (Sorry if I am teaching you to suck eggs a little here, but it might be a useful exercise.)

Otherwise I agree with everything jeff v. usefully suggests. You could also try temping or getting an admin job in a PR company or magazine and work your way up – I’ve seen that happen, although it’s risky. Don’t get a job in media sales hoping that it will get you a way in to editorial – there seems to be a ‘never the twain shall meet’ philosophy in most businesses about that.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 2:09 AM on July 19, 2007

I found that informational interviews with people in the field helped me learn what the jobs are really all about, and also make connections/meet possible mentors. People are almost always flattered to be asked for an informational interview, and it might help you refine exactly what kind of job you are interested in.

Nonprofits are also a great way to enter the field, and have less stringent requirements for experience, you could easily get a job as a communications coordinator or something similar; you'd probably do a bunch of admin stuff but also learn a lot, and it would be better on your resume than being a receptionist at a PR agency, because you'd have substantive project experience. Pay sucks but that's OK when you're just starting out, right?
posted by miss tea at 4:47 AM on July 19, 2007

--choose a company you'd like to work for and temp for them

--impress your temp manager- say YES to every assignment, no matter how crap, no matter what time, YES, YES, YES

-- impress/ get to know everyone you work with along the way and let them know you are looking for full-time work (including your temp manager)
posted by mrmarley at 5:11 AM on July 19, 2007

Best answer: I've worked in public relations (agency-side) for a little over a decade and I second jeffmshaw's recommendations to check out PRSA.

Unfortunately, Portland PRSA requires that you be a member to view their Job Bank. Joining Portland's PRSA Chapter might be a good personal investment for you.

(Typically costs a few hundred dollars per year. They might, however, have a 'recent grad' discount. Tell them your situation.)

In my experience, and the other 'general' job sites are close to worthless. Job-seeking PR professionals in my hometown literally bring their resumes to our monthly PRSA lunches because they're usually great for networking. From their Web site, Portland appears to have a pretty good PRSA chapter.

How to build your resume' without a job? Philanthropic organizations are always looking for PR / communications help. Find a charity and volunteer to help with their communications. This will not only help you build your resume, but its a great way to meet people from regional businesses and it helps the charity. Everybody wins.

If you decide to take the PR route - working at a small to mid-sized agency (vs. a corporation) is a great way to start your career. You'll get exposure to a variety of tasks / projects / accounts and it will help you decide what you ultimately want to do.

If you really feel the calling to try journalism (lower pay, bad hours and less job security) do it early in your career. In my experience, it's easier to move from journalism to PR than PR to journalism.

Good luck and don't give up!
posted by LakesideOrion at 5:46 AM on July 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Do a proper training course with a recognised industry body where you are, and then do work experience. That said, you'd surely have an easier time in PR - it's rapidly expanding while journalism rapidly contracts, and competence isn't exactly at a premium.
posted by reklaw at 6:51 AM on July 19, 2007

The Oregon and Southwest Washington chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is looking for new members. You don't have to pay the local chapter, but you do have to join the national SPJ.

If you want to work at a newspaper, you'll have to apply for jobs at itty bitty weekly papers in the middle of nowhere, given your complete lack of experience. They can be hell, are almost always difficult, and are often really great places to learn the ropes.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:28 AM on July 19, 2007

get a paid internship at a magazine or website. they are rare, but do exist. alternatively, call small local newspapers and local radio stations and ask about entry level employment, or freelance work. leave a resume even if no positions are open at the time.

also, the universities you attended probably have career resource centers and job mailing lists. use them.

also, these sties are helpful for finding work in journalism: and
posted by brooklynexperiment at 8:59 AM on July 19, 2007

Not much to add to the excellent advice up-thread except to suggest pitching to local alt-weeklies. They are always on the look-out for new talent. You might not get paid a ton but you will likely get to write what you want and make contacts (both journo and, more importantly, non-journo) in your field of interest.

Good luck.
posted by docgonzo at 10:26 AM on July 19, 2007

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