Guest Blogging: 8 simple rules for getting a journalism internship

Each week, we will strive to post content from a guest blogger with an expertise in an area of the field. This week, we are fortunate to have Steven Chappell, the director of student media at Northwest Missouri State University. He has been a working journalist for various publications since 1985 and today he will outline eight tips that will help you get an internship, or at least help you avoid embarrassing yourself in the application process. Interested in being our next guest blogger? Contact us here.

The months of October and November are busy ones for students actively looking for internships in the coming spring and summer. The vast majority of “major” internships students covet have deadlines in October and early November. While internships are available year-round, these two months see the bulk of deadlines for the “big ones.”

As the publisher of the Twitter feed @comminternships, I talk to media managers almost daily who are looking to hire students for either internships or entry-level jobs, and I regularly question them about the skills they are seeking, but more importantly, about what students who are applying for these jobs are doing right and doing wrong.

Right now, a page on The Poynter Institute website has more than 100 internships listed at national media organizations; the majority of the deadlines are between now and Nov. 2, so time is running out if you want to snag a coveted position at The Washington Post or with Dow Jones. But if you want to put yourself front and center, you have to make certain your cover letter and application set you apart from the rest. Put those templates away and listen to the advice I’ve collected over the years from numerous hiring managers.


No. 1: Your resume isn’t about you; it’s about me (the hiring manager).

That means your resume better be tailored specifically to the job description posted, and it needs to use the terminology posted in the description as well. In today’s technologically driven world, many companies now use computer algorithms to screen uploaded files, particularly when as many as 50,000 applications might roll in for a single position. If the application’s content doesn’t match the search parameters, that application will get kicked out, regardless of how qualified you might be. In the end, the ultimate question it should answer is “Why should I hire you?”


No. 2: Follow the instructions.

Whatever the employer has asked you to do, do it. Don’t expect to receive any special treatment. I remain amazed at the stories I get from hiring managers about student applicants who think they can finish submitting documents days or weeks after the deadline simply because they started the application process by the deadline. The real world doesn’t work that way. You can’t play a potential employer the same way you might be able to play a sympathetic professor.


No. 3: Make the resume one page.

As much as you think that time bagging groceries at your local high school grocery store is a part of your experience, it’s not that relevant to the job for which you are applying. This is where the wheat is separated from the chaff, so to speak. Make certain the experience you are listing for this job is relevant to the description.


No. 4: Make more than one resume.

Each job is unique. There is no such thing as a cookie-cutter resume or cover letter anymore. Each one should be tailored specifically for the job to which you are applying. Templates are out. Forget about them. They will do you no good.


No. 5: Keep the design basic.

Fancy designs don’t impress anyone, even for a graphic design job. That’s what your portfolio is for, if you make it that far in the process. The resume should be a clear, clean, precise explanation of your skills, accomplishments and qualifications. It should also be submitted as a PDF, unless another format is requested. Finally, it should be in black and white. You never know how many copies may be printed to be circulated among the hiring committee. Most companies won’t waste money on color copies, and color never prints well in black and white.


No. 6: What you did isn’t that important.

What you accomplished in the role is far more vital. I’m from the Show-Me State, so show, don’t tell, your potential employer what your skills are. Give an example of those skills, and if you have them, the data to back it up.


No. 7: Your cover letter is not a copy of the resume.

I have the resume. I don’t need to re-read it in the cover letter. Why would anyone want to read the same thing twice? The cover letter is your sales pitch. What’s missing from the resume that you can expound upon here to set yourself apart from all those other applicants.


No. 8: Find someone who knows grammar and AP Style to proofread it for you.

You are applying for media jobs, so make certain everything you submit is in AP Style. It also has to be grammatically perfect. Hiring manager after hiring manager tells me that the No. 1 screening process is mistakes in the resume or cover letter. If you aren’t paying attention to detail in your application, you won’t pay attention to detail on the job, so you aren’t worth their time.


If you are looking for a spring or summer internship, take a look at these links:

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