Do You Know Jalal Talabani? Perhaps You Should.
By Sara Murray ’07
Sure, you know the names Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. You know about the war in Iraq, and you even know the country held an election.
But do you recognize the name Jalal Talabani?
He’s the president of Iraq and the name you probably skim over every time you read the paper.
But here’s a not-so-secret tip, the news quizzes the J-School slams you with aren’t just for the twisted pleasure of your professors. Some of the largest news organizations in the country – Reuters, The Associated Press, CBS – use similar quizzes to weed out applicants.
I’ve probably taken at least a dozen of them, and I’ve been asked everything from “What’s a Brangelina?” to “Name two space shuttles currently in orbit.” I’ve had to match names of CEOs with the companies they represent and explain which was worth more, a barrel of oil or 100 euros.
So the moral of this schpiel is that all of those names and numbers and countries and dates you usually skip might come in handy. You may know there was a presidential election in Iraq but the only thing the employer will see is that you don’t know that Jalal Talabani was the man whose name was splattered on newspapers across the country.
Don’t start freaking out yet. The best news outlets don’t base their hiring solely on a test. But if you’re living in a bubble it’s definitely going to damage your chances.
So read the paper. In fact, read a couple of them. And no, you don’t have to read the front and back of every page but know the lede stories. Know what led the different section fronts.
And read like a journalist. Keep an eye on the ledes and the nutgrafs to get an idea of what works for you and what doesn’t. Compare The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post and The New York Times and see who did it best and why you think so.
I guarantee, when you start interviewing for internships and jobs, recruiters are going to ask what you read and what you pay attention to while you’re reading. Because let me tell you, you’ll be embarrassed when you realize you can’t name a single space shuttle even though you read the story that morning.
I sure was.
Network, network, network — and then network some more. Why? Because studies show that many jobs are NOT advertised. Thus, be tenacious in your outreach efforts and knock on every door.
College Advisor at Harlem Children’s Zone
Job interviews can be stressful, especially when applying for competitive positions. How can you stand out in a sea of applicants? Having an impressive resume helps, but there is one simple thing you can do to set yourself apart from others: Intelligently answer this simple question: What interests you about the publication?
It is a straightforward question, but can still trip up the applicant. Although needing a job and wanting more experience are normal reasons for applying, you should give the interviewer greater insight as to why you would be a great fit for the position. You don’t have to do extensive research; just take a couple of minutes to quickly research the publication. Read a few of its articles, so you can sense its style and quality of writing. What draws you most to the publication? Has it won any awards recently? How does it rank against other comparable newspapers/broadcast stations? Learn enough about the organization to be able to speak knowledgeably. That shows the employer you are genuinely interested in working for the company.
All employers want competent workers, but they also want people with passion, enthusiasm and a real desire to be a part of their team. I must offer a disclaimer: researching the publication does not guarantee you will get the job. It will help give you a few brownie points with the interviewer, and what’s the harm in that?
The summer before my senior year, I got an internship at CBS News in New York through the Merrill internship office. I worked at The Early Show and had what was by far the best internship I could’ve hoped for. I greatly benefited from the entire experience, from applying all the way through the internship itself.
A small misstep during the interview taught me a valuable lesson – prepare for your interview, but always be yourself. I prepared by studying about CBS, learning all of the shows and making sure I was up on current events. I could name President Bush’s entire cabinet with ease and knew all of the headlines from the past week’s New York Times and Washington Post. And that paid off, because I was asked about those topics. But then I was asked what sounded like a simple question: “President Bush has a vice president, Dick Cheney…What is his wife’s name?”
I froze. I had no idea what the answer was. I said exactly what was on my mind, without even thinking about it. “Laura comes to mind, but I know that’s wrong…I’ll go with Mrs.” I followed that with nervous laughter. Luckily, the internship director loved it; she appreciated that I could think on my feet. She told me that almost no one knew the answer to the question (it’s Lynne), but that my answer was her favorite.
I got lucky, but it proves a good point. I was myself in the interview, and I learned that it’s good to be yourself instead of who you think an employer wants you to be. If you’re lucky, you are who the employer wants you to be; if not, it isn’t the job/internship for you and you’re better off with something else.
Applying for jobs and internships definitely isn’t a walk in the park, and it certainly takes some planning. You have to make sure you have updated copies of your cover letter and resume as well as plenty of copies of recent clips on hand to send out to potential employers at a moment’s notice. But as long as you have those things organized, it’s easy to drop them in the mail (or send them via e-mail) to any paper or new station that sounds interesting to you.
I always had the best results when I cast a wide net. Apply anywhere and everywhere, even if you think it’s somewhere you would never want to be. If that means applying to your hometown paper to get your foot in the door, there’s nothing wrong with that. Experience is experience, and future employers put more stock in your clips or resume tapes than they do in your GPA. Having good grades never hurt, but it won’t be what gets you a job in the journalism world.
Above all, be professional. Make sure you know the proper spelling of the names of the people who will receive your resume. During interviews, be polite but have a personality. There’s no way a recruiter will remember you if you just recite run-of-the-mill answers. Be enthusiastic about journalism. It’s contagious and those are the kinds of people editors want in their newsrooms.
(Photos courtesy LinkedIn)