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Ask NABJ: Q&A for Career & Industry Tips

Award-winning and veteran journalists Benét Wilson and Ernest Owens answer your questions about navigating the news/media industry. Submit Questions for next month’s issue here.


Q1:  I’ve been with my employer for a little over a year and I love it. I was contacted on LinkedIn by a few recruiters and the opportunities sound great. I’m not searching for a job, but also don’t want to ignore the options. Should I hear them out AND tell my employer I’m being courted by other outlets, or should I decline the meetings since I like where I work?


Benét: No matter how happy you are at your job, you should never turn down the opportunity to chat with potential employers, especially if they reach out to you. They may have your dream job. Even if they don’t, you still want to stay on their radar in case things change. Do NOT tell your current employer about these chats until you have a job offer in hand. There’s no reason to make your current employer panic.


Ernest: First off, NEVER tell your employer you’re talking to anyone else unless you’re planning on leaving or up for a competitive contract renewal. There is nothing wrong with having a conversation with other employers that may one day hire you in the future — just be sure to inform them that you’re not seeking current job openings right now, but interested in learning more about their company. This is called networking. 

Q2. How do I tell my editor I want to pursue freelance opportunities with national newsrooms because it wouldn’t be a conflict of interest? I’m trying to pay down my student loans and the additional money would help.


Benét: If you have a contract, check and make sure that you’re not banned from doing freelance work. If it’s not in your contract, have a discussion with your boss. First, make sure any freelance writing you’re doing doesn’t conflict with your day job. It will definitely help to discuss with your boss who you want to write for and the types of stories you hope to cover. You can even throw out using a pseudonym when you’re writing. If you’ve been given a job offer, negotiate that as part of your employment package. If your boss says no, then come up with a Plan B to make money.


Ernest: Yes, read that contract first and if you aren’t barred from outside work — go talk to your editor. If they allow it, great! If not, then clearly this isn’t the job that is paying you enough to have you exclusively, so I would encourage you to start looking elsewhere in general. 

Q3.  I’ve been applying to summer internships and have already been turned down for a few that I really wanted. Some told me I didn’t have the required experience, and I found a couple of typos in my cover letter and resume after I sent them. First, do I send a corrected resume and cover letter, along with an apology? Second, how can I appeal to them that I’m worth the investment even though I don’t meet all the requirements?


Benét: First-typos and grammar errors are deadly in a journalism resume. You can send a corrected resume and cover letter with an apology, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work. You only get one chance to make a good first impression. So going forward, ALWAYS have a professional (not your friends) look at your resume to catch typos and grammar before you send it out. As for appealing to them, match your skills with as many of the internship requirements as possible. Also, know that there are usually hundreds of people fighting for the same internships, so do what you can to stand out.


Ernest: Sorry to break it to you, but sending a corrected resume and cover letter AFTER being rejected is a waste of time. The company has already selected their person — and the mere fact that they are telling you why they didn’t pick you is more than a blessing right there. Rather than try to argue the case for why you should get picked for lacking their desired skill set, go invest that energy in gaining those skills instead. Cutting corners will always catch up to you, so start reading these job descriptions carefully and better articulating how the work you’re doing is relevant to those points. Otherwise, start garnering the expertise in the things you see you’re lacking in NOW. 

Q4. I’d like my student chapter to get more involved with the professional chapters in our area. What are some best approaches a student chapter should make to pro chapters for guidance?


Benét: I’m the immediate past president of the Baltimore chapter. We offer student memberships and we reach out regularly to Morgan State, Bowie State and Coppin State universities, along with the University of Maryland-College Park and invite those students to our meetings. We also hold special programming for students and have a mentorship program. You need to reach out to your professional chapter and ask to form a partnership. Attend their meetings and ask professionals to speak at your meetings. Keep the lines of communication open, because it can really benefit student members.


Ernest: As a current VP of the Philadelphia chapter, we have a few active college chapters in our area that have learned how to bridge the gap very well. My word of advice: Make yourself useful. Show up to their meetings, make your college chapter known, and see where they need help for you to offer your assistance. The face recognition will go a long way, with the help to back it up. Establishing a useful relationship will help you get what you probably really want (and need): Better networking, scholarships, and job opportunities. Don’t enter the relationship as a beggar, but a helper — and everyone loves to support a helper. 

Q5. We’ve done bake and dinner sales, car washes and parties to help fundraise for the national convention. Most of those bring in little money. We need out of the box ideas to help increase donations. Help!


Benét: You have talented people in your chapter. If you have photographers, have an event where you do headshots and charge $25 each for them. Get your video people together and offer your services for university and student events, using the proceeds to pay for the convention. If you’re in a city that has an NABJ professional chapter, consider reaching out to them for help. Ask your school or student government for funding. But whatever you do, please *please* don’t wait until the last minute to ask for funding.


Ernest: The reason why your efforts aren’t working could be because everyone is doing bake and dinner sales, car washes and parties. Look at what’s in front of you: Journalists! Reach out to media companies in your area for potential sponsorships, offer serious professional training to PR firms, and/or ask your super famous/popular media members to co-host a mixer/happy hour fundraiser for the group. Look carefully at the strengths of the members in front of you and work their various talents. I promise you, the money is looking right at you.

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