Where USF faculty, students and graduates are invited to talk about journalism and its problems and opportunities. This blog is not affiliated with the University of San Francisco, nor is the university responsible for any of the opinions expressed herein -- though it is certainly responsible for the people who entertain those opinions, having educated them. They make us proud.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Nelson's Advice to Journalism Seniors

To the graduating class of 2007, here’s a lesson on how to hustle:

1. You study—Study your competitor’s moves. Analyze their weaknesses. Examine your strengths. Create a plan of attack.

2. Practice—Rehearse your moves. When failing, ask people for feedback. Use that feedback to make you and your ammunition stronger.

3. When the time is right, execute your plan of attack.

4. When done, begin looking for your next competition … of course, that’s while you wait for your first interviewer to call you saying you are better than the other applicants ... and here’s your offer letter.

And that, my friends, is how you get hired right after college.

As you read this entry, your senioritis most likely already set in. Your mind is probably thinking of what is going to happen next fall when you’re not in school and you’re not on your parents’ medical plan.

Spring semester, January 2003, I was living on Turk and Kittredge, working 4 jobs to make ends meet: Foghorn, Starbucks on Fulton and Masonic, a local e-zine, and Sony Metreon’s marketing department. That was my senior year, and like you, I had mentally checked out of school several semesters ago. The “real world” couldn’t be any more daunting. There isn’t anything I can do to avoid the “real world”; it’s gonna come no matter what I do … so really, what do I do?

While everyone else planned their spring breaks, or partied their brains out because they could rely on daddy finding a job for their lazy ass, I took a lesson from some of the most prosperous people I knew … I hustled.

First, I studied. Every student and their momma (i.e. seniors from USF plus SFSU plus Berkeley plus Santa Clara plus etc.) will be competing for the same job openings the summer right after graduation. Some will be stars while other will suck. I knew I didn’t want to suck. But I barely knew how to write a resume or cover letter. And I didn’t know how to network. And I’ve only been on a few job interviews. Really, when asked, what ARE my strengths and weaknesses?

Then I practiced. At the advice of Robertson and Teresa Moore (who know their s***!!), I went on informational interviews. I did the most nerve-wracking thing ever—picked up the phone and cold called VPs and Directors at companies to ask for their time. I managed to score a few informational interviews with the Chronicle, Oakland Tribune and the Mercury in San Jose. I refined my interviewing skills, and learned what to say in response to those tough interviewing questions. The professionals I spoke to helped me tailor my resume. I now know people in the biz. That was a cool feeling.

Once I graduated, I executed the plan. With all the skills I developed, I gained this confidence in interviewing and networking that no one at USF could have bequeathed to me. And with all the feedback I got, I was carrying a resume that professionals in the industry deemed as competitive. One person I interviewed was a VP at the Chronicle. And after a few weeks of keeping in touch, she made the recommendation. HR called. I was hired. But I wanted more. So a few years later, I now work at the Examiner, own my own hybrid, own a 2-bedroom 1-bath, have traveled, befriended many great people along the way, and recently started my graduate program. And I can proudly say that daddy never just handed me a job. And of course, I’m now thinking of what my next acquisition will be after my grad program ends—rule my own country? Sure, I’ll add that to my things-to-do list.

Did I miss out by not going anywhere for spring break? Given what my life is like now, of course not. Besides, the people who did do something barely remember anything. Meanwhile, I used those students’ “down time” to my advantage—it was my opportunity to hustle more. Did I party a lot my senior year? It was the year I turned 21, so of course I did. But no matter how trashed I got, I never lost sight of my competition. When all they focused on was partying with no effort in developing themselves professionally, I used their misdirection to my advantage. I hustled more.

So my graduating class of 2007, start studying the people in your class now. All niceness put aside, they might very well be your competitors come May. Start tailoring your resume. Consult your professors. Build your portfolio and carry it everywhere. Go on those informational interviews. Send thank you notes. Save those business cards. Learn from all your mistakes. Be stronger, smarter, a "smoother talker." The key to your success: your timing. Start now. The more you hustle, the more you get.

Robertson: And because I know what kind of guy Nelson is, here's his email address: Nelson Toriano [ntoriano@examiner.com].

Good luck!


Unknown said...

Here's some more advice from a jaded journalist.

1. Get a Head Start: Begin looking for your job two months before finals. This gives you time to get all the kinks out of your resume (typos will inevitably lurk no matter how many times you read it), learn to be realistic about your job opportunities (you start out looking for associate editor positions and end up taking the paid internship—hey at least it’s paid) and debate just how far you’ll go for a dream job (will you move to no-where Kentucky to start your movie reviewer career?). In the end, something has to give and it will take you a while to adjust to the reality of giving up either a reasonable paycheck and cushy lifestyle or hope of ever getting your journalism career off the ground. Make a decision you can live with.

2. Don’t Burn Bridges: When all your friends start getting jobs you wanted, don’t hate them (at least not publicly) it’s not a good way to build your network. This will be difficult for competitive people that work hard but I swear it’s better in the long run if you swallow your pride (note: This will probably take several stiff drinks to accomplish) Here’s why it’s a good idea to not turn green with envy. First, you might need to crash on their couch while you job hunt. Second, you need them to look for internal job openings for you. Third, there will always be a time when you need that person for a favor. Journalists need lots of connections, favors, and sources to survive so if some lacky friend scores a reporter job at the Mercury News despite never having an internship, hardly possessing a desire to be a reporter and pretty much coasting through college don’t hate him/her. Instead help him/her succeed at his/her new gig and s/he’ll probably return the favor by pulling you into the newspaper ranks.

3. Fight Rejection with Resumes: I have to give a shout out to Dr. Robertson for teaching me to turn down the volume on rejection. Until you win an award—typically a Pulitzer—journalism is sort of a subjective business. Editors will love you and praise you as the second coming of Woodward or Bernstein and the next day they will criticize, re-write entire stories and question your intelligence. Again, try to swallow your pride and learn something. Dr. Robertson once made a comment about a writer ( friend maybe?) using rejection letters as wallpaper (that’s a little too Howard Hughes for my style) but I did once save all the letters positive or negative from readers for a year when I was a community journalist. In the end, the stacks were about even so try to tune out the critical noise while job hunting. Send dozens of resumes to any job you might remotely be interested in. Here’s why. After graduation, I went to work for Wired magazine as a research intern—thanks to my good friend Les Shu who had the job before me. The gig was for 3 months at $10 an hour with no health insurance. On the weekends, I worked at Abercrombie & Fitch to make ends meet. In summer 2001, I actually worked two months straight with only one day off. Anyway, about 6 weeks before my internship was about to end I started sending resumes to make sure I had a job lined up when the internship ended. When I heard nothing back from the newspapers I was applying to I continued searching for jobs and sending out resumes. From that batch of resumes, I got a call three weeks before my internship ended from the Sonoma Index-Tribune, a twice-weekly community newspaper in Sonoma. The editor had saved my resume and wanted to know if I was interested in an education reporter job. I interviewed and within a week had a job offer. I had to leave Wired two weeks before my internship ended to take the job, but my editor understood. Two months into my job at the Sonoma Index-Tribune, I got a call from a daily in Corpus Cristi, Tex. Again, the editor saved my resume until he had an opening that would better fit my qualifications. I thanked the editor for the call but declined to interview for the position since I had already started a job in Sonoma. Who knows, maybe I’ll work for that editor someday at a different publication. People move around a lot I this business and they usually don’t forget a name.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

On another blog I wrote:

The USF journalism program is no mass production enterprise that clamps on your head, picks you up and runs you down the assembly line, crimping you, trimming you and running you through the acid bath before dropping you into that first job without a thought or a choice every bruising your pretty head. As a journalism program (small) wrapped in a liberal arts education (Jesuit), we prepare you generally pretty well, but it's the self starters who get ahead.

Is that a fair statement?