Creating the perfect resume for journalism

Understanding the perfect resume

The perfect resume is not meant to get you a job. It is meant to tell prospective employers enough about you so that they’ll be intrigued, see a place for you in their program, look at your
work and consider you. The resume is preliminary. It is Square One.

What does the perfect resume for journalism look like?

The perfect resume is the who, what, where, and when of your career. When it comes to selling yourself on paper, you will find newspaper editors to be tough audiences. And it’s no wonder. Most are pretty familiar with serving up information on paper. They don’t give bonus points if you spell everything correctly or if you have good punctuation or grammar. Those should be givens. A single error can consign your resume to the circular file. Edit your work, proofread it, and double check everything. Twice. Have someone who is a good editor check it over closely. Do not ask your mother (who loves you), your best friend (who can’t spell) or your professor (who has no time), but use someone good who will be thorough and critical.

What comes after your name, address, phone number and e-mail?

A line stating your career objective can help, but only if it matches the opening. In most cases, you’ll lead off with a section about your education or experience. But which one? Lead off with the one that seems to you to be more impressive. If you have experience at a daily newspaper, you will almost always want to put the experience section at the top of your résumé. If all your work has been outside journalism, but you have a degree in it, lead with the degree and highlights of your coursework to beef it up. If you’re completing a non-journalism degree and have two internships at newspapers, list the internships first. The categories’ chronological order is less important than relevance. However, follow chronological order within categories, most recent to oldest.

Describe your jobs. Don’t just say you were a reporter. Say you were a reporter who covered a school district, two police departments and the local court and that you wrote a Sunday column.

Include second languages if you are skilled enough to interview in them, awards, scholarships, and extracurricular activities. Highlight those that demonstrate leadership, resourcefulness, tenacity, or responsibility. Your résumé should not include the personal information such as age or date of birth, marital status, or whether you smoke.

Designing the perfect resume

A clear resume has a structure. It is designed on a grid. Going across the grid, there should be two or three columns: left margin, right margin and one you set as an indent. Down these columns, line up dates, the names of universities or companies and perhaps a column for job titles. At intervals down the page are horizontal lines, like headlines. These may be major headings, such as “education,” “experience,” or “additional skills,” or sub-headlines, such as the names of universities or employers.

The rest of the newsroom:

This advice comes directly from my book Breaking In. It contains everything I know about landing and acing your journalism internship. I’ve been a journalist for a long time, and spent nearly 20 years recruiting and editing at the Detroit Free Press. For more tips and strategies for landing journalism internships and jobs, check out these resources:

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