Staying positive while looking for a job in journalism

I’ve been applying for journalism jobs since April and to be honest, I never thought I’d be in this position. With all the ‘necessary’ qualifications (BA, MA, NCTJ) and a decent amount of experience under my belt, I had always hoped that I’d be one of the lucky ones who landed a job pretty quickly. Needless to say, still being unemployed after nine months has not contributed positively to my confidence or self-esteem.

And although sometimes I feel like I’m totally alone in this, I know that I’m not, and that there are many of you out there who could also seriously use a morale boost.

There are no quick fixes to feeling better about your plight, but aside from turning to class A drugs as one Twitter user suggested, here are a few things I have found to help me feel slightly more positive in this bleak, bleak world.

(For added effect, listen to this snippet of musical sunshine while reading.)

Give yourself a break

It’s often said that applying for jobs is a full time job in itself. You spend hours on a single job application, you trawl every job website possible looking for the next round of positions to apply for, and you read every article under the sun looking for new nuggets of advice that will set your application apart from all the rest. And even when you’re not doing any of this, you’re constantly thinking about it and feeling guilty that you’re not doing it.

“How can I possibly have a cup of tea and settle down to watch Coronation Street when somebody, somewhere may have posted a new job I need to apply for right this very second?!” Sound familiar?

Seriously – and I say this with every ounce of emphasis I can muster – you need to give yourself a break every once in a while. I don’t just mean step away from your computer for a while every hour or so, which you should absolutely be doing regardless. You need to do something totally different.

Call it procrastination, but since I’ve been applying for jobs my ukulele playing has come on a real treat. You can get decent quality ukuleles on Amazon for around £20, and there are thousands of tutorials on YouTube to help you get started, so all in all, it’s a pretty cheap hobby to take up. I’m not saying everyone looking for a journalism job should go and learn to play the ukulele (although I have just imagined a Ukulele Orchestra of Unemployed Journalists scenario and it’s pretty epic!)

The point is that you need to do something different; find some sort of polar opposite, cheap activity that gets you as far away from your computer as possible. Which leads me to…

Go outside

Outside is great. Fresh air is good. The problem here is that going outside often equates to spending money. This is particularly tricky if you’re on Job Seeker’s Allowance or – like me – you only have a part-time job that pays minimum wage.

But try and search out things to do that don’t involve spending much – or any – money. Take a walk around your local park, along a river, or through some beautiful, tranquil meadows or something. It’ll give you much-needed time to clear your head, think about your next move, and you may even happen upon some story ideas. Go to the library and be inspired by the great literature all around you. Go to free exhibits at a museum or gallery, or go and hang out at a friend’s house for an hour or so. Get away from your computer, get away from your desk, and get outside.

Being on Job Seeker’s Allowance completely sucks. I was claiming for two months last year and I think it did more harm to my self-esteem than all of the other concerns that come hand-in-hand with being a ‘totally-qualified-but-unemployed-journalist’.

Try and get a part-time job

Now, me suggesting that you should should go out and get a part-time job may have you thinking one or more of the following:

  • “There are so many real jobs to apply for, I don’t have time to get another job.”
  • “I don’t mean to sound snooty, but I’m too qualified to be pulling pints just for a bit of money.”
  • “What if I miss the perfect journalism opportunity while I’m slaving away in a grotty pub/smelly shoe shop?”

I thought the exact same things but truthfully, I just had to get over myself and accept my situation. Getting a job, even part-time, will really help to break up the monotony of the job search, give you some financial freedom and most importantly, relieve some of the pressure you have no doubt piled on yourself.

Remember how far you’ve come

By this point, the chances are that you’ve already got some qualifications, some experience and some bylines to your name. I am aware of how clichéd this sounds, but you should be proud of your achievements and proud of the effort you have already invested. Remember that your sweat and toil hasn’t all been for nothing and that your time will come.

Keep at it

Just because you’re not being paid doesn’t mean you stop being a journalist. Keep writing, keep filming, keep recording. Aside from the times when you’re giving yourself a much-needed break, try and remain in the journalism mind-set as much as possible. Pitch stories, ask questions and read everything a paid journalist would. Basically, fake it ‘til you make it.

This article originally appeared on Wannabe Hacks.

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What I’ve learnt about ‘networking’

Networking is one of those things we all know we ought to do, but the thought of it fills us with dread. And if you’re new to the industry, it can be difficult to know where to start. Here’s a list of a few things I’ve learnt while trying to make new contacts.

Go to an event

This sounds easy enough but you’re not going to stumble into that great opportunity by slobbing on the couch and watching endless episodes of Breaking Bad, are you? It doesn’t have to be specifically labelled as a ‘networking event’ either. Open lectures and debates, film screenings and casual meet-ups all present great opportunities to meet new people. And if you find that you simply don’t hear about such events, sign up to a few newsletters and make sure you follow all the right people on Twitter. Following @journalismnews is a great place to start.

Take a friend

‘Safety in numbers’ definitely applies here. I’ve been to a couple of networking events on my own and the temptation to stand in the corner, endlessly refresh my Twitter feed and hope other people will come and talk to me is overwhelming. Take a friend and you’ll already have someone else to talk to when a contact you’ve made goes to get another drink, or wanders off because they’ve decided you’re not interesting enough to carry on talking to. And it’s so much easier to approach that producer from the BBC with a trusty sidekick…

Ask questions

Although you’re probably at a networking event to sell yourself a little bit and see what opportunities there are for you, don’t spend the whole time talking about yourself. So many people are doing amazing things within the world of journalism and a networking event is a great place to learn all about them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The more intuitive and engaged you are, the more you’ll be remembered.

Be contactable

Even if you’re still looking for a job, it’s worth investing in some personal business cards. Scrap pieces of paper with random names and numbers on can easily be lost in coat jackets or mistaken for rubbish and thrown away. People take care of business cards. You can usually find some good deals on Moo or Vistaprint and you’ll only need between 50 and 100 cards for starters.

Know your limits

This one applies to alcohol. Many of these events will take place in a bar or involve some sort of alcoholic refreshment. Sometimes, the alcohol is even free. Hurray! But here’s the golden rule: Don’t drink too much. The last thing you want is to be known as that one young’un who had one drink too many and ended up spouting a load of nonsense as everyone around you stared at the floor willing you to shut up. Know your limits and stick to them. Or just have lemonade.

This post originally appeared on Wannabe Hacks.

Wannabe Hack (officially)

After spending most of the summer working in the restaurant, pulling 7-shift (50+ hour) weeks to cover other people’s holidays, I haven’t had much time to write, in any capacity. I feel like I’ve totally neglected my food blog, through not having any time to try out new places to eat, and then through not having any time to write about it.

I’ve totally neglected this blog too. I’ve written down so many ideas of things to write about but when I finally got round to it, whatever it was didn’t seem topical anymore, like the subject had already run its course and everything worth saying had been said.

Needless to say, my lack of writing and the fact that I was getting no further with job applications left me feeling pretty disheartened, which is why I made the decision back in September to change direction a little bit and embark on a TEFL qualification. I completed the first 20-hour intensive weekend course at the beginning of October, and now I have 100 more hours of online work to complete before I receive my qualification.

Around the same time, I was successful in my application to join the team behind Wannabe Hacks, a fantastic website offering advice, in-depth analysis and comment on important issues, and the opportunity to discuss and debate with like-minded young journalists. Wannabe Hacks was a fantastic resource for me when I was studying and I’m thrilled to be joining the team. Today, I spent several hours brainstorming and researching for post ideas, and spent even longer filming an (embarrassing) introductory video which will appear on the website in the next few weeks. I’m going to see how it turns out before I decide whether or not to link to it here…

All this considered, I’ve cut back on my hours at the restaurant – frugality resumes – so that not only do I have time for all these new things, but that I have the time to do them well.

And luckily, it seems to be a rather exciting time in the journalism world for job opportunities – especially now that summer is well and truly over – so with any luck I’ll have some more good news in the not-too-distant future.

In the meantime, I will be studying the best ways to teach different English grammar points while also thinking of some exciting multimedia/data projects and articles for Wannabe Hacks. And if you’re a young and/or aspiring journalist reading this and there are things you want to see on the Wannabe Hacks website, let me know and I’ll do my best to make sure we cover it.

New projects

I think it’s about time for an update.

At the time of my last blog post, I was unemployed and miserable. Now, I am employed and trucking on nicely with life – hurrah! After two months of receiving a pitiful Job Seeker’s Allowance, I decided enough was enough and headed out to do another round of the bars and restaurants in my area, handing out CVs. Two days later I had a waitressing job at the Newman Street Tavern in Fitzrovia (and now I have some money to my name).

Inspired by all the amazing food and wine I serve all day, I have since started a blog over on Tumblr called Wine Dine Write – please head on over and check it out. It’s still early days but I have a number of posts in the pipeline, including a review of Mele e Pere in Soho and an account of my first experience in a cutlery-less Eritrean restaurant in Battersea.

Towards the end of May, I entered the Guardian’s International Development Journalism Competition with a piece I wrote on women’s land rights in Rwanda. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the short list or the long list (a piece on women’s land rights in Kenya did, however, so clearly my idea was along the right lines!) but I really enjoyed writing the piece and I’m really proud of it. I would like to thank Helen Pankhurst, Lata Narayanaswamy and Vivenie Mugunga for taking the time to talk to me and for sharing their insights – without these amazing women I wouldn’t have had an article at all. I’ve uploaded my article here, should you wish to read it.

I’ve also started interning two days a week at Africa Confidential, a news website and fortnightly newsletter on politics, economics and security issues in Africa. I am really enjoying my placement so far, guided by the insanely knowledgable deputy editor, Andrew Weir.

I’m still looking and applying for more permanent and full-time roles as a reporter or journalist, but I am thankfully in a much happier place than I was a couple of months ago!

The unemployed youth of today

Just over a month ago, I wrote a blog post about the agonising process of applying for jobs. Well, I am still unemployed and what was once agonising is now depressing, de-motivating and completely soul-destroying. To date, I have applied for over 60 jobs – all jobs I am perfectly qualified for and know I would do well. The sun is out and it’s getting warmer but I am still jobless.

Last year, I saw a segment on the news about high depression rates among the unemployed. The reporter visited a young man who had been unemployed and looking for jobs for over a year. His self-confidence was shattered, he hardly left the house and after so many rejections, his motivation to apply for more jobs barely even existed. I am beginning to know exactly how he feels.

I am now receiving Job Seeker’s Allowance – an amazing, life-changing amount of £56.80* a week – but even my advisor can’t help me or tell me to do something I’m not already doing to find a job. I apply for a minimum of seven jobs a week, go to the job centre once a fortnight to sign a piece of paper, and leave feeling weary and deflated.

To make matters worse, there have been so many newspaper articles, and TV and radio programmes in the last few weeks about the difficulties faced by the ‘Unemployed Youth of Today’: about how difficult it is ‘out there in the real world’, about how there are too many people and not enough jobs, and about how, if you just stick at it and keep your head up, something will come along.

They are right, and something will come along, eventually. But as my bank balance dwindles as quickly as my self-confidence and I get closer to having to ask my parents for financial help, all I want to do is scream: “Shut up! You have no idea what it’s like!” at the newspaper/television/radio.

Not to blow my own trumpet, but, I have two degrees, I’ve been doing relevant (unpaid)** internships and work experience placements for three years. I’m bright, competent and switched-on. So why does nobody want to hire me? I recently received feedback on an application for a trainee reporter position at a local London newspaper. The editor I spoke to told me he couldn’t see any reason why I had not made the shortlist – it was simply because they’d had more than 100 applications and he’d had to narrow those down to just five people for the interview stage. Too many people, not enough jobs.

But, I am not going to let this bring me down. I am stepping up my game. I am going to seek out every freelance writing job there is and I’m going to blog more. And if the worst comes to the worst, I’ll do another round of the bars, restaurants and cafés in my area with my CV in search of anything I can do that isn’t sitting in my flat, applying for job after job.

So if you are reading this and you have any suggestions of how I can make my applications stand out or how I can make sure I am one of the five people in one hundred who are asked to interview, if you know of any freelancing work going or if you actually want to hire me, please leave a comment or send me an email.

Thanks for reading :)

* That’s a whole other discussion all-together.

** And so is that one.

Featured image courtesy of George Lane

Job hunt agony

Applying for jobs is an agonising business. I’m not just talking about rejections or the numerous applications that go completely unanswered. It’s the entire process, and the worst part is repeatedly having to evaluate yourself, your skills, your experience and your personality.

Since I started applying for jobs again, my brain has been whirring away with questions and doubts.

  • Am I looking at all the right job websites?
  • When did I last check Gorkana, or Production Base?
  • Do I only apply for the jobs I actually want or should I settle for anything I’m qualified for if it’s good money?
  • What would happen if I just called up Alan Rusbridger and pleaded with him for a job?
  • What do I actually want to do? Do I want to do print or online journalism?
  • If I want to get into broadcast journalism, how do I do that without much experience?
  • If I get my hair cut like Emily Mortimer in The Newsroom will that increase the likelihood of someone offering me a job?
  • Do any of my friends know someone that knows someone that knows someone….
  • Should I just give up and apply to be a holiday rep for the summer? (At least I’d get some sun)
  • When should I call it a night, turn off my laptop and just go to bed?
  • How desperate do I have to be to consider moving back home?

And all of this goes on in my own little bubble, as all my friends are at work, doing useful things and earning money.

I feel like I am a vulnerable caterpillar in a fragile cocoon waiting for someone to call saying: “Hello Katherine, the (extremely well paid) job (with a generous holiday allowance) is yours.”

And I will burst forth, an incredibly grateful butterfly. The sun will shine and spring will finally arrive.*

But that might just be my cabin fever talking.

Either way, I really need a job. And I need it soon.

*It is perhaps a tad big-headed to assume that the recent cold snap and my unemployment are mutually exclusive, but we’ll see.

The day of rest

Sunday. A day of rest.

The sun fades, the sky changes colour. The clouds silhouetted by pinks and oranges. Birds chirp. Insects buzz. Motorbikes hum along the road outside and our neighbours meander home after a day at church. A greeting, a burst of laughter, or a baby’s cry pierces the stillness. The air is fresh and the breeze is cool.

We laze around on cushions on the terrace. All movements and thoughts slow. Lost in a book, music, our own thoughts. No minds wander to the week ahead, the work to be done.

We reminisce about the night before. The more entertaining dance moves and absurd conversations. We doze. We share the occasional thought or observation. We cast our minds to making dinner, thinking about trying to summon the energy to make the short walk to buy food.

And now dusk is upon us and all natural light has gone. But still we remain on the terrace, resting, as we have done all day.