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The Jobless Journalist: Week three – To sub or not to sub?

September 15th, 2009 | 5 Comments | Posted by in Job losses, Jobs

This is the third post in a series from an anonymous UK-based journalist recently made redundant. To follow the series, you can subscribe to this feed.

You can also read posts by our previous ‘Redundant Journalist’ blogger at this link.

So far I’ve applied for a total of seven jobs (that’s not including the CVs sent to editors on the off-chance they know of something going). Two of these formal job applications have been for subbing roles.

The question is: I am a writer, not a sub-editor – should I even be applying for these jobs?

I do have a year’s sub-editing experience on the magazine I was made redundant from as well as on a couple of nationals, but I have been warned by editors in the past that I should stick to writing if that’s what I want to do.

I’ve always been of the opinion that sub-editing sharpens your writing and being able to write headlines and standfirsts, for example, can only be a bonus.

What is more, I can see from the sub-editing I have done how this could lead to being an editor, which is ultimately what I want to be.

Sub-editing involves being aware of the overall look of the piece – from pictures to pull quotes – as well as having impeccable grammar and spelling.

What is more, the increasing importance of online journalism means a journalist must be a sort of Judge Dredd character: writer, sub-editor and editor, rolled into one.

But the question still remains – should I apply for sub-editing roles? Or does the fact that I’m even asking this question mean I’ll never get anywhere with an application for a sub-editor’s job vacancy?

After all, if I can’t convince myself, then what chance do I have of convincing an interviewer?

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The Jobless Journalist: Week two: CVs and style guides

September 8th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Job losses, Jobs

This is the second post in a series from an anonymous UK-based journalist recently made redundant. To follow the series, you can subscribe to this feed.

You can also read posts by our previous ‘Redundant Journalist’ blogger at this link.

When I was made redundant my CV was a bit like an ex-race horse: out of shape and in need of attention. That’s the thing with CVs – after you get the job they get put out to grass and tend to become a little moth-eaten.

But, after two weeks of serious overhauling, I’ve finally got it to the stage where with each application I can just alter a few words to suit the prospective employer.

If you’re a reporter and there’s a features job going, what should you do? I’m trained in news and specialise in the arts and have developed CVs tailored to each sector.

Having spent a lot of time on both CVs I think I might be developing career schizophrenia. Should I concentrate on one or keep them both on the boil?

I’m not a big fan of self-help books or books ‘for dummies’, but a journalist friend recommended I read Max Eggert’s the ‘Perfect CV’. It’s a great guide to writing CVs and covering letters and offers neat tips such as ending a covering letter with the suggestion of a follow up call.

With hindsight I should have read this book before I even started applying for jobs. It would have saved me cringing at things I had written (and sent) that Eggert categorically says you shouldn’t include, like cracking a joke in your CV.

Now, I completely agree with this. Your CV is a formal and professional representation of you and your career. But what about your covering letter? This is where you’ve got to get yourself noticed and what better way to do this than with a bit of wit?

I suppose I have to come clean here. In a recent application to the Sunday Times I included a line about how I’d doorstepped Steve McQueen at the Venice Biennale with my dressed accidentally tucked into my knickers.

I thought it showed I had the confidence to approach anyone in any circumstance. And I did get my quote, although I didn’t get an interview, which makes me think that comedy is probably not the best policy.

I spent a lot of time on this particular application. When I’m freelancing or blogging I usually write to the Guardian style guide, but this time I matched my CV to the Times style guide.

A friend of mine has since confided that she thought I was going slightly mad and I have to admit I thought my attention to detail bordered on the obsessive.

The trouble is, when you’re applying for a job with a national where they might get 1,000 applications in one week [or a reported 1,200 - Ed], you really have to go the extra mile to get noticed.

If anyone who has had to sift through thousands of covering letters has any tips for what you should and shouldn’t include, I’d be very interested to hear from you.

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The Jobless Journalist: Week one – An introduction and redundancy packages

September 1st, 2009 | 4 Comments | Posted by in Job losses, Jobs

This is the first post in a series from an anonymous UK-based journalist recently made redundant. To follow the series, you can subscribe to this feed.

You can also read posts by our previous ‘Redundant Journalist’ blogger at this link.

Week one:
As every hack out there knows, journalism is one of the toughest professions to crack. It’s up there with becoming the Pope, a pilot or a pop star. (I’m being glib – winning X Factor would be far easier.) But seriously, it’s a gruelling process getting a job in journalism.

Twenty-three days and four hours ago I was made redundant from a hard-won job I dearly loved as staff writer on a consumer magazine. The big ‘R’ meant the magazine lost its funding and we were all out on our ears in a matter of weeks.

To make matters worse, it was my first staff job following a backbreaking four months of NCTJ training. I guess it was a wake up call to the harsh reality of the industry.

There was a tortuous period of uncertainty when we thought we had a buyer for the magazine, but I received my P45 last week, and nothing says it’s over like a note from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

As for a redundancy package… well, let’s just say I won’t be lunching at The Wolseley.

Think you’re not entitled to any money? You are. The government provides a certain amount of statutory redundancy pay, although it’s not readily advertised. I’d advise checking out this government website if your employer has also become insolvent.

It’s largely jargon-free and tells you who to contact to recover any outstanding wages and holiday pay, etc. It’s worth knowing that you are entitled to some sort of payout even if you haven’t been continuously employed by the company for two or more years.

Don’t expect miracles overnight – I’m still waiting for my forms from the insolvency practitioner, but I’ll let you know how I get on later in this blog series.

It’s daunting to think about going through the whole rigmarole of applying for jobs again. But while the process of sending off round after round of CVs is utterly depressing, it’s not half as depressing as the prospect of there being no jobs to apply for at all.

According to a story in Press Gazette published in May, the amount of journalists claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance from April 2008 to April 2009 leapt from 770 to 1,880. That’s an increase of almost 150 per cent in one year and only takes into account those on benefits.

There simply aren’t enough jobs to go round and with print media in freefall (thelondonpaper’s on its way out and the Observer’s future is under consideration) the outlook for us jobless journalists is far from rosy.

But if there is one thing I have learned as a journo, you must never ever give up, and with that in mind I’ve decided to use this period of redundancy as an opportunity to reflect on and improve my career.

This blog series will chart my search for a staff job – the applications, the CVs and covering letters, the calling on contacts, the rejections, the interviews and the various attempts to get my foot back in the door.

By sharing tips and anecdotes hopefully this blog will provide support for other unemployed journalists. And if by the end of the series I don’t have a job, at least I’ll know I went down writing.

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Trials of a redundant journalist: I’m re-employed

June 10th, 2009 | 4 Comments | Posted by in Freelance, Journalism

Before we get to the good news – you’ll have to scroll right down to find it – a catch-up from the last few days…

DAY 12: Responding to PR criticism
Someone has made an angry comment on this series.

‘Emma’, who I assume is a press officer, said that she was annoyed at sacked journalists who go for PR jobs.

‘Stop coming over here and taking our jobs!’ she says.

I admit that I have no experience in PR beyond the media relations aspect of it. And to be fair, I’ve mainly been applying for entry-level PR jobs, because I admit I don’t know everything it takes to be a PR person.

But to imply that journalists are stealing PR jobs – well.

There may be the pitching, administrative, client reporting and account management aspects of the job that I know little about, but one of the skills that good journalists have, other than writing, is the ability to learn and adapt to whatever publication they work for, and I don’t see how this wouldn’t help in a PR job.

Also, if journalists are being recruited into PR, it’s because the employer thinks they are capable of doing the job, surely?

What’s next – British jobs for British people?!

DAY 13: Two interviews and I’m trying not to tempt fate
But I have a couple of reasons to be optimistic for the coming week.

I have an interview for a non-journalism job next week. I’ve learnt my lesson and I think I’ve managed to convince myself that I really want that job as a new career. I do, really. I’ve always wanted to do it and journalism was just an experiment and now I’m ready to use the skills I’ve learnt to their full in this new life career.

Convinced? No, me neither. But I promise I’ll try harder at the interview itself.

I also put a message on a trade website to alert people to my redundancy, and almost immediately a person I interviewed exactly one time for a feature got in touch saying that he thought I sounded like a nice person and wanted to help me out. I’ve never even met him, and it continues to amaze me how people have helped and lifted my spirits.It’s still in its early stages, but that bit of contact could well develop into a nice bit of freelance work.

But the thing I’m most hopeful about is an interview for a journalism job coming up next week. It’s a complete surprise how it’s come up and I don’t want to say too much for fear of jinxing it, but wish me luck everybody!

DAY 15: The end?
Exciting news from the redundant journo, who it turns out has the best possible excuse for failing to file her column the last couple of days.

DAY 16 – I have been aching to write this post.
I have a job – and I’m staying in journalism. I want to maintain my anonymity, so I can’t reveal where it is. All I can really say is that how I got the job seems to be pure luck.

I’m particularly indebted to two very good friends in particular. But what it boiled down to was not what I know, but who I know.

I know that’s a frustrating result, that after all the many applications and CVs I’ve done, this cliche is the one that applies. But if it’s any consolation, I still had to work hard to prove myself during the interview.

Probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned in these past few weeks of redundancy is the importance of networking. I’m not great at it, I don’t particularly enjoy it, but it has been crucial in, if not getting me a job immediately, at least giving me hope – in a way that simply sending a CV did not.

Thank you for everyone who’s commented and left messages of support over the last few days. And to all those trying to get a job, it’s really hard, the job market is desperate and some days you just want to cry with misery (I was there last week) – but you too will eventually get your break.

A blog series which probably not run again as The FleetStreetBlues Redundant Journalist has found a job. The Trials of a Redundant Journalist series in its entirety, here. She will continue to contribute to FleetStreetBlues.

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Trials of a redundant journalist: 11 days teach me that I sound like a fat layabout on the phone and I can’t act

June 5th, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Freelance, Journalism

A round-up of posts from this week’s activity. Redundant Journalist, resident FleetStreetBlues blogger, gets her first rejection letter, learns that she sounds ‘larger’ on the phone, and that she’s a terrible actress…

DAY FIVE: I have a voice like a fat layabout
I’ve been learning new things about myself. My visit to the recruitment agency opened my eyes in more ways than one.

Other than my nimble keyboard fingers, I also discovered that I sound like a fat layabout on the phone.

The recruitment consultant didn’t say so in so many words, but my other half has, cruelly, confirmed it.

Before we met, I’d spoken to the consultant over the phone a number of times over the previous week, and when we finally met in person, she revealed that I wasn’t what she imagined I’d look like, going by my voice.

‘What did you think I looked like?’ I asked, slightly perplexed.

‘Well, slightly taller and larger,’ she began, trying to look diplomatic, and my jaw dropped. It was a first for me, being neither tall nor fat.

She said it might have something to do with my laid-back voice, and suggested I try smiling when on the phone to potential recruiters.

Just a few months ago, feedback I received from one of the interviews I went for also described me as a ‘cool customer’. I wasn’t really sure what this meant, but I wonder if the two are related.

So, despite being a naturally dry, cynical and rather lugubrious character, I’ve been trying to smile and act happy while on the phone to people. I’ll have to let you know how I get on with that one.

DAY SIX: A 20 page job application
People are currently digging up the road directly outside my front door. The drilling is doing my head in and the only thing that rivals it is a 20-page job application I filled in recently.

Yes that’s right, 20 pages – PLUS covering letter! And to top it off, it’s not even for a journalism job.

I nearly lost the will to live whilst doing it – these sample questions will explain why.

Despite spelling out all my duties in all my past employment, there were 12 questions to answer, and you had to give three examples of when you’d demonstrated each of the 12 requirements.

Go on, you try finding three un-inane examples to illustrate these….

1. You must be educated to degree level.

2. You have a good level of spoken and written English.

You may also have lost the will to live just reading that. But the job was well-paid and easy – what more could you ask for in an interim job?

I also have to admit that what these application forms do give you a chance to do is to be…well, creative is one word. Someone else might use something ruder. And what I’ve discovered is quite a few of the more old-fashioned application forms have very similar questions, which means a lot of simple copying and pasting.

So, I admit, grudgingly mind you, that it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

DAY SEVEN: The dreadfully paid non-journalism job gets back to me first

Late last week, I went to register in person with a media recruitment agency that put me forward for a job and says the employer is keen to interview me next week. Not a dream job, and will be really tough too, but it’s a journalism job that could take me onto the newswires, so I can’t knock it. And it’s not like the offers are flooding in at present.

Then, home again, I fired off three job applications. One journalism, one half-journalism and one completely-not-journalism.

And guess which replied first? Of course it’s the completely-not-journalism one, and I’ve got an interview for it. To top it off it pays dreadfully, but I guess I’ve reached that stage where I have to just admit it – I urgently need some income, any income now, rather than nothing. Moreover, while I’m stupidly over-qualified for it, I’m also over-qualified for an Asda job, which is an alternative I may have yet to consider, and this other job is at least better than that. I hope.

Otherwise, it was completely unheard of for me to get a response so quickly. It was literally a matter of hours.

Actually that may help you job hunters out there. I asked the recruitment agency what the market is like at the moment, other than just being very quiet. Apparently employers are taking far longer to make decisions now, safe in the knowledge that they’ll get hundreds of applicants so they just sit and wait for a good one to come along. I had figured as much. They also told me that they’re advising everyone to just take the first job offer they get, being so few and far between these days.

I certainly am already in that mindset – so if any of you are sitting on a job offer, just take it – and count your lucky stars.

DAY EIGHT: My first Actual Rejection
Received my first actual rejection today, not including the ones where I’ve not heard anything at all, and the first one for a job I really would have liked.

It wasn’t a journalist job. But if I had never gone into journalism, it would have been my dream job, and I had perfect qualifications for it. At least they did let me know I guess. Their reason was that someone else had more suitable qualifications, though.

Very depressing.

In other news, applied for another journalism job today. I’ve got my covering letter to the stage where I only have to change a few words to adapt it to each job, which makes things so much easier.

And tonight, although I really can’t be bothered, am going to do some networking, virtually gate-crashing a PR company’s drinks night with one of my old employers. I know they don’t have any vacancies at the moment but I might as well remind them that I’m available face-to-face.

DAY NINE: Schmoozing leads to good advice
I’m glad I went to the networking drinks last night – caught up with old friends and all their latest gossip, chatted to some really nice PR people and got the heads up on three potential jobs.

It is definitely good to remind people in person that a) you exist and b) you’re ready and available, and a friend at the event also gave me some excellent advice.

Like most people probably, I’ve been guilty of sitting here, sending off applications and just assuming that they’ve been unsuccessful because I’ve not heard anything. However, the advice I received and have already taken up is that you should always follow up your applications with a phone call to just let them know that you’re still interested in the job.

So I called a few of the people up this morning to ask them to check if they’d received my CV. One of them didn’t have any record and therefore I was asked to re-send it (that was a near miss); one checked their email as I was on the phone, therefore actively re-looking at my name and hopefully making a positive connection with my keen phone call; and another very kindly emailed me to confirm that they had my application and gave me an indication of when I could expect to hear from them.

All in all, I hope it won’t be wasted effort and that it works, but in the last case, it was particularly helpful to receive the extra information about the time-scale – something I wouldn’t have got just sat here on my bum staring at the computer, so go on, pick up that phone!

DAY TEN: I cannot lie and I am a bad actress
Had an interview at recruitment agency for a non-journalism job the other day that really tested my ability to lie.

I’m not a good liar and a terrible actress, and unfortunately it’s pretty clear that I still want to be a journalist.

This job I was going for required me to declare that I wanted to change my career entirely, even though it had billed itself as a contract job. Being completely unprepared for this (I thought it was just going to be for the six months it stated) I was therefore too honest when asked the question ‘where do see yourself in five years’ time?’

To some extent, you have to feign enthusiasm and interest for certain journalism jobs, especially if they are trade magazines in industries you know very little about, but deep down, at least you are not lying about wanting to be a journalist.

So, at least I know that if I don’t get this job, it will be because I didn’t lie well enough, rather than because I’m not capable. (I hope.)

A useful lesson to learn for the next non-journalism job interview I’ve got coming up next week, methinks…

DAY 11: I am told I am ‘bright’ but it’s a no
I had an interview for a journalism job the other day. It was going great – I passed their writing and numeracy test, I was confident and personable and seemed to get on with the interviewers.

But then the next day I phoned the recruitment agency to give them my feedback, saying how much I really liked and wanted the job. They immediately went to their client telling them so but then yes, you guessed it: ‘Sorry, it’s a no.’ Reasons given: although they liked me and said I was ‘bright’, they thought I was too ambitious and would be using them as a stepping stone and, crucially, they preferred someone else.

At least I only had a day of wondering, but it was pretty crushing. It really is useless bothering to do your best at these things when all it comes down to is they just see someone else they, for one reason or another, prefer.

I’m trying not to keep count of the number of days I’ve been job hunting now as that will depress me even more, but anyone out there with any tips on how to keep spirits up while job hunting?

A blog series which will run until our guest blogger, The FleetStreetBlues Redundant Journalist finds a job or gets too busy to blog. Follow the Trials of a Redundant Journalist series, by the Redundant Journalist, here. She is also posting her updates on FleetStreetBlues.

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Trials of a redundant journalist: Don’t forget the contacts

Don’t forget the contacts… and hopefully they won’t forget you.

As soon as I knew I was jobless, I started to let friends, family and acquaintances know of my new situation – and my availability to do anything.

But I didn’t stop there. I’ve always been good at keeping in touch with people, usually a couple of people at least from every place I’ve worked/done work experience, and even if there aren’t any job offers immediately available, the moral support I’ve received has been great. Believe me, you need it to keep you going through the job applications.

However, what I also recommend is going through your work contacts book. While I never met with anyone in my contacts book on a social level, there were some people I could think of immediately with whom I had good working relationships and who I knew would not only be sympathetic to my situation, but were also well-connected.

Again, they won’t necessarily hand me jobs on a plate, but the important thing is they will have dealt with me on a professional level and know of my work enough be able to recommend me where possible.

I can’t divulge too much about how this is going yet – but what I can say is that there’s been enough activity on this front to make it worthwhile, and I highly recommend it. After all, in the incestuous world of journalism, you never know when you might cross paths with your contacts again.

A new blog series which will run until our new guest blogger, The FleetStreetBlues Redundant Journalist finds a job or gets too busy to blog. Follow the Trials of a Redundant Journalist series, by the Redundant Journalist, here. She is also posting her updates on FleetStreetBlues.

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Trials of a redundant journalist: Days one, two and three

May 28th, 2009 | 4 Comments | Posted by in Freelance, Job losses, Jobs, Journalism

A new blog series which will run until our new guest blogger, who writes on the FleetStreetBlues site, and types really really fast, finds a job or gets too busy to blog. A weeks ago, this update came from FleetStreetBlues:

“A regular FleetStreetBlues contributor, without any warning, just got her marching orders this afternoon. ‘Global downturn… blah blah… smaller issues… blah blah… no advertising… blah blah… nothing we could do.’

“We’ve been writing about it for long enough – redundancies, cut-backs, journalists forced out of the profession they love – so it shouldn’t really come as a shock, but it does.

“And while we know all the things to do – networking, proactive job hunting, polishing your CV – being made redundant brings a whole new set of questions you never even considered. Like when updating the employment section of your CV… What’s a nice way of saying you just got fired?”

The FSB Redundant Journalist will cross-post her updates here. Journalism.co.uk welcomes her to this temporary blogging spot, and wishes her the best of luck in the job hunt. Here’s day one, two and three: more to come.

Follow the Trials of a Redundant Journalist series, by the Redundant Journalist, here.

DAY ONE: I’ve been unemployed for ten days.

It’s Bank Holiday Monday and thankfully, the sun is not shining. This is because I don’t have the luxury of being employed and enjoying such benefits as bank holidays.Technically every day of unemployment is a holiday, but the major downside is that my other half is breathing down my neck to get a new job so I have no choice but to get on with applying. My dreams of being a lady who lunches are yet to be fulfilled. During this recession at least.

Like everyone else, we’ve got our bills to pay, which means that in an industry where a suitable, good new job comes by once in a blue moon, I have had to cast my net further afield.

At first, the thought of going to the dark side, of PR, appalled me. My stomach churned at the thought of proactive PR in particular. But after nearly two weeks of job hunting, I must confess – those jobs are starting to look rather appealing. And it’s not just the pay.

It took me a couple of days to figure out what else I was qualified for, having wanted to be a journalist for most of my life and having work experience in little else, and to find out where to look for alternative jobs, having lived on Gorkana and Journalism.co.uk [Good call. Ed.] for the past three years. But it seems that if nothing else, I’d make a great office assistant.

Don’t mock too much – admin assistants get paid even better than journalists in a lot of cases, and if you’re looking for a stop-gap job to bring home the bacon while you keep an eye out for that lucrative journalism job, why not do something that requires little brain effort, therefore allowing you to save your energy for those applications for jobs you actually would want?

DAY TWO: So last week, I wowed the world with my WPM.’Are you sure that’s your typing speed?’

‘Er, I think so…I did those online typing speed tests.’

‘But are you sure? Most people are 70 words per minute, but 90 words per minute would be super-duper fast (yes, her exact phrase) – legal secretary fast.’

‘Er…’

‘Come in and we’ll register you and while we’re at it, we’ll test your typing speed.’

So that’s how I ended up at general recruitment agency number one. And ok, I didn’t wow ‘the world’, but I managed to surprise myself and the agency by proving that I have a touch-typing wpm of 95.

DAY THREE: There’s an emotional curve to redundancy. After I got over the initial shock of being made redundant, the next emotion was anger at the unfairness of the situation, quite closely followed by depression.

I was just a few days into the depression stage, however, when a little spark of hope landed my way – in the form of a freelance commission. On a subject I knew nothing about, but journalism work nonetheless.

Although I’d been unemployed for about just a week by this stage, it’s hard to describe quite how happy I was to be calling people up to interview them for the article.

Mundane as this may seem once you’ve got a journalism job, it also seemed the most natural thing for me to do (after all, it’s what I’ve been doing on a daily basis for the past two years) and it made one thing really clear to me – I’ll never be able to give up journalism for ever. Or at least it will be hard to give up without a fight.

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