How to get a job in journalism

Entry level graduate jobs in journalism, plus tips on applications and interviews.

Most graduates will start small on local or regional papers. The two main sources of employment are newspapers and news agencies. Under Fair Employment legislation, jobs have to be advertised in other newspapers.

In Ireland, the Sunday Independent has the most widely read media section and therefore would offer the lion’s share of advertisements for media and journalism positions. Some positions are advertised in the Business Post. Throughout Ireland and the UK, The Guardian media section is the most widely read media section. UK positions are advertised here, but also more senior positions for Irish publications. As advertising in The Guardian is extremely expensive, more junior Irish positions would not usually be advertised, but sometimes if there is a ‘cluster’ of vacant positions, these will all be advertised together.

There will be many applicants for positions advertised, but do not lose hope: typically, quite a sizeable number of applications are completely unsuitable, as they come from people with no training or experience. However, do bear in mind that, as with other industries, many posts advertised will have internal applicants, who often have a distinct advantage. One way around this is to ensure that you yourself are an internal applicant, through taking on voluntary or low paying work to get started with a publication.

For those trying to make a start in broadcast journalism, the path is much less straightforward. Job opportunities tend to be in specialised areas. Very few jobs are to be found in the advertisement sections of newspapers and those are for top positions. A lot of jobs in the industry are filled by promotion from within. A good strategy is to get a foot in the door doing just about anything, even answering phones, and then show initiative and make a good impression.

Applications and interviews

Your application should include your CV, portfolio and covering letter. When writing your application letter for a newspaper, be aware of the big stories and campaigns generated by that publication.

Sometimes an advertisement will specify that CVs should be accompanied by five ‘most significant’ stories. Even if the advertisement does not request a portfolio send one anyway. Your portfolio should present a mixture of hard news and features. If the position is in a general news area, a variety of subjects should be represented. Do not include any examples which you do not consider to be strong pieces. In interviews, you will probably have to explain why you chose those particular examples. If you can’t do this, don’t include them.

If you do not have a sufficient quantity of strong published material, all is not lost. You can still write up a story, submit it for publication and, even if it doesn’t get published, you can attempt to persuade the interview panel why it is a strong piece and why it should be published. Then let them decide!

The initial large number of applicants will generally be whittled down for interviews. News agencies and larger newspapers will generally have a two-tier interview system (smaller or more regional publications may be much more informal about the whole process); a first interview with the editor or head of desk and a second with executives from the publishing group and the editor.

Interviews may include some (or none) of the following tests:

  • Shorthand
  • Typing (not too demanding, normally 30-40 wpm will suffice)
  • Exercises with fragments of mock-up stories to discern how you will put these fragments together (story board, background, who you would interview, your general narrative skills).

If an application leads to an interview, it is essential that you know everything about the publication. Graduates are continuously advised to research the interviewing organisation thoroughly. In this industry, you really can’t research minutely enough. Your research should not just include the subject area covered by the organisation but also financial information, who their personnel are and what they have written.