This week on Coffee with a Journalist we’re joined by Kendall Baker of Axios. As…
If you are currently a journalist (or formerly practiced this noble profession) and are looking to make a career change, you may be struggling with how to present your past journalistic experience in a way that could be appealing to recruiters and prospective employers in a completely different field.
The good news is that, regardless of the job you are applying for, if you have experience as a journalist, you have skills, experience, and personality traits that almost all recruiters and prospective employers are looking for. The trick, now, is to present these attributes in a way that can be applied to the non-journalism jobs you are applying for.
When it comes to drafting a resume for non-journalism jobs, the tips and advice in this article should give you a head start on how to make your resume stand out from the others.
1. Focus on Your Soft Skills
Rather than focusing your resume on prior work experience that may not be relevant to the position you are applying for, focus the attention on your soft skills. These skills, in a general sense, relate to how a person works with others, how they adapt to differing structures, and how they are able to meet challenges and overcome difficulties.
Soft skills are also known as ‘transferable skills’ because they can be applied in one sector of activity just as easily as they can be applied to another. More often than not, these soft skills (or transferable skills) are the top skills employers look for in employees. They let the recruiter or prospective employer know that you have what it takes to adapt to a new situation, work well with others, and learn the tools and methods you will need to incorporate in order to be effective at your new position.
Unlike in the newsroom, there are no penalties for plagiarism here. Feel free to copy these skills and their examples and incorporate them as you wish onto your resume.
As a former journalist, you have demonstrated the following soft skills in a stressful work environment:
- Effective listening skills – You have demonstrated the capacity to listen to people in order to understand the specifics of their unique situation.
- Time management – On a daily basis, you had to complete given assignments and meet often tight deadlines. This was only made possible by your effective time management skills which are proven in the sheer volume of assignments you were able to complete.
- Communication skills – As a journalist, you were responsible for effectively communicating new and often complex information in a way that could be understood and implemented by readers of varying skill levels.
Additionally the art of pitching, in its own way, requires a finely honed communication skill set. If you feel that your pitching skills aren’t up to snuff, check out this article on 50 tips for pitching journalists or listen to the podcast on the state of pitching.
- Empathy – As a journalist, you demonstrated the ability to see things from the perspective of both your subjects and your readers. And you were able to take into account the personal and social pressures your subjects encountered and communicate those challenges in a way to add the necessary context to the pieces you produced.
- Desire and aptitude to learn – As a journalist, you were called upon to learn the intricacies of new topics, including the intended and unintended consequences of decisions and actions. You had to employ advanced research skills in order to fully grasp the implications of events and be able to communicate them in a clear and concise manner to those who were not as informed.
2. The Barnum Statement is Your Friend
A Barnum statement is a broad (sometimes vague, sometimes conflicting) statement that holds no specific meaning yet is easily interpreted in such a way that the listener or reader can extrapolate from it a precise and even personal meaning. This reaction is known as the Barnum Effect. It is when someone takes a vague, impersonal statement and interprets it in such a way as to think the statement is about them exclusively.
This type of rhetorical device is often used in horoscopes and by purported psychics to give the appearance of having intimate knowledge of someone when in fact they do not. For example: ‘You get along well with others, but you often feel the need to be alone with your own thoughts.’
You may very well feel this statement accurately describes you on an intimate level when, in actuality, it is a broad almost conflicting statement that describes almost everyone accurately.
Barnum statements are excellent for communicating your personal characteristics and prior work experience in a way that will have recruiters and prospective employers feel you are a perfect match for the position they are seeking to fill. They are especially useful when you are drafting one resume that is meant to be sent out to a host of different companies operating in very different sectors of activity.
The Barnum Statement Resume Example
Take a look at a typical statement that summarizes the experience of a journalist:
“Employed critical thinking skills combined with empathy to understand a problem in a time-sensitive manner and then communicate the results in clear, concise, and engaging language.”
If you feel that the above statement accurately describes your experience as a journalist, congratulations, you have just experienced the Barnum effect. In actuality, the above example accurately describes the position of project manager, or customer service representative, or a whole host of other popular jobs.
Of course, when you are tailoring your resume to better reflect a specific job offer you are targeting, you will want to tweak the statement accordingly. But this kind of Barnum statement is a good template to work from – and even without tweaking, most likely, the recruiter or prospective employer will make the necessary tweaks in their head to make the statement that much more pertinent to the position they are seeking to fill.
Again, this is not a newsroom or a prize-seeking work of journalism. You are free to plagiarize from this article. Take the example statement and use it as you wish. We only want to see you succeed in your efforts to land the job that you want.
3. Past Experience as Proof of Great Problem-Solving Skills
When listing your prior work experience or the assignments that you covered, present them as examples of your problem-solving skills. This way, regardless of the jobs you held in the past, regardless of the topics you reported on, they will always have value for the recruiter or prospective employer reading your resume.
Every story you covered or every assignment you carried out involved you having to solve a problem – be it a tight deadline, a reluctant source, a conflict of interest. While you still may wish to list your experiences with dates, titles, and links, the most important information you can provide is:
- The problem (or source of conflict)
- The skill(s) you used to solve the problem or avert or mitigate the conflict
- The resolution
4. Past Experience as Proof of Your Desire and High Aptitude to Learn
When listing your prior work experience or the assignments that you covered, present them as proof of your desire and aptitude to learn. This way, regardless of the jobs you held in the past, regardless of the topics you reported on, they will always have value for the recruiter or prospective employer reading your resume.
Every story you covered or every assignment you carried out involved you having to learn something new. This alone demonstrates intellectual curiosity – which is highly sought after by recruiters and prospective employers. be it a tight deadline, a reluctant source, a conflict of interest. While you still may wish to list your experiences with dates, titles, and links, the most important information you can provide is:
- The business, economic, or political backdrop of the story (the more specific the better)
- The research skill and critical thinking skills you used to assimilate the new information and adapt to the new environment
- The practical application of your newly acquired knowledge (this can be in how you were able to communicate the information to your readers or how you used this knowledge to further your research into the story)
As a former journalist, you have demonstrated that you possess the personality characteristics and the soft skills that will help you to adapt to new environments (and often stressful situations). You have demonstrated the sought-after skill of being able to effectively communicate newly acquired information in clear and engaging language. And you have demonstrated the ability to accomplish difficult tasks within a given (often tight) timeframe. Congratulations. There is not a recruiter or prospective employer out there who isn’t looking for such a person.
If you want to see what other journalists are doing in the industry, listen in weekly to Coffee with a Journalist to hear what other reporters are covering, dealing with, and so much more.
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