Most people can relate to the disheartening experience of applying for a job then hearing nothing, not even a ‘thanks, but no thanks’. New QUT research offers answers on why and illustrates how much first impressions, credentials, and external recognition matter.
- Previous experience is the single most important attribute sought by employers and being over-qualified can get you a head start on the competition
- When applying for a job, provide concrete evidence of past achievements and experience
- Credentials, especially educational qualifications, are vital in the shortlisting process
- If you’ve won an award or other forms of professional recognition, don’t be shy
Dr T.J. Thomson and Dr Jason Sternberg, both senior lecturers in QUT’s School of Communication, have reviewed applicant resumes and cover letters to to shed light on hiring processes and uncover the strategies candidates use to distinguish themselves.
The results of their study, which centred on applications for a visual journalism job posted in 2019, have just been published by Journalism & Mass Communication Educator.
“We’ve all been there. Applied for a job, sent in application materials, and then radio silence. What went wrong? Who did they go with? Why? It can be a frustrating experience but there are some strategies that can give you the edge when you are writing your cover letter and updating your CV,” said Dr Thomson.
“Keep uppermost in your mind that external recognition counts for a lot. Anyone can say how great they are but having objective evidence that someone else thinks you’re great at what you do is gold.
“Applicants in the data pool who had earned professional recognition or awards were four times more likely to be shortlisted than those without such recognition.
“A close second on the job application podium is professional development and training. All shortlisted candidates in the sample had attended training workshops and completed at least one internship or apprenticeship. This shows you have a self-growth mentality, and you are teachable, which can reflect positively on your interpersonal qualities.
“You should also aim to be over-qualified to be competitive, depending on your field. The position description for the job in the study stated only one to two years of experience was required but most of the applicant pool reported almost six years’ experience.”
Drs Thomson and Sternberg conducted an in-depth, qualitative review of 32 applicant cover letters/CVs for the position with a United States-based daily print and digital news outlet.
“Although shrinking traditional media, convergent technology and the resulting democratisation of media production and distribution have confused the question of who a journalist is, recent estimates place the number of professional, unionised journalists at around 600,000 worldwide. This doesn’t include those in non-union environments and freelancers, which in the United States, account for more than half of the visual journalism produced at the top news outlets,” said Dr Thomson.
“A recent survey of 5,000 visual journalists in more than 100 countries revealed the majority were university educated, more than half are self-employed or freelancers, and around 98 per cent use digital cameras. A growing number are now using drones too.”
Dr Thomson said the range of skills expected of journalists had expanded exponentially since the advent of the internet and requires continuous updating to optimise job prospects for both graduates and seasoned reporters.
“Previous experience is the single most important attribute news agencies look for when hiring, followed by web/multimedia skills and video/photo skills,” he said.
“The applicants who could demonstrate such skills, attributes and experience were the ones who were shortlisted, and these principles can be transferable to many other industries when it comes to the hiring process.
“We found that tangible expressions of what you can do matter – show, don’t tell. If relevant for your field, a portfolio or other tangible expression of your talents and skills will speak louder than the narrative you craft in the cover letter.
Credentials matter too. The shortlisting process must start somewhere, and educational qualifications are often one of the first aspects hiring managers use to winnow an applicant pool.
“Finally, be aware of the ideologies of your field and be prepared to situate yourself within them. Be willing and able to comment—with concrete examples—about ethical practices, social responsibility, sustainability, professional responsibility, and general professionalism to ensure your values and the values of the organisation align.”
The full study (Journalism Employability in the Modern Newsroom: Insights From Applicant Resumes and Cover Letters) is available in a PDF and can be view online.