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Communications Home

By Ronald C. Roat,
Associate Professor of Journalism

I designed this little memo in 1987 (revised at least five times since) to help USI seniors in communication to find a job in the "real world," whatever that is. The advice I provide here is chiefly my own, but I have included a little from here or there to give some depth. I base my advice on what I learned as a newspaper editor, and what editors told me when we spoke about such things.

This is only a guideline. Make whatever alterations you deem necessary to fit your particular needs. This memo addresses what you should do through the mail or what kinds of "packages" you should assemble to give to prospective employers.

The Package

A mailing package should include:

(1) Cover Letter: In a very brief fashion this letter should tell the reader why you are sending the material to him or her and what you have attached to that letter. It should get to the point quickly, briefly state its purpose, and end with some sort of encouraging note. Make it no more than one page in total.

Remember this: Newspaper editors (and anyone else hiring writers) will make their first judgments of you based on this letter. Since they are hiring writers, they will hire people who can write letters, type well, spell the words correctly, and tell the reader what he or she needs to know without wasting time and space.

And, remember this too: Send it to the right person and spell the person's name correctly .  Provide the proper title. Again, professionals hiring a reporter, editor, or public relations person will not hire someone who sends letters to the wrong people or, worse, sends them to the right persons but misspells their names.

So, call that publication or personnel office and ask how to spell the right person's name. It will cost you $1 long distance but prevent you from wasting postage sending material to someone who no longer works there.

At a newspaper, get the managing editor's name. At places other than newspapers, get the name of the "manager" or respond to the person so stated in the advertisement.

A model letter is linked to this file.

(2) Resume: Despite the advice you will receive from many well-intentioned people, the resume is probably the least important item in the package.

So, make it brief, but be sure to include your work history, the names and kinds of organizations and activities you belong to or participate in, and what talents you have that an editor might want to know about. For example, if you are a decent photographer, say so. If you can work in a darkroom, say it. If you have worked as a nurse and therefore have special knowledge of health care, put that down too. If you are a wizard on the Internet and can get information from various points of the globe to your desk in seconds, say that, too.  If you have created dozens of Web pages, say it and provide their URL addresses.

Why all this stuff? Well, an editor is trying to find someone who can write and has shown a desire to get involved in various things. An editor is also trying to find people with many and various talents and knowledge. If you fit the definition, show it.

Avoid giving a career goal at the resume's top. If you are applying for a newspaper reporter's position, the editor has a right to assume that's what you want. If that is not what you want, you shouldn't be applying for that position in the first place.

(3) References: There are various schools of thoughts on this. Some say not to include the names of references. I always found this was poor advice. Don't put your potential employer in a position of having to request names. Include them.

But, put them on a separate sheet attached to the resume. You might want to vary your list a little. For example, you might want one list for newspapers and another for potential public relations positions. You might have a third just for general kinds of jobs. Sure, you might have some of the same names on each list, but each list my be different by one name.  (And give each reference an updated copy of your resume before mailing these packages.)

The reference list should include:

Use at least three references. Sometimes it is good to have four or five. Use your judgment. I suggest you not use the names of your minister or best friend. Most editors are not likely to call references who are likely to only provide comments which glorify you. They seek something more objective.

Put your name atop the reference list page. Don't forget.  That sheet could get separated from the original package.

A final note on references. Sometimes you can convince someone to write you a letter that can be photocopied and sent various places. If you have a good one, attach it to the list of references. Also mention it in your cover letter.

(4) Clippings (or other work): Newspaper editors are mostly interested in what you have written that has been published. (If you have not written anything that has been published, perhaps now is the time to try to remedy that.) So, besides the cover letter, this section is the most important part of the package.

Pick your three or four best clippings. If you are preparing a portfolio, then you can use many clippings.  If possible, have them show you can write in more than one style and on more than one topic. If, for example, you are a sports writer, include a clipping you wrote about education. If you write a lot of columns, try to include a basic news story that shows you can keep your opinion from your work.

Make good photocopies of these clippings. You can probably save yourself a lot of grief by going to a good printer -- the phone book has a good list -- and have 50 good copies made of each clipping. A good printer can shrink a larger clipping to fit a smaller piece of paper. A good printer also uses excellent paper and provides an excellent reproduction. For less than $10, for example, you'll have all the copies you need.

If you are in public relations, you might also have some newspaper clippings. Use them as outlined above. You might have some (1) letters, (2) news releases, (3) fact sheets, (4) speeches, or (5) press kits that you produced in class or on an internship. Dr. Robert Carroll can certainly provide more professional advice for public relations students.

How to Mail

Buy a package of good envelopes large enough to hold 8 1/2 by 11 sheets of paper without folding them. You want your package to arrive looking reasonably neat.

Assemble a mock package. Put everything in it you will eventually mail. Use the same paper you'll use. Take this package to the post office and have the clerk weigh it and determine how much postage you'll need.

Now you know what kinds of stamps you will need to mail your packages. You'll also be able to mail a package now and then on a moment's notice and not have to wait until the post office opens.

Type the addresses on the envelopes themselves or on mailing labels. I tend to like good looking mailing labels, but that's only because my typewriter tended to wrinkle the envelopes.  Computer printers are even worse on large envelopes, so labels are a good bet.

Where to Apply

I hope you would have some ideas of your own. Obviously, you can respond to announcements and local classified ads.

You will have better luck, however, if you do as many of these things as possible:

(1) Major Newspapers -- Every region has a major newspaper (or papers) that employers tend to patronize. In this region they use the Indianapolis Star, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Buy the Sunday editions. Employers aim their advertisements at those editions because they carry the largest circulations. (You can buy both in Evansville on Sunday mornings.) Learn how each newspaper organizes its classified section and go through each. You'll be surprised how many job openings you will find throughout this region.

(2) Editor & Publisher magazine -- It is the "bible" of the newspaper industry and it is affectionately known as "E&P." It is a weekly magazine and carries a growing list of journalism and public relations positions in its classified section. Don't be late getting a copy since the ads tend to run two weeks but newspaper editors are usually in a hurry to hire someone.  You can find it in the David Rice Library.  You can also find it on the Web, though getting to the classified advertising is a little more grueling.

(3) Editor & Publisher yearbook -- This is a handy little book about the size of a telephone directory. It lists everything you want to know about all American (and Canadian) newspapers, newspaper groups, and newspaper organizations.

(4) University Placement Office -- You would be surprised how many employers call our placement office looking for potential employees. The problem usually is that students have not yet graduated and are not prepared to go to work. But if your timing is good, you'll find something.

(5) Talk with your journalism professors. Sometimes we have contacts and/or good ideas.

(6) Look on the World Wide Web at specific newspapers.  Look for journalism jobs specifically.

Have patience. It takes time to find a good job. It also takes aggressiveness. Newspapers tend to hire people who knock continually and tactfully on their doors because those are the very skills they seek in reporters.

Good luck.