How to transfer your journalism skills to a new field

May 14, 2010 at 11:39 am Leave a comment

Several email correspondents recently have said they’re striking out in finding jobs in journalism (especially mid-level, well-paying jobs that fit their lives) so they want to find a position in another field. They ask the obvious question: How does one effectively transfer their journalism skills to a new area?

Transferring skills is a tricky business, hiring experts say. While many journalists have a bevy of talents and skills — writing, editing, managing, deadline composure, critical thinking and analysis among them — that would serve them well in related industries and fields, you can’t just pack up your skill set and take that package with you. Many other jobs would require related but altogether different expertise. So journalists aiming to transfer their skills must first promote them to a prospective employer in another field and make the case that they could come up to speed in a reasonable time period on what would be required in that area.

Yet hiring experts say there are some ways to effectively transfer your skills, including:

*First do a specific inventory of your skills that could transfer elsewhere. Think very specifically — stay away from generalizations. For instance, journalists all have communications skills — but those are a dime a dozen. If you put that on a resume you’re targeting to a public affairs shop, for instance, they’ll likely toss it out right away — what kind of transitioning journalist are you, anyway, if you can’t be more detailed? Go back through your bio and current resume and make a detailed list of the skill sets you have developed — technical writing about financial regulation, for instance, or analysis of campaign finance data from government documents and databases.  This will be the basis of a new resume you will develop — and tweak again and again for specific openings — and pitch to prospective employers in other areas.

*Think strategically about where you can transfer these skills. Through networking, checking relevant job sites and boards (and blogs like this one!) and other research, develop a database of employers in your area (or other areas if you’re willing to relocate) that may have jobs for which your skills could be a good fit. Think broadly but not too broadly — you want to target organizations and companies with positions you could step into with the skills you have. For reporters, writer/editor jobs with the federal government or associations would be a good fit. For editors and managers, communications management or supervisory positions with associations, think tanks and companies in fields where you have expertise (energy firms for those who supervised energy coverage, for instance) make a lot of sense. Then make a list of a dozen employers where you could transfer your skills.

*Start making connections in these new areas. Once you’ve determined which skills transfer and organizations that may be seeking such expertise, figure out how to get in the door there. You may have to get creative about networking outside your comfort zone of journalism, but chances are there are plenty of journalists with connections elsewhere — former journalists are everywhere these days. You’ll need contacts to help you pitch your skills and convince hiring managers that even though you haven’t done this specific work before, that you could handle it and thrive in this environment.

*Show don’t tell. This advice should be second nature to most journalists — the best stories don’t just list facts and information, they paint pictures or tell tales to make their point. As a transitioning journalist, you’ll need to do this quite effectively to win over employers in other areas. Employers want what the football player in the movie “Jerry Maguire” did — “Show me the money.” Hiring managers want to see the goods — again, they don’t want a list of your general skills (communication, teamwork, leadership, organizational skills, blah, blah, blah) as they hear that from everyone. They need targeted skills and want to see how you effectively used those skills in the past and how you would do so in the future. Redo your resume to reflect this and make each cover letter for a prospective employer a concise, well-told story about how your skill set served you well in  journalism but more importantly how your expertise is tailor-made for the opening they are filling. Be honest about what you may need to learn and the coaching you may need — that could impress a recruiter. Your goal: To set yourself apart from the pack by pitching your candidacy through a powerful story that could influence a hiring manager to give you a try in a new field.

*Refugees of the Baltimore Sun — more than 60 lost their jobs in a mass layoff last spring — have put together a terrific site about their experiences  as journalists and as job hunters. It’s inspiring and heartbreaking, and says a lot about our industry and what has happened to it.  (You’ll note one of the stories is from John McIntyre, who has since landed back at the Sun and wrote an inspiring piece for this blog about his year of job hunting. See April 30 blog post — John’s is an item halfway through the post.) And good for them — they were entrepreneurial, finding funding from the Writers Guild of America-East Foundation and implemented with the collaboration of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild.

*And here are some good leads to wrap up this work week:

*The Corporate Executive Board in D.C. has an opening for a writer/editor:

Director, Business Writer/Editor
Corporate Executive Board – Washington, DC
Editor will work on a variety of customer-facing projects than span marketing channels from print to web to PR to events. Most importantly, the Writer/Editor…
From MarketingSherpa

*The Department of Energy (DOE) has an opening in D.C. for a communications specialist in energy technology:

Energy Technology Communications Specialist
Department of Energy – Washington, DC
serves as the lead communications and outreach point… and communication efforts for ITP. Develops, maintains, and coordinates effective communications and… $105,211 – $136,771 a year

*Dimension Data in McLean is looking for a director of marketing communications:

Director, Marketing Communications – Herndon
Dimension Data – Mc Lean, VA
of the Marketing Communications Director are to utilize marketing and communications strategies and… and communications. The Marketing Communications

*The American Chemical Society in D.C. needs a director of its editorial operations:
Director, Editorial Office Operations
American Chemical Society – Washington, DC
editors and editorial assistants and work with editor… mechanisms for communication with editors and editorial assistants. Represent editor view of peer review…
From American Chemical Society

*The National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems (NAPH)  has an opening in D.C. for a Web writer/publications editor:

*And last but not least today, and with a hat tip to, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) in D.C. is looking for a membership account executive:

MEMBERSHIP ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE, National Association of Broadcasters. Will be responsible to execute recruitment and retention strategies for the various types of members of NAB – Radio and Television stations, International broadcasters and Associate companies. Please visit our Web site for a full listing about this exciting opportunity:  Send cover letter with salary history and resume to with “Account Executive” in the subject line.

Happy hunting and have a relaxing weekend. I’m taking a long weekend in sunny Florida, and will be back with you Tuesday, May 18!



Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Why “face time” is key when networking How to snare a management job

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

DC Works has moved!

I'm now blogging at I hope you'll join me there!

%d bloggers like this: