Macleay Contributor Rob Pegley shares tips and tricks on how to create the perfect portfolio.
… and hopefully land your dream job as a result. Ironically in the world of journalism, there are times when actions speak louder than words, as Rob Pegley explains…
As a freelance writer, I can assure you that at least half of the job involves generating work, rather than actually writing it. Endless e-mails to commissioning editors. And whether you’re applying for your dream job in journalism, or chasing regular writing gigs, you need a decent portfolio to get people’s attention.
When I got my first job as a full-time writer on a magazine 27 years ago, I turned my resume and published articles into a small magazine itself. I designed a cover with cover lines about myself and my work, printed the whole thing on double-sided sheets of A4, stapled it together like a fanzine-style publication and posted it to all the major UK magazine publishing companies.
A Journalism class working on their creative portfolios during class time.
It was reasonably impressive for the early 90s and got me interviews; this was about four years before e-mail and the internet kicked in. While scissors, a glue stick and a photocopier might not be the best route to a job in the media three decades later, the principles are the same: be inventive, get people’s attention, and have something substantial to put in front of people that is easy for them to digest.
In 2019, you’re going to be applying for jobs via e-mail or an electronic jobs portal and everything will be digital - but there is still a need for your portfolio to be simple and well designed; there are dinosaurs out there - like myself - who still like to print things out and read through them on paper. Make sure whatever you’re sending is easy to read in all forms and looks instantly impressive.
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It starts with your resume. There are arguments over whether this should be one or two sheets of A4. Personally I prefer one sheet that is concise and instantly impressive: your academic highlights, work experience, courses, awards, publications you’ve written for, anything that sells you instantly. And all of it focussed, if possible, on how that relates to journalism and the media.
I’ve been an employer of journalists as an editor and publisher and the amount of time I spent looking at each candidates application would upset you. Minimal, at best. It’s a busy job, there are a wealth of applicants, and I want to instantly narrow it down to the best shortlist at first pass.
Follow the CV with examples of your work - these can be links embedded in the CV, but it’s worth including them as simple PDFs too. Three to five articles are plenty, and put them in the order you want them to be read. Again, for the time-poor editor, they may only read one piece - make sure it sells your skills best. When I returned to freelance writing, my lead portfolio piece was a 3000-word feature for ExecutiveStyle for Fairfax, about the 12 weeks I spent training for a boxing match. It was funny, personal and showed myself in an honest, warm and vulnerable, but determined light. It was like an entertaining read and emotional CV in one. Think carefully about what you're one article would be.
Hatch Macleay student show #LeadingLines, presented by Journalism star Laura, covers the impact of social media and will be a great addition to Laura's CV upon graduation.
But make sure that all five articles show a diversity to your work in terms of styles and platforms if possible. A long feature, an interview, a news piece, a fun listicle, a review. And if they’re across website, newspaper, magazine and social media even better. Provide the links to where they’re published and back them up with a simple PDF that is a screenshot of the article in readable form.
Quality not quantity is most important with the articles. Tailor them to the job you’re applying for if possible, but showing versatility is also important. Decent finance pieces for a business magazine is obviously the best approach, but rounding it off with a blog or podcast on lifestyle is not a bad look. Employers like well rounded staff.
The articles you use will also have greater weight if they’re for a known publication. You may have to write for free to build up a portfolio. You need published work more than anything else to get paid work. So whether its local listings magazines, student press, blogs. Writing for free will pay off in the long term. But equally if you’ve created your own blog and it has a substantial number of followers, that’s also obviously impressive.
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In my humble opinion, everything beyond a one-page resume, five decent published articles and a strong covering letter, is fluff.
The covering letter needs to be a short and interesting profile about yourself, leading into why you love journalism, followed up with why you love the sound of this job and would be perfect for it. Be ambitious but not naive. Honest and pragmatic about how your skills and experience and personality fit the role. The employer may already have made their mind up from a glance at your CV and reading your first article, but this is a personal chance to sway them.
Good luck - keep it concise and of a high quality. Find a way to squeeze all of your skills and experience and journalistic credentials into a small, interesting and well designed window of time for time-poor media employers. And don’t give up - laugh in the face of rejection and keep sending until you get the gig.
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