Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

The alternative to your journalism CV

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 27, 2012

The journalism jobs market is still difficult and likely to stay that way for some time. What that means is every time you apply for a job, you’re competing against a large number of people. 

You’ve been to university, got a journalism qualification of some kind and done some work placements. The problem: so has everyone else.

The common solution is to spend more time tweaking the CV: adding new things, rearranging the layout, sticking it on LinkedIn. But this is a 20th century solution to a 21st century problem.

Everyone else has a CV, but not everyone has the initiative to see the new publishing opportunities in front of us all, and to start something. Launching an online magazine, for example, and building a small, loyal community around great content. Or running a series of talks or events, or making that documentary.

Projects like these demonstrate things a CV just can’t: leadership, initiative, problem solving, social-media prowess and technical ability.

When I tell people what I’m up to at the moment, a common response is “That’ll be good for your CV”. I don’t have a CV. No-one has asked for one in more than two years – but I’m busier than ever.

So stop spending your time filling out your CV and asking for recommendations on your LinkedIn profile. For God’s sake get out there and do something. Create. Make a film. Start a business. Write a book. Launch a website. You don’t need anyone’s permission.

Do it with commitment and persistence and the opportunities will start to come to you that a resume simply cannot bring.

It’s harder and scarier than filling your CV with internships and diplomas, which is why still - 10 years into this web 2.0 malarky – not many people try it. Happily that increases the chances of success for those who do.

We’re entering a world that rewards guts, action, execution, total commitment, responsibility and initiative over work placements and qualifications.

Want to be a journalist? Actions speak louder than words.

21 Responses

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  1. Liz Wilson said, on February 27, 2012 at 9:24 am

    Good advice – and it applies to non-journalists too. Just do it, as they say.

  2. Liz Wilson said, on February 27, 2012 at 9:29 am

    Reblogged this on DOTCOMMA and commented:
    Looking for a journalism, PR or marketing job, or your next freelance project? Forget about tweaking your CV endlessly. Start a project instead and showcase your skills by doing something instead of just talking about what you can do. A great piece of advice from Adam Westbrook for aspiring journalists but which could apply to anyone in the creative sector (or perhaps even outside it).

  3. Jonathan Frost (@Frost_J) said, on February 27, 2012 at 10:28 am

    I see your point, but I’ve spent time writing a CV over the last week because I want to do more. Work experience always won’t come to me without investing time in writing it up, and explaining to people why the projects I do are worth something.

    I’d like to agree that “we’re entering a world that rewards guts, action, execution, total commitment, responsibility and initiative over work placements and qualifications,” I really would. But I think the majority of people that do the hiring are still going to want a CV when it comes to it, and that won’t change for a long time yet.

    • Adam Westbrook said, on February 27, 2012 at 12:18 pm

      I’m surprised you think that as a Wannbehack. I don’t know for certain (and I’m sure they’ll correct me if I’m wrong!), but I’d be willing to bet Nick, Alice, Ben & co [the founders of Wannabehacks for those who don't know] got their jobs at the Times/HuffPo etc a large part based on starting a website from scratch & building it into something remarkable.

      Yes, as Maria says below, in reality it’s a bit of both, and obviously CVs come into it. But this is to miss the point: it’s not about CVs as physical documents (yes, they’ll always be asked for by employers); it’s about being a starter -someone who creates & ships. CV or no-CV I still think that’s the best way to get ahead in this new world.

  4. Maria said, on February 27, 2012 at 10:42 am

    Maybe there’s room for both? After all employers generally want to know a bit about your background. But, I agree with Adam that you need to do something to make yourself stand out from the rest and that entails making/doing something to demonstrate your skills in an easy accessible format for potential employers to see. Also, if you’ve got something to show that really sells yourself you can put it in front of numerous people …. you never know where that next job opportunity might come from. OK, getting down from the soapbox now!

  5. Andy Vale (@AndyVale) said, on February 27, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Excellent advice. My problem with CVs is that they often only tell a fraction of the story. For example, two people could say “I was at a company for 3 years, I was head of this and in charge of that.” But in reality only one of them may have done anything, while the other just liked feeling important and filling their CV. But on paper (or a CV), they look the same. Similarly, two people may have attended training for a skill at the same time. One could’ve used it regularly since, the other sparingly and yet when two CVs are plopped in front of an employer the

    However, you can’t blag starting your own company, producing your own content and generally putting actual stuff out there.

    • Adam Westbrook said, on February 27, 2012 at 4:45 pm

      Good point Andy. I’d also again broaden it out from the specifics of a CV and say on paper someone who’s been in the same job for 10 years appears better than someone who’s started 10 different projects. But really, the first person has just done 1 year 10 times over, while the second person will have 10 actual years of different learning experiences.

  6. lifeshooter said, on February 27, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    I am sorry everyone but what is a CV?

  7. Thomas Mead said, on February 28, 2012 at 12:33 am

    Loved this article. I’ve asked my fiancee to send it to me every time I put off writing.
    Thanks mate, you’re an inspiration to the lot of us ;)

    • Adam Westbrook said, on February 29, 2012 at 4:18 pm

      Awesome! Print it off and stick it by your desk too ;) Good luck!

  8. rhianjournojones said, on February 28, 2012 at 1:04 am

    Spot on.

    I’ve met many editors and journalists, not one has asked me if what my qualifications are or what my experience is, they all ask if I’ve got a blog.

  9. Chloe Barrow said, on February 28, 2012 at 11:42 am

    Wow, this is a real help actually. I’ve been looking for a full time job since getting back from Dubai last April (almost a year!) but I am freelancing as a sub editor and writing some features too. I know you need to get out there and take action, but it’s scary when you have rent to pay each month and some of those ideas don’t generate any income for some time. However, it’s definitely better than twiddling my thumbs and tweaking my CV for the a millionth time!

    One thing I have discovered is: ‘Don’t bother applying for jobs online!’ I think I have a pretty good CV and I almost never hear back from any of them… it’s a waste of time – you’re better off contacting mags and papers etc directly and asking for freelance work – a full time job in journalism is a luxury at the moment!

    • Adam Westbrook said, on February 29, 2012 at 4:22 pm

      Hi Chloe, it’s true that there’s a pressure to do these things especially when there’s no/little guarantee of it making money in the short-term. The only consolation I can offer is that there isn’t an idea out there that is ever guaranteed to make money (short of the illegal things!)..think about it: who’d have thought Google would make money? (and it didn’t for the first few years).

      You have to hustle a little bit – it means work on these projects in the evenings and at weekends, letting it grow alongside the paid work until it can pay for itself.
      And really you need to be driven to make the project work because you’re passionate about it – if you live for the money it won’t last long.

      Good luck!

  10. Another day, another blog « Maria Soleil said, on February 29, 2012 at 8:28 am

    [...] course, this has all got to fit around uni work. But after reading this post from journalism tutor and freelancer Adam Westbrook, I was inspired to create a blog based on [...]

  11. Nina Marie Cresswell (@kneegnaw) said, on March 1, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    Thanks for this Adam. I’m currently in the process of desperately tweaking my CV for the umpteenth time, but I DID have an online magazine building a good rep that I stupidly allowed to phase out last year. This has given me the boot up the butt I needed to crack on and make it happen! Cheers!

  12. Oli Butler said, on March 5, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Fantastic post mate. I’m unqualified as a journalist, meaning potential employers won’t even take a second look at me, but I’m writing for websites, my own websites and writing letters asking for feedback on my work.

    http://formulabutler.wordpress.com
    http://www.sabgblog.com

  13. wendy villalta said, on March 7, 2012 at 12:06 am

    Hello, I would like to be a journalist.

  14. [...] write a lot on here about the need for more starters, initiators, entrepreneurs and storytellers who are committed to quality over quantity. And I know there are lots of you out there, I just [...]

  15. [...] course, this has all got to fit around uni work. But after reading this post from journalism tutor and freelancer Adam Westbrook, I was inspired to create a blog based on [...]

  16. [...] work placement/internship but to, as Adam Westbrook wrote in his multiple pieces on the subject, “become an editor yourself”. That to get the right kind of attention from potential employers, one just needs to “get out [...]


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