Ten Uses for an Ex-Journalist. I – The Plan

As you prepare for a change of career, the first step is to plan. It is going to take you three to six months to find work; perhaps longer. So have a strategy for how you are going to fill that time usefully, in a way that gets you out the other side.

1.       What do you want to do now? I will write more tomorrow on possible alternative careers. But consider: what would you like to do? What can you do? What are you good at? What will people pay you for? What do friends suggest? What are your criteria – money? Job satisfaction? Pension? Uniform? Having an idea of an end-point guides you in your decisions about what to do next. If you haven’t already adjusted, do it now: there probably aren’t any jobs in the industry you have just left.

2.       How much do you need to earn? Do you have enough to get through this period? Assume it takes six months to get a job: how much short will you be? What if takes a year? How far are you prepared to compromise now to get what you need? What other financial resources might you need? This is the place for having (if necessary) a hard-assed Plan B.

3.       Who can help you? Your network is probably your greatest asset at this stage. Who do you know? Do you have their email addresses, phone numbers etc? How well do you know them? Do they know you have left your old job? Who do they know? Who else might it be handy to meet?

4.       Set targets and allow for time. The plan needs some milestones along the way. So: target the interview-stage meetings you want to get to, and roughly when they will be; the applications you want to send to get those interviews; the new contacts you need to achieve. Be realistic about how long it will take (getting most jobs involves three stages, with at least two weeks between them; allow three months from start to finish. Yes, three months). How many hours of freelance work do you aim to generate in three months and how many hours will it take to land that? (Assume it takes an hour to land a day’s work).

5.       Be practical. A plan isn’t a vague document of aspirations, it ends up in a list of things to do: email Lionel. Get address for Tina. Research contacts at law firms. Select largest PR agencies. Etc. Etc. This shouldn’t be more than a page. Tick them off a few at a time and be methodical. Make them simple enough to achieve in a morning and avoid vagueness (“leverage advantages in communications market”).

6.       Review the plan and talk it through. Get someone to talk through the goals you have and the path to get them – someone that will be realistic. And check back once a month to see if it is working. If it isn’t, adjust it – lengthen the timescale, or change the priorities. Be honest with yourself about success and failure. Build on the former and avoid the latter.

7.       Improve your skills. There is new technology out there and you need to know about it. Many journalists have only ever used a limited range of tools. Most corporate employers will want you to use PowerPoint, for example. Excel is handy for many things, not just numbers. You should know a bit about social media, and you might want to refresh any technical skills or languages. Also gets you out of the house.

8.       Take a break. A holiday usually seems the last thing to do with your few remaining savings. But the fact is most things take time to sort out, so get some meetings in the diary for two weeks time and then head off. The break will do you good and make you look and feel fresher – give you a topic of conversation when you come back as well, at all those meetings that are in the diary. (“My week in Edinburgh,” rather than “Those pygmy jerks that fired me”)

9.       Move on. There is bound to be plenty of baggage and bitterness, whatever happens. Try not to let it get to you. Don’t hang out with people that feed it, which may well include ex-colleagues. When people ask you why you are looking for work, simply tell them you got made redundant – people know what’s happening in newspapers and won’t judge you. Don’t get stuck into a rant about those pygmy jerks that fired you. It is not cool.

10.   Get out. Whatever you do, don’t stay indoors even if you are pounding the keyboard. Meetings help prepare you for interviews and give you an idea of how the environment is. You will meet more people through meetings; you will learn of opportunities outside your area that might just interest you. Arrange coffees and lunches and interviews and meetings and ANYTHING that gets you out of the house once a day. It is horribly easy to remain inside with the television and the laptop and a mug of cold tea, in your nightwear. This will not help, especially if you are married. (It is pretty ropy if you are single).

 The Times on career change

The New York Times “Shifting Careers” blog (Uh, they got rid of it…)

Survivors Tales from the Sunday Times

We Were Print: Former and soon-to-be former print journalists.

John Zhu’s excellent blog on this subject.

Mark Potter’s very good Recovering Journalist website.

Index to this subject

Part Two: The New Career

3 Responses to Ten Uses for an Ex-Journalist. I – The Plan

  1. qwerty2009 says:

    One former colleague writes:

    A few thoughts from my own experience:

    1) I definitely agree with your first point. Landing the right thing takes time, and there will always be the temptation to grab for the first thing. This should be resisted – having a plan to fill the time meaningfully, even if the activity in question is not especially remunerative, is essential.

    2) Ex-journalists should never underestimate their marketability as writers and commentators – especially in the endless open spaces of 24-hour news. That all needs filling with talking heads, and becoming a regular contributor on air is a great way of advertising your existence and availabilty. Five live I have found an especially good platform in that respect.

    3) Journalists are by definition quite well suited to the portfolio life – a mix of writing and consultancy projects can work well, at least for a time.

    4) The best piece of advice I received after leaving the FT with a view to establishing a career in business was “don’t stray too far from what you know”. So: fine to leave journalism but think of other things to do with the media – either on the publishing side or in feeding the beast. That’s what led me into in-house corp comms.

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