Ten uses for an Ex-Journalist. IV: Skills

You have real aptitudes that are useful to others if you have worked in virtually any area of journalism. These are not necessarily what you think: the more general, work-related skills you may not have even realised you have, while more specific, technical skills in which you excel might not be so easily portable.

1.       Writing and Editing. If you are a print journalist, you can probably write and/or edit. You may not be Proust, Ben Bradlee or Simon Jenkins, but you can probably write and edit better than 99 per cent of the population. This is a transferable skill. You can communicate better than others, and you can help others communicate better. Write their reports, their powerpoints, even their emails. This may well seem prosaic and dull; that is because you are good at it and is easy to you. That, in turn, is why people will pay you for it. The miracle of the market economy, eh?

2.       Interviewing. Talking to people in a structured way is harder than you think. Journalists spend a lot of time doing this. They may be socially dysfunctional, their personal lives may be disaster areas, but they know how to get people to talk about themselves, or others. This is a critical skill in a lot of industries executive search, market research, business intelligence, etc. Just don’t assume it means you are “good with people.” You probably aren’t.

3.       Research: you know about finding stuff out, and quick. This gives you and edge in business intelligence, but also in a number of other fields. It is an undervalued skill (by you) – you are very good at it and so are your colleagues, and so you assume everyone is. They aren’t – many can’t find their ass with Google Earth, let alone the names of the top five law firms in Saudi Arabia (or whatever). Again: supply and demand.

4.       Sales and Marketing. Journalists sell themselves and they sell their stories. As editors, subs and layout, they sell their product. Headline writing, page layout and story conferences are all about projecting something, competing in a market for ideas, and closing a deal. Many of the technical skills that come with this might not be relevant, but the general approach certainly is: advocacy, persuasion, eliciting needs, designing solutions etc. Equally, making and building contacts is a key sales skill.

5.       Design. And not just the page layout guys and designers. Information design – how to get someone to read something – is second nature to many journalists. That includes everything from brevity of writing to positioning to use of colour. You will understand better than colleagues how to use an email subject line; where to place an ad; and why that picture of the boss looks posed and unnatural.

6.       Management and Leadership. Huh? Yes, you. You have run a newsdesk and a budget. You aren’t equipped to lead Microsoft into the new generation of Windows, but you probably know more than you think about budgets, people, logistics and plans. Anyone that has done a news list understands project management to a degree. And editors do have to be leaders, in difficult circumstances, with difficult people.

7.       Risk management. journalists are used to having to work around difficult, unpredictable environments, especially abroad. This is in and of itself a useful skill. It makes them good at improvising, sensitive to what can go wrong, and prudential – while still risk-taking.

8.       Current Affairs: Less compelling than you (or I) might think. The skills and knowledge that come from, say, local, national or international politics are not that interesting to most businesses. Clearly they are very useful to lobbyists and public affairs people, but this may well be an area where you see your hard-earned knowledge undervalued in the marketplace. Good for getting a conversation started, though.

9.       Specialist subjects: Depends. Your knowledge of an industry or sector can be very useful, in communications, in consulting, financial services, or in your own publishing business. It can help make you a success in sales and marketing, and it can give you a real advantage. But if the specialist subject is, let’s say, terrorism, that may be less than useful. Equally, if your knowledge comes from contacts, ensure you can keep them up: will they still want to deal with you when you move on? Do not, in short rely on this, unless you can quickly transport it into a new life.

10.   Resourcefulness. Lack of resources has helped make journalists resourceful people. So have deadlines. We need to find stuff, persuade people, get places, make things work, stop things breaking, quickly, and we are consequently pretty good at improvising. Other trades don’t encourage this so people fail when systems fail.

Recovering Journalist on transferable skills.

Robert Half International on identifying transferable skills

Monster.com on transferable skills

Interview tips for career changers from Monster.com

Index to this subject

Part Three: Get Moving!

Tomorrow – Part Five: Attitudes


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