School is wrapping up, the media job market is in decline and thousands of journalism students are also scrolling through a limited number of listings. It can feel impossible to stand out in a crowded field.
But don’t fret. Start building your portfolio.
A portfolio is a collection of your best published work, showing not only who you are as a journalist, but also what you can do. Pick three to five clips that reflect your skills and are specific to the role you are seeking — narrowing it down to a small number shows you have an editing eye.
“It’s like striking a balance between understanding what you’re applying to and what’s appropriate to present for that,” said Emily Porter, principal recruiter for NBC News Digital and MSNBC Digital.
Below, NBC News leaders offer advice for curating a portfolio to land you that job.
Show you can write a story
News editors like to see that you can take a complicated issue and distill it into a readable, compelling and concise article. They also want to see that you interview “real” people, not just experts. This will show your ability to get others to open up and share their experiences.
If you’ve published stories at reputable outlets outside of school, present them first, because they show you’ve worked in a professional setting. Highlight any work that has received specific attention or went viral.
Don’t worry if you are just starting out and have no professional clips. Work that you’ve done for the school paper or station is good for your portfolio too, as long as it’s easy to read and nicely formatted.
In the beginning of your career, don’t get hung up on getting published at prestigious publications; just get published and show you can report and write. “It’s important for anyone who is just starting out to get as much experience as you can, so that you can have the clips to show that you have done a variety of different kinds of stories,” said Amanda Covarrubias, news editor for NBC News Digital.
Show that you understand the organization and the job you want
Research the organization and its needs. Make sure your clips are something that fits the beat or job you’re applying for. For example, if you are applying to be a travel writer, your articles should be related to travel. Such work would show different skills than what a hiring manager may look for in a breaking-news reporter.
If the news organization has covered the same topic you have but in a different way, include that clip. “It shows the strength of your work,” said Joy Y. Wang, NBC News senior editorial director of planning and diversity journalism. “It also shows me that you understand and have seen and done the research of what our organization has done.”
Using clips that fit the job doesn’t mean you should be afraid to show your versatility in ways that highlight your work. For example, if you’re applying for a certain beat, show your range by including different story formats within that beat, like straight news, a profile and a feature.
Present your clips in a simple way
Make it easy for a hiring manager or an editor to go straight to your clips. If you’re pitching a story or applying for a job through email, link your clips in the body text.
You may also want to create your own website. This is the best way people can access your resume, bio and clips. Clips that appear on your site should be plain, clean and well-organized. Your site may not display for someone else the way it does for you, so avoid weird or quirky formats and fonts that can be distracting.
Any published work that’s paywalled should have a workaround so people can view it, like embedding it as a PDF and making it available to download. If you are meeting someone in person, have a resume or business card that includes your website URL, or have a QR code that takes them directly to your site.
Always get a second opinion
If you are still questioning which clips to include or if your presentation is effective, get advice from someone you trust — a recruiter, a mentor, a colleague or someone else in the business.
Having a strong portfolio isn’t the only thing that matters to hiring managers, said Michelle Garcia, editorial director of NBC BLK. “The clips are half of the application,” she said. ”The other half is who you are as a person. Clips are just part of the deal.”