Improve Your Chances for Landing an Internship

By Katelyn Umholtz

Journalism and photography both have slowing job markets, and hiring managers are looking for the best and brightest to fill the few spots available. That means college students have to take the initiative to stand out.

To do that, taking more than one internship has become a norm in the journalism industry. And, the experience is invaluable.

The fall is the time to apply for next summer’s internships To help you get ahead, here are tips from professionals for what students should know when applying for internships.

Get a portfolio together

It sounds simple enough that a visual journalism student would need to get together their work to show possible employers, but a portfolio has to show variety.

John Roark, a freelance photographer and former University of Georgia student, said photojournalists are already expected to do everything, so publications will expect the same from their interns. This means you can’t show just one type of work. Roark said basic photography skills are important but it is also important to show your range.

“They want to see creativity,” Roark said. “You need to be really diverse. You have to be able to shoot video. You have to shoot photo stories and features.”

Learn to develop stories

A strong portfolio needs photo stories and essays to attract the attention of an editor. Often, visual journalists rely on story ideas they’re given by their editors and the reporters they work alongside. But it always shows more passion and creativity when one can come up with their own story ideas, said Jeffrey Allred, a photojournalist for the Deseret News.

For 11 years, he taught photojournalism courses at Brigham Young University, and this was something he pushed his students to do. He said the more students pursue their own stories, the more passion those projects reveal, which employers notice as much as other traits. And when you land an internship, use that opportunity to develop even more projects.

“Go out and figure out your own stories,” Allred said. “Don't just rely on reporters and editors. Find subjects and coverage that will be photogenic or newsworthy. It needs to be something you could include in a portfolio.”

Networking is important

Internships are also perfect for forming professional relationships with people in the industry that could lead to a job in the future. A study by said students have a seven-in-ten chance of being hired by the company they intern for.

Interning, however, isn’t the only path to networking. More than 10 million people work as freelancers, and journalists make up a big chunk of that number. These jobs are only growing, said Branden Camp, a freelance photojournalist and recent Kennesaw State University graduate.

In fact, Camp suggests that freelancing in college could be as beneficial as internships. Camp freelanced during college and the first year or so is hard, he said, because that’s when you develop relationships with potential clients. Then it becomes reference after reference, and he was able to make it a full-time job after he graduated from college.

“It took me three years before I could go full-time and make money doing this,” Camp said. “You have to build relationships with these editors and remind them you exist. It's not that they don’t care about me, but they are extremely busy people.”

Professors can be the push you need

Applying for internships can be intimidating and many students benefit from encouragement from their mentors.

Even a professor’s most excellent students need a push in the right career direction, said Allred. In his years of teaching, he always made it an effort to tell his brightest students their work could garner them a job in the field of visual journalism.

This usually pushed them to seek out internships or freelance opportunities, Allred said. He then continued to help his students with internship and freelance advice if they needed it.

“In each class, you've always got really outstanding and talented photographers,” Allred said. “I let them know that they have something here, and if they wanted to do this as a profession, then they could.”