In the tight job market journalists face today, Randi Shaffer illustrates one of the best reasons to master Twitter: It can help you land a job.
This story starts with an editor taking Twitter seriously. When I visited the Morning Sun in Mt. Pleasant last summer, editor Rick Mills said the staff was much more active on Facebook than on Twitter because Twitter use was light in that rural area. I encouraged him to be active on Twitter anyway, because he would connect with a younger audience than his newspaper has and he would find more local people on Twitter than he expected.
Rick started taking Twitter seriously and quickly became addicted (I’m so proud). As he searched for local people to follow, he quickly came across Randi:
I found her by doing local advanced searches on Twitter – radius to Mt. Pleasant searches. It took a bit to get used to that, the idea of just finding Central Michigan University students and following them, but I started with the CM Life staff and journalism students, figured there was a valid connection there. Also knew that they were the crowd to be watching not only for something big in terms of breaking news, but just keeping up on their world and community. In our market, college students make up a big demographic of Twitter users.
Randi picks up the story:
Rick had started following me at some point right before I left Mt. Pleasant to spend my fall semester interning at the Flint Journal. He first made contact when I tweeted to ask my followers where I should consider applying for summer internships at. He direct messaged me to tell me about a potential opportunity in Oakland.
Randi decided to take a full-time internship in Flint that fall. While she was there, Rick was watching her work on Twitter:
It was obvious that she was engaged with both her college friends and colleagues but also with the Flint community she was covering for Booth on her internship.
So, besides her tweeting with friends, she would report stories she was going to work on, report tidbits from interviews she had done and ask for lead ideas, even. I remember one in particular where she’d gone with 30 kids to a farm and asked how to start a story with so much fun and so many kids…
Back to Randi:
Near the end of my internship in Flint, I had signed myself up for a pretty heavy course load for the spring 2012 semester and wasn’t sure I’d have the time to dedicate to CM Life, so I posted again on Twitter. I asked if anyone knew of freelance work in the mid-Michigan area for the spring semester and he direct-messaged me to let me know the Sun could use a freelance reporter. He let me know that it wouldn’t be anything big, and I said that was fine. I was just looking for a little bit of extra money and a way to keep up with journalism while I was finishing up my bachelor’s degree. I gave him my email address and he sent some stories along.
More from Rick:
She freelanced for us since probably mid-January. I don’t have an official count, but has probably written a dozen stories, at least, maybe more.
During that time she was professional, met deadlines, provided photo information, communicated with other key staff… basically proved herself proficient in many areas that we don’t find out recruits lack in until it’s too late.
I gladly took every freelance assignment I was available for and did my best with each. Yesterday, as a matter of fact, an editor here told me that the first group of freelance assignments I turned in, six in total, were what made him want to hire me as soon as I graduated. This was back in February.
It just happened to work perfectly that a staff reporter resigned to take a new job right before my college graduation, and I applied for the opening after a few staff members (one was a former professor of mine) encouraged me to. I interviewed and got the job two days before my graduation.
How did I get a job offer because of Twitter? By managing my Twitter account correctly. … I keep my Twitter open and unprotected, and identify myself in my bio. (Also helped identify me from the other Randi Shaffer on Twitter — who was a little younger and a lot more vulgar.) No swearing, and I always try to remain as politically unbiased as possible. It proves tricky at times. The phrase, “Opinions are my own, RT’s not endorsements” is not an excuse to post anything on Twitter without repercussions.
It’s OK to tweet things that reflect your personal interests and what you’re involved in. I think employers like seeing that you’re an interesting, well-rounded individual. In addition to my professional stuff — including story links, industry news, my personal accomplishments (updates about graduation, grad school admittance, etc.) and CNN/ Morning Sun/ New York Times/ etc. re-tweets, my Twitter feed often consists of hockey news (I’m a bit obsessed with the Detroit Red Wings and have a habit of live-tweeting any game I go to), bits about what I’m doing and where I’m at, quirky thoughts, etc. All things that not only interest employers, but also remind readers that you are, in fact, a real person, and not just a name on a page.
Also, always proofread, spell check and use correct grammar/ style in tweets. One mistake in 140 characters stands out a lot, and it can make you look foolish if it happens to be big news and gets retweeted a few times.
In terms of Facebook, Rick and I are friends, but I update Twitter more frequently than Facebook. I’ve found that Twitter is a little busier, and people like reading multiple updates a day, whereas people on Facebook just get annoyed with constant updating and either defriend you or unsubscribe.
A side note- I also like that I can use Twitter to clarify my gender with a picture. The name Randi gets confusing at times.
2015 update, from Randi on Twitter (of course):
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