As college graduation approaches, the job search scramble beings. For other students not yet reaching for a cap and gown, months or years of college still remain — and every season is the perfect season to take on an internship.

The sports media industry can be tough to break into, whether you have aspirations of being a reporter, producer, designer, on-air talent or any other sports media-related positions. The competition is fierce.

Virgil Smith, Gannett’s Vice President of Diversity, said he has attended “all ethnic journalism conferences since 2007,” which includes the most recent 2014 AAJA conference in Washington, D.C. He recruits people for Gannett’s various publishing, broadcast and digital companies.

The AAJA Sports Task Force asked Smith what advice he has for students on how to gain an edge in a competitive job market:

  1. Customize Your Resume“I look at the complete resume. I try to ascertain what the person is looking to do, what internships they’ve done and I look at their website. Don’t use a cookie-cutter resume. Use it as a branding and information tool about who you are and what you’re looking for. I’m more interested in your accomplishments and your achievements — that separates people when they’re telling their story.”“If I were to go to a career fair, I would tell students, it’s on the [companies’ websites]. Do your homework on those companies, and tailor your resume as opposed to giving everyone the same thing.”
  2. College Experience CountsWhile Smith says that internships with established media companies (LA Times, The New York Times, CNN, etc.) matter, he says he is also “impressed with people who run a student newspaper or who have a high role at their student television station. It shows they have to make journalistic decisions.”When Gannett posts job hirings that require, for instance, “one to two years of experience,” Smith says he considers years spent working on college papers or in internships (writing and covering stories) as professional experience. He added that Gannett has hired recent graduates as new directors and producers.
  3. Study Up“I am not impressed by students who come, and the first question out of their mouth is, ‘Who is Gannett?’ You come and talk to me, and you don’t have a clue about who are or what we do? With social media and the access people have with information, there’s no excuse to come to an interview and say ‘Who are you?’ I like students who did their homework. I know they’re going to be thorough and have some critical insight not only when they’re looking for a job, but when they’re in a job.”
  4. Speed MattersIt only takes the single tap of a key to send a website link, whereas a paper resume requires the physical exchanging of hands. To gain an upper hand, have a website and keep it updated. “If you give them a link and they really like you, they can then send that link to a hiring manager immediately. That separates you from people handing out resumes,” Smith says.“If you want it, you’ve got to be prepared and think strategically about how you can use technology to communicate who you are and help the recruiter communicate to the hiring manager. Who gets there first is who they look at first.”

One common piece of wisdom threads through all of Smith’s advice: Be different. “Your opportunity is you’ve got to think clearly about who you are and what you want to achieve and why you should be considered,” Smith says.

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