Getting a tech job at a paper – a recruiter’s tips

Behind all my dense posts about Twitter analytics and online journalism lie armies of very clever people who ensure that these things exist.

I’m talking about the technical staff that lie at the beating heart of every newspaper in the country. The days of IT Crowd-esque computer guys being squirrelled away in a remote part of the building, and coming out only when someone needs their PC restarted, are over.

Now, the people who make the tech work, build the websites and scour the analytics are just as vital to newspapers as the journalists out in the field.

Image via Jon S (Flickr)
Image via Jon S (Flickr)

And as the industry moves further online, the very future of newspapers and good journalism depends on news organisations being able to continue paying the bills by thriving online.

It’s clearly a growing sector, and a pretty good one to go in to right now – but what’s the best way to go about it?

I spoke to Anna Rhodes, a recruitment consultant at Boston Hale, who has placed past clients at organisations like The Times, The Daily Mail, and The Evening Standard.

“In the past there would be ten candidates for one job – now there’s ten jobs for one candidate.”

Regardless of your specialism, there’s a place in the media world.

Anna said: “Newspapers are looking for a really broad range of people.”

“I deal with everyone, from people who’ll go to fix a journalist’s laptop or printer if it’s not working, to people who might be in charge of data segmentation, who deal with the web analytics and find out who a paper’s audience is.”

With this being essential to the tricky task of making money online, the work of these sorts of professionals has a significant effect on the paper’s marketing and content strategy – so it’s an important job.

So what do recruiters look for?

Anna says her #1 priority when trying to find candidates is experience.

“Consistently, the people who go the furthest are the ones who understand the sector, and have experience in the  media world. It’s very different to any other sector, so to think you could go into it and it’d be like being an IT guy anywhere else is totally wrong.”

“You need to show enthusiasm for the media.”

“It’s really important to understand what journalists have to deal with on a daily basis. For example, if someone was abroad, doing a report in Syria and their laptop wasn’t working, how would they be able to feed the information back?”

“You’ve got to show that you understand the sector and the demands that are put on the journalists.”

This first-hand experience is invaluable for people looking to change jobs.

“I’d say about 60% of my clients didn’t go to university, so that just shows it’s about practical experience more than education.”

What are some important tips for people looking for a job?

“You need to know how to speak to people. That’s the most important thing.”

“You can code like a madman but if you can’t communicate with people very well, then what’s the point?”

“You have to know how to work with a team if you want to work with journalists.”

Anna says the biggest mistake that she sees in far too many people in these jobs is overconfidence, and an attitude that the technical and editorial sides of the business are totally separate.

“The people who think that they are above what they’re doing, you find that those people are the ones that have done the worst, when you check their references.”

“They can’t understand that the journalists they support don’t have the same level of technical skills as they do, and they tend to look down on them. If you can’t work well in a team, then there’s no point trying to work in a newsroom.”

But isn’t the news industry dying out?

Absolutely not. Anna says that now is the best time to get into the industry – especially if you’re going for digital role.

“It’s all about digital. At least in newspapers, they’re cutting back heavily on their print operation and moving towards digital.”

“It’s so candidate-driven at the moment. In the past there would be ten candidates for one job – now there’s ten jobs for one candidate.”

“Digital’s growing so much in news media at the moment, and obviously they need more people to run it.”

Why bother with a recruiter?

Sure, it’s possible to bombard HR people with CVs and hope one of them sticks, but Anna says it makes the process much easier and quicker to work with a recruiter.

And Anna’s background in journalism is a huge attraction for the businesses she recruits to.

“People trust me because I understand the structure of the business and how journalists work.”

“You can code like a madman, but if you can’t communicate with people very well, then what’s the point?”

“I know, for example, that the FT will have very different demands from the Daily Mail. Which sounds stupid, but you’d be surprised at the sheer number of recruiters who just churn people out as quick as they can, and don’t know anything about the industry.”

And once the job’s done, Anna tries to keep up good relationships with past clients.

“We’ll carry on talking, we might go out for coffee, and if there’s anything they need once they’re placed then we can help take care of that as well.”

Sounds lovely. If you want to find out more, check out Boston Hale’s website.



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