Prestige v opportunity - which matters more when job hunting?
It is a dilemma and age-old question many young journalists face: Which is better for you to advance in your career? Prestige of the organisation you work for, or advanced opportunities offered to you at potentially smaller organisations?
Trying to find work as a young journalist I have often felt myself gravitate towards the ‘big names’ of the industry when both for internship/ job applications and sending pitches for stories. When I started studying journalism at university, that is also where I saw myself in my future dream world – working in a large newsroom, covering big news stories. However, more recently (likely aided through a good dose of pandemic realism making me notice quite how competitive the journalism industry is) I have started to ask myself: Was I wrong in my approaches to find work experience?
I know I am not alone in my previous thinking. Scoring a job at big-name organisations is often seen as the ultimate goal by many journalists at the start of their career…and with good reason. These organisations have a large audience, and are universally recognised by other employers and institutions for their contribution to the journalism industry. Working for these organisations also provides great networking opportunities which can help you make contacts with people that will help you throughout your career.
The problem is that opportunities at prestige organisations are far harder to come by due to the large competition every applicant faces. Roles at these organisations often have hundreds, if not thousands of applicants, making it harder for yourself, your CV, and your abilities to stand out. While this makes it all the more rewarding when you do get a role, it also means chances are higher that you might not get the job you applied for. Additionally, there is the further element that ‘starting out’ opportunities are often limited to roles with less advanced learning opportunities at prestige organisations. Because prestige organisations will have the resources to hire people for more advanced angles of the job, you might find yourself doing a role that is not entirely related to the field of journalism you want to pursue.
Smaller publications on the other hand often have less resources and even at an entry-level role, you will likely find yourself taking on a position that carries a lot of weight. Especially if you are looking to specialise in a certain field or area of journalism, smaller publications will often offer great opportunities in niche subjects often reserved for long standing journalists and editors. Taking on such positions early in your career can help you gain skills that make you stand out later by putting you ahead of people that have not yet carried such responsibilities. While I have only worked for a small number of smaller organisations throughout my journalism journey, I have grown immensely in the roles I have done because of the number of tasks and challenges given to me as part of my roles. But small organisations are not always known by all future employers, so when you work in such roles, you will have to be prepared to describe the skills you learned in an interview to make yourself shine as the name of the organisation and your job title might not do that themselves.
So, which is better when job hunting as a young journalist? While I cannot say for certain, I do believe that both prestige and opportunity can present you with great ways to advance in your career. However, when you are starting out, it might be that smaller opportunities are easier to come by, while also giving you the skills you need to stand out when it comes to applying for future roles at other – maybe even prestige – organisations. This, I think, is what I cherish the most right now while centering my job search around opportunities…rather than prestige.
Ultimately, experience is key for career progression as a journalist. Just always keep your future goals in sight when it comes to applying for roles. Remember, each role should put you one step closer to what you envision your dream job to be.