First Steps to Getting a Job: Your Cover Letter, Resume & Clips

Jim Kelly, Former Editor, Pacific Business News
Summarized from a conversation with University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa students

Cover Letter

  • It’s like shaking somebody’s hand.
  • It should briefly (one page) explain two things that set you apart from other applicants and what position you want.

Make sure:

  • you type the editor’s name and address on the letter.
  •  you correctly spell name of editor, his or her title, news organization and address.
    If you make any mistake, your package will be tossed without reading.
  • you have somebody read over the cover letter and resume before sending it.

Your Resume

Make sure:

  • you stay within one page without small type.
  • to start with your vitals at top: name, mailing address, phones (home, pager, cellular, work) and email address.
  • you do NOT put in an Objective. That should be in sentence form within your cover letter.

Experience Section:

  • List jobs in chronological order (most recent first). Journalism work should note the circulation and frequency of your publication, unique visitors to your website and your responsibilities. If you had many jobs at one news operation, you can list name of newspaper and/or website, years there, and then describe experience with specific details.
    Ka Leo O Hawaiʻi. Honolulu: 1995-1999.
    Served as sports writer, sports editor, managing editor, and editor in chief of weekly student newspaper for University of Hawai`i with a circulation of 10,000. As sports editor, oversaw staff of five and was responsible for assigning, preparing and editing stories for two tabloid pages a day. Managing Editor responsibilities for staff of 40 included payroll, page flow, staff relations, production, website (, and daily budget meetings….
  • Include non-journalism experience (gas station attendant, waitressing, as it shows your ability to work with people and handle responsibility.)

Education Section:

  •  Include where you graduated and when. If you haven’t graduated, put down date to graduate. If you have a high GPA (3.8 or more), include it, otherwise not necessary.
  • Include where you attended high school.

Other Section:

  • Include Honors, Awards, Volunteer Work (i.e.: President, Society of Professional Journalists Student Chapter; Chair, Volunteer Committee, First Presbyterian Church; Overseas Press Club Scholarship; Pi Gamma Mu Honor Society.
  • Note experience with specific computer programs/platforms, language fluency. Remember: the more you say, the more likely you alienate. No personal information (i.e.: hobbies, pets, interests).

References Section:
Give the names of two or three people, their mobile and business phones and email addresses, if available. Give the name of the person who knows your work the best, not necessarily the top editor with whom you had little contact.



  • No more than 10 clips. All of them should be good and show a different facet of your reporting and writing ability or design skills. Reduce the number if some clips are marginal: Not 6 good and 4 okay).
  • Clips should be PDFs or screen shot PDFs from your website. Use Adobe Professional to make PDF file size smaller so they can be attached and opened easily.
  • If important, attach a PDF note explanation to a clip that summarizes how the story was done (i.e.: within two hours on deadline or interviewed 45 people during six month period).
  •  Editors like to see how the story appeared in print, but – if applicable – include working web links or screen shots of the pages.
  • [Keep in mind in that editors will first look at the headline of the clip, then the lead, the next paragraph and maybe scan the rest to see how many sources were interviewed for the story. Pick stories where the lead grabs the editor’s attention.]

Copy Editor Applicants should include headlines you wrote. Use PDF notes to summarize catches you made in a story, original and rewritten stories, and/or noting on notes those places where you raised an essential question that you got answered before story appeared.

Final Package:

  • Make sure your package of materials is easy to navigate. Clips can be assembled into one PDF document. Best clips first.
  • After package is emailed, do not call up to ask whether the editor got your stuff. He or she will call you. You may write another email to the editor a few months later indicating that you are still interested in the position, with another clip attached.