Selling Your Ugly Self ­ The Application Process
By Andrew Laker
Unemployed Photojournalist
Oklahoma City

(Disclaimer: Andrew Laker is unemployed and has been so for nearly eight months. Therefore, his opinions should not be taken seriously until he finds a job, wins a major award or dies.)

Unemployment. It's a nasty thing, and there are countless photojournalists out there experiencing it right now due to staff cutbacks in the media world. Most are getting acquainted or reacquainted with filing for that weekly pittance from the government, as well as rediscovering how to make a meal with Ramen noodles, cold cuts and Jell-O.

Unfortunately, being unemployed is anything but a vacation. It's a full-time job, and photojournalists, pressed to find gainful employment, must enter a different field. Sales. No, not the kind of what-size-trousers-do-you-wear-sir sales. The sale of oneself. Prostitution? Not hardly. Resumes and cover letters must sell your wares, your skills, to a potential employer. And, as I'm getting pretty experienced as a self salesman, uh, myself (though I'm still waiting for that big sale), I'd like to share some of my thoughts on the application process.

COVER LETTERS A cover letter should be simple and to-the-point. They're not hard to write if you know some of the basic rules. The most basic ­ Try not to start every sentence with "I." Also, it really isn't necessary to state "I'm applying in response to..." It's obvious why youčre applying. You're a poor slob in need of a job and they have an opening! Begin your cover letter with something punchy, a killer opening that will immediately capture an employer's attention:

"I murdered my entire family last week."

Good, but, like I mentioned, don't start your sentences with "I." A more appropriate opening would be

"Murdering my entire family has given me a unique perspective on photojournalism."

Guess which one gets the interview.

Basically, your cover letter is like the opening credits of a movie - it's boring and no one pays attention to it. Well, not exactly. But it should hint to your audience what is inside. Briefly lay out your skills and summarize your qualities the employer will be seeing when looking at your resume and portfolio. Also, buy a couple of cover letter books to help you. They're cheap and plentiful at your local book hut, and they really will help your form and style to the point no one will understand what the hell your letter is saying.

PORTFOLIOS Your portfolio, above all, is what will land you an interview. While I can't tell you exactly what to put in it (other than a variety of your best stuff, duh), there are a few unspoken standards that most employers abide by: 1. Number of images should be between 20 and 40. 2. Your portfolio should include a photo essay, preferably one self-generated. 3. If on CD, the portfolio should contain a self-running or interactive program. 4. Don't enclose bananas or any other perishable food items along with your work. 5. Don't expect to get your portfolio back, or ever find out why the photo editor stomped on it, vomited, then burned the portfolio at midnight in a satanic ritual. 6. Including cutlines isn't a bad idea.

Follow these simple instructions and soon you will be on the right track to ridding yourself of the unemployment louse (in theory). However, if your portfolio is equal in quality to another applicant's, both of your overall applications will be compared. This is why your resume needs to shine.

RESUME Your resume will not get you a job. That isn't its purpose. The purpose of a resume, along with your other materials, is to get you an interview and give the employer a splitting headache. In my research, I was surprised to discover the standards for composing resumes have changed a lot since man stood upright and scratched on a cave wall the words "Me want job." But the most surprising change is this: Do not put an objective on your resume, rather, put a summary of your skills at the top.

Objectives are outdated, and they generally declare what YOU want from an employer, not what you can do for them. Most of us have struggled with finding just the right words for our objectives, and the result usually ends up terribly cheesy, i.e.

"To obtain a position where I can uphold the ethics of photojournalism and be challenged regularly with assignments and use my creativity to explore unseen stories in the community and still have time to go home and play with my dog, Pooky."

Well said, but it's so much easier just to get rid of it entirely. After all, the employer doesn't care about Pooky, and may wonder if your ego is too big to handle a bake sale assignment.

Here are a few other rules you should follow: 1. No typos on your resume are allowed. 2. Don't get cutesy. 3. Don't get philosophical (the potential employer may disagree with your take on the creation of the universe). 4. No stains. 5. Lastly, don't put your picture on the resume unless you're a model. Face it, if you were good looking, you'd have a job by now. We photojournalists, in general, are a pretty gruesome-looking bunch. But, if you feel you absolutely must put your mug on a resume, it's best to scare the living hell out of someone with it. I've long theorized that frightening a photo editor into hiring an applicant is how most people land jobs. Here are some examples of how your ominous-looking mug should appear:

So, that's it. These are the basic truths I've uncovered in my search for employment and, hopefully, you have found them helpful. Other topics such as references, getting critiques, mastering the interview, and what to do with all those rejection letters will be covered later. Until then, happy hunting, feed Pooky, and don't murder your family.

Andrew Laker can be reached at


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