Posted in Conferences & Conventions

Tips For Attending Your 1st NABJ Convention (But We Can ALL Use Them!)

By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group

Today marks exactly one week until the start of the 35th annual National Association of Black Journalists Annual Convention & Career Fair, this year in San Diego.  The feed from the #NABJ Twitter hashtag is buzzing with excitement over this year’s show, with the theme “The Power of Change.”

It seems like only yesterday that I attended my first NABJ convention, back in 2006 in Indianapolis.  I wish I had access to guide that would have allowed me to work the convention more effectively that first time.  The NABJ Forum listserve has released the annual NABJ Convention Tips for 1st timers, below.  it was compiled by Dr. Louise Ritchie.


1. Have a positive attitude. You never know if the person to whom you’re complaining about the lousy food is not only the NABJ member who spent hours of free time helping to plan the convention, but also is a recruiter on the lookout for an entry-level hire or intern.

2. Be gregarious. Some good conversation openers include saying things such as “Have you been to other NABJ conventions? (A good follow-up to a “yes” could be to ask the person’s advice about how you can get the most out of this one.)

3. Dress in a way that you stand out in a positive way. Wearing a bright color as a colorful scarf, tie or blouse can help people remember meeting you. Just don’t carry it to extremes such as deciding to wear a red and orange checkered suit!

4.    Understand that the type of attention you want to attract is attention based on your looking professional.  Deep cleavage, mini and micro skirts, T-shirts celebrating booze, sex or drugs etc., definitely will attract attention, but unless you’re at the convention looking for quick sex or a reputation as a pushover or sleaze, leave that attire at home. Don’t even wear such attire to the convention parties. Also remember that even parties at conventions are professional situations. Have fun, but have fun without telling the intimate secrets of your life or without becoming an intimate secret in someone else’s life! Especially on Saturday night!

5. Talk to everyone. This includes talking to attendees who may be several decades older than you. Instead of clustering with your classmates at meals, make a point of sitting with people whom you don’t know. Your schoolmates can’t hire you. When you select the table, after getting a seat, walk around the table, shake everyone’s hand, and introduce yourself to them.

6. Also know that many people — including veteran journalists — are shy (It’s amazing how many journalists are tigers when they’re pursuing stories, but in their personal lives they are quiet and shy!), so are very happy when you take time to reach out to them. Some people who especially may be appreciative are families of attendees and recruiters who are not black and who may not have had previous experience attending a gathering in which they are the racial minority. You also can get some valuable tips and information from such people, including members’ families, who often have lots of inside knowledge about the field and may even have journalism experience, too.

7. Attend the workshops and when you go, sit up front and ask some questions. When you ask questions, stand up and say your name and your school. Students have been known to get job offers and internship offers by asking questions or making thoughtful comments at workshops.

8. Seek out opportunities to get feedback, and then listen when you get the feedback. Ask recruiters and veterans to critique your work. When they do so, don’t argue with them. If you don’t agree with their assessment, then you don’t have to follow their advice. But if you start arguing with them, you will get a reputation as a person who is not interested in learning, and that can prevent your obtaining an entry-level job or internship. People who are hired as entry-level employees and interns are expected to grow and learn as part of the job. For that reason, many employers will choose a student who is eager to learn over a more experienced student who is a know-it-all.

9. In interviews, make sure that you highlight the excellent things you’ve done in journalism. Explain how you got the reticent source to talk. Describe how you did a tough story on a tight deadline while you also were editing copy. Don’t wait for the interviewer to directly ask you about these things. The recruiter cannot read your mind. In addition, an interview is not a modesty test. You easily can highlight your strengths by, when you are showing your clips, also telling the story behind your clips. “When my editor assign me this story, he said that he chose me because I handled deadlines better than did the other interns. I got the story at 7 and by 9, my editor had this story. ”

10. Prepare packets of your resume, cover letter and clips. Put them in separate envelopes to give to recruiters. That way, when the recruiter packs the stacks of resumes and clips s/he has received and piles them into a suitcase, yours won’t become wrinkled.

11. Be prepared for a current events quiz. With technology bringing new to your cell phone there is no excuse for not knowing the news of the day.


1. DON’T Huddle with your classmates like a sheep. Among the no-nos are sitting only with other students or your friends from school or waiting for your roommate to get up the morning so that you can go to the convention together. You classmates may be your BFF’s but they can’t hire you.

2. DON’T Get up and leave if you realize that you’ve sat at a table with veterans or recruiters. Often such people are very happy to meet aspiring young journalists, and are really insulted if you jump up and abandon them. This particularly may be true with recruiters who literally are there to connect with potential hires such as yourself.

3. DON’T be on the prowl for a date.

4. DON’T  avoid the workshops.

5. DON’T sit in the back of the room at workshops. The days of back of the bus are long over.

6. DON’T go on the prowl for free drinks and free meals. Well… I’d amend this to say don’t go on the prowl by yourself. I have not met a journalist yet who will turn down a free drink or meal when they’re not working. 🙂

7. DON’T spend your time telling recruiters what you DON’T want to do. Spend your time telling and showing recruiters what you can do for them.

8. DON’T tell a recruiter that you have no clips because the people in your student media were mean or cliquish. Recruiters know that if you couldn’t make it at your campus media, you definitely aren’t ready for the outside world. While the recruiter may nod his or head sympathetically, that person is mentally crossing you off their list of good candidates.

9. DON’T decide that the job fair is a waste of time because recruiters say they have no open jobs now or they have no internships available for this summer. Typically, summers are when there is turnover on jobs, so recruiters now are taking applications for openings that are expected later. If you blow off the interview or stop interviewing, what can happen is that when the jobs open up, your name isn’t in the pool. Even if you’re looking for an internship this summer, it can be important to interview because while most internships already have been filled, often there are last-minute openings, and the students whom the recruiters know are available are the ones contacted.

10. DON’T run around loudly telling your friends and associates how “mean” certain recruiters were. This is a small business. The new friend whom you’re sharing this information with may end up being the recruiter’s spouse or best friend.


–Load you resume reel on YouTube. Type the url on your resume and bring 50 copies to the convention.

–REPORTERS: Make 13 DVD’s of your reel. Buy a dozen 8 ½ x 11 envelopes. Put a DVD and resume in each envelope. Write your name, address, phone number and email address on the front.  Use DVD #13 to show at the job fair. If a recruiters ask if they can keep it, pull out an envelope and give that to them. If you give away all of your envelopes you can still show #13 and you can tell the recruiters that your work is on YouTube and the link is on your resume.

–PRODUCERS: Same Thing.

–Collect business cards. After each encounter take minute and write some notes on the back of the card. Example: “Tall brother with a blue suit, red tie and nice teeth” or “white lady with really pretty earrings. She said they had an opening in Beaumont” or “He liked my tape but said I need to slow my delivery.” When you get home send an email thanking them for talking to you, maybe comment on the earrings. And attach your resume. They’ll probably see a hundred people. It’s not uncommon for resumes to be misplaced. You’re ahead of the game because the link to your work is already there.

–Don’t rule out working as a producer. As one news director told me, “I can shake a tree and 12 reporters and anchors will fall out. But a good producer is hard to find.” These jobs lead you into newsroom management, where the real power and control lie. And don’t be surprised if, while you’re waiting in line, producer candidates go to the front. There is a shortage of people of color who want to be producers.

— Bring PLENTY of resumes and business cards, if you have them. Make sure your resume is ONE PAGE. The employer doesn’t need to know all the details of every job you’ve had. If it’s not related to Journalism just put down what it was. Example: Taco Bell, June 2002 to September 2003. Oh, and make sure your name is in LARGE TYPE AND BOLD FACE.  When I’m trying to find your resume, I may not look too hard. So make it easy for me to find you.



Home of the National Association of Black Journalists's (NABJ's) Digital Journalism Task Force

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