My NCTJ diploma is the most important qualification I will get in my life. GCSEs? Worthless. A levels? Fun, but overwritten by my degree. Degree? Haven’t enjoyed it anywhere near enough to warrant the amount of money I’ve spent on it and the amount of time spent ploughing through essay after endless essay.
The NCTJ is different though. I fell in love with it as soon as I found the course. I had my heart set on it, and while I don’t believe in fate, I like to think there was a reason I ended up on the Journalist Works website, poring over every last detail. Something compelled me to go to the free taster session. After a couple of hours I’d been bitten by the journalism bug, and I knew I had to sign up. I took the aptitude test at the next opportunity, passed, and immediately paid more money than I would for an entire year of uni tuition. And I’m so glad I did.
The first reason I’m glad I did it is that it is the first qualification I’ve really enjoyed working for. GCSEs were a breeze, A levels weren’t a challenge, my degree has swung the other way entirely and is impossible. The NCTJ was a challenge, especially the coveted 100wpm in Teeline shorthand. I got great satisfaction from learning skills I could put into practice, and even the theory was relevant. We need to know about Media Law and we need to know how to structure a news story and we need to know how to write a headline and spot a grammatical error from a hundred steps.
Secondly, it has helped me immensely in my tireless job hunt. I have peppered the last few months with relentless job-searching, I’ve regularly found myself up at 2:30am churning out covering letter after covering letter and tailoring my CV for every job related to writing under the sun. And there are two things I have found that employers really, really love:
- Blogs. Blogs show you love writing, they show off your style and you can prove yourself as someone who knows how to write, what will make for informative, interesting reading and that you’re web-savvy. Digital media and online journalism isn’t going anywhere, and if you can show that you can navigate a blog and write appropriately for a web audience (it is very different to writing for a print audience), it can only be a good thing.
- The NCTJ. Every single callback I have received has cited my NCTJ as one of the reasons they were interested in me. For most good journalism jobs, it’s a prerequisite anyway, but even for jobs that aren’t traditional newspaper-based roles, it proves that you’ve been trained in the discipline of writing, that you’re dedicated (you can’t get that 100wpm without some serious dedication) and that you can communicate clearly, concisely and accurately.
Thirdly, I feel like it hasn’t just improved my writing skills and taught me new things. I feel like it’s given me confidence as a person. Journalism is about talking to anyone and everyone, asking questions and never taking what someone tells you at face value. I used to be pretty shy, but now I’m happy to talk to anyone, to call strangers, to arrange interviews with people I’ve never met… I’m not the sort of person to claim I’ve gone some major personality overhaul, because I haven’t, but I feel like it’s given me fire. I was very lost before I did the NCTJ course, I had no direction and not the slightest clue about what I’d do after my degree, I feel happy with the fact I can now call myself a journalist and not feel like a fraud. Journalists don’t have the best reputation, but I feel proud to be able to say I worked hard for it and I did it after years of thinking I never could.
Finally, the doors it has opened is worth so much more than £4,000. I have a job before I’ve even finished my degree doing the thing I’m best at and more importantly, the thing I love, and I’m paid to do it! I’ve really lucked out that I’ve fallen into my ideal career. I get to do freelance restaurant reviews, I talk to interesting people all the time, and it’s given me an excuse to find out more about everything. Without the NCTJ, I would be weeks away from finishing my degree, thoroughly miserable and wandering through job sites wishing I could be doing what I’m doing now.
If you want to be a journalist, do the NCTJ. It really is that simple. It’s the best investment I could have possibly made in my future.