Journalism is an intensely and increasingly competitive business at all levels, not least in finding a first job.
Qualifications are a key tool, along with a proven interest in the media business, such as editorship of a school or university newspaper or web site, or work experience on a local newspaper.
A good first degree is invaluable, ideally of some relevance such as politics, economics or business. For those with international aspirations, languages open many doors, particularly those more rarely studied such as Arabic or Chinese.
But core journalistic skills are the foundation whether in print or digital media: shorthand, law and good writing ability. Employers want proof of these practical abilities, and an NCTJ-accredited course has particular appeal as a nationally recognised and consistent qualification. It is very difficult for employers to assess the quality of qualifications from non-NCTJ courses.
Increasingly, employers also look for multimedia skills such as photography or video shooting and editing, and a real understanding of the use and potential of social media. Some of this can be self-taught, but they are increasingly important in having an edge in the new-starter job market.
Shorthand, to a very high standard, is particularly valued and singles out a determined candidate from those with less commitment to the business. It becomes particularly important as the industry moves to real-time reporting for digital outlets and fast, accurate note-taking becomes absolutely critical.
Learning shorthand can be tedious, but the time to do it is during a journalism course. When you have a job is usually too late, given the competing demands on time.
Aspiring journalists have a rare and exciting opportunity in the next few years to enter an industry undergoing a true revolution. That adds another personal attribute that employers look for: flexibility and a genuine appetite for change as digital audiences grow, and devices like tablets and smartphones evolve at an amazing pace with a consequent impact on journalism.