A few months ago, a student came to my paper to show her work. I spent an hour with her talking about her pictures, experiences and plans for the future. She was a senior in college and was due to graduate in May. Her pictures were OK - nothing too memorable. But the real shocker was that she hadn't done a single internship yet. She came to the paper in hopes to be considered as a candidate for a recent job opening. I felt terrible, but I had to be brutally honest. I told her to go back to school. Go to graduate school and learn how to shoot.
Do internships in the summer.
This is such a crucial time in her life. If she chooses to go into the workforce, I believe she'll have a very hard time finding a job. But if she went back to school, then in two years, I think she'll do great. This is the predicament I find students in more and more. I don't understand why they think a job will land in their lap without the experience.
Internships are important on so many levels.
Obviously you will grow as a photographer and as a person through each experience. Yet it is also important to try all the levels on the industry in different parts of the country to figure out where you will want to go some day. Start out small. You'll work your ass off, but it will yield the greatest learning curve. Learn how journalism is important on a community level. If you live in the northern part of the states, then try an internship on for size in the south. If you live on the west coast, explore the east coast. This is important because when you graduate, you don't always have a choice where you'll end up.
Work your ass off
... it'll pay off later. Your co-workers will be your future references. If you burn bridges, they will be difficult to rebuild.
Once I was hired as a full-time photographer, it took me a few months to get past the intern mentality. It was a little hard to grasp the fact that I would be here for more than three to six months. It was great. There was no time limit to the story ideas. But it also carried great responsibility to the readership. I was out in the community every day making pictures. I would shoot a person one day then run into them six months down the road on another story. It is so important to act professionally and dress appropriate for your subject matter. I photographed a funeral for a soldier killed in Iraq the other day. A TV photographer was actually making fun of me for wearing a black suit while he was in shorts. I told him that I represent my newspaper, and a suit was the least I could do as a sign of respect to the family.
In college, I was under the impression that talent meant everything. Not true. Obviously you have to be able to make pictures, but personality and work ethic weighed so much more than I ever thought. An editor will look for someone who will work well with the staff. Check your ego at the door. This business isn't about you. THIS BUSINESS ISN'T ABOUT YOU. This business is about the people you cover. If you don't care about the subject you're covering, then get out of the field now.
Lastly, I will leave you with a word that I try not to take for granted ... passion. Love with passion. Live with passion. Shoot with passion.