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How to get into the BBC as a journalist

Jonathan Baker

is head of the BBC College of Journalism

'How do I become a BBC journalist?' is a question every BBC journalist is often asked. We all give different replies based on our own experience, and of course there is no one definitive answer.

But as an organisation the BBC can offer some basic guidance and advice on how you might go about it.

The good news is that opportunities arise regularly because the BBC employs several thousand journalists and people are always arriving, changing jobs or leaving.

You can enter the organisation at every level: from work experience to full-time jobs on high-profile network news programmes. A good place to start when you're preparing for any approach or interview is here on the BBC College of Journalism website. This is a training area for BBC journalists that is freely available to all in the UK. It covers a wide range of editorial subjects and issues, and multimedia craft skills. The BBC College of Production also has a website you might find helpful.

However you seek to join the BBC, you'll find that competition is fierce. There are always far more applicants than posts. You need talent of course but you also need tenacity and an ability to distinguish yourself from other candidates.

A university degree is not required. Many of the BBC's top journalists did not have a university education. You might have other experience or qualifications which are regarded as just as useful or important.

The BBC is interested in personal qualities as well as educational achievements. It puts a high value on a proven commitment to a career in journalism and on qualities such as energy, enthusiasm, flair, imagination, passion, analytical skills, intellectual curiosity and a reluctance to accept things at face value. You certainly need to be literate and numerate, to be able to swiftly read into and absorb issues and arguments.

Having said that most BBC journalists are graduates, which suggests that a degree gives you a definite advantage. And of course a degree is concrete evidence of intellectual discipline.

Many people considering journalism as a career wonder whether they should choose a degree in media studies, journalism or English rather than other subjects. It is fair to say that many senior journalists are suspicious of media studies courses and doubt their relevance and value to a career in news. They look much more favourably on journalism courses which are more news focused.

But your degree need not have any obvious connections to a career in journalism. It is better to study a subject you like and feel passionate about.

If you might want to specialise in a particular area of journalism - such as science, economics, law or politics - then a relevant degree is obviously a great starting point. A second language is also an asset. Many BBC journalists have arts degrees and the BBC is always interested in widening the knowledge base of its workforce.

As for post-graduate qualifications, they are certainly good to have, but again not essential: you might have other experience or qualifications which would be regarded as just as relevant and valuable. If you secure a job in BBC journalism, you can expect to receive training inside the organisation.

Finally, if you are thinking about studying for a journalism qualification, what should you aim for? It is not up to the BBC to recommend one course or college over another. Ask around and do some research about reputation and course content. You might find these two organisations helpful: the Broadcast Journalist Training Council (BJTC) and the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ).

Many jobs in BBC journalism are not advertised externally. There could be a number of reasons for this - expense, for example, or a recruitment freeze which means vacant posts are offered in the first instance to existing staff.

You can keep up to date with everything that is available by visiting the BBC Careers website. Be aware that many jobs are not permanent vacancies but short-term contracts - covering maternity leave, for example.

Good luck.