Searching for a steady reporting job or freelance work is a lot like dating. You present the best version of yourself in an attractive, accessible, and desirable package and hope the potential employer or lover is interested. Ideally you want to be the one to make the final determination about professional or romantic compatibility, but inevitably one party gets the boot. We all know the euphemisms for getting dumped, but rejection in the job market is less obvious. Here's a list of the brush-offs journalists should expect to encounter.
"We're in a hiring freeze"
Employers usually reserve this popular mode of rejection for aggressive applicants who ignore social cues such as unanswered e-mails, letters, and phone calls. It's the job market equivalent of the "I'm just not looking for a serious relationship right now" excuse. In both cases, the possibility that the potential employer or significant other is telling the truth softens the blow. But only temporarily. The rejected party begins to wonder why that guy agreed to go out with her in the first place if he wasn't interested or why the company posted that opening on Monster.com if it was not hiring. At this point, it is time to face facts: even the most commitment-phobic men and cash-strapped companies make exceptions when the right person comes along.
"The position is on hold for now"
In the dating world, this would be similar to "It's not you. It's me." It means the company is shopping around for someone better, because they don't want to commit." (See above).
"Your clips are good, but we generally look for candidates with at least five years of professional experience at a major print publication."
I might be in denial, but to me this is a qualified rejection. It means come back in a year or so with flashy clips and some web skills. In the meantime, I would pitch stories often to keep the lines of communication open.
*Since aggressive, borderline-stalker behavior is permissible and often encouraged on the job hunt, I would respond to all of these rejections by pitching a few freelance ideas. If I was blown-off again, I'd assume they were just not that into me and move on...or send an angry, drunken e-mail and regret it in the morning.
"It's an interesting idea and we'll take it into consideration"
You know when you meet someone at a party, sparks fly, you start to flirt, and then suddenly you hear through a friend-of-a friend that he has a serious girlfriend who's not half as cool as you? This is the job market equivalent of that scenario. Don't run out and start reporting yet. The editor is probably not interested, but might be under different circumstances. Keep sending pitches or checking for the relationship status update on Facebook.
"We love the story for the next issue, but we've cut our freelance budget and wouldn't be able to pay you."
They probably have cut their freelance budget, but if you were a sure thing the editor should be able to scrounge up some money to offer you. This is like being asked out to drinks rather than dinner by a blind date. Your date has seen your picture and his friends speak highly of you, but money is tight these days and he's not sure he wants to splurge on a meal just yet. The dilemma for the freelancer, or the person being asked out, is whether to risk setting a pattern for the rest of the relationship in which she is undervalued. Once you write something for free, it's pretty hard to convince someone to pay you. But that's a risk some people may be willing to take.
"Thank you, but it doesn't fit with the our coverage."
This is either a nice way of saying read the paper before you pitch or your idea is bad. Think of it as the "I like you as a friend" line. The person is too nice to ignore you, but the relationship has no future.