Journalism job seekers: What to bring to the interview

I know from my own recent job search how difficult it is to get that interview. Once you get an interview, you want to give it your best. From my own recent experience interviewing journalism candidates, I found that candidates, both starting out and experienced, were failing to put their best foot forward once they landed an interview.

Since starting as executive editor for two newspapers in February, I’ve been through two interview cycles, one to fill the position of regional features editor and another for summer intern positions in both of my newsrooms. Now that I’ve conducted a couple of dozen interviews with candidates, I’m going to offer up some advice to job seekers. Most of this I would have thought obvious, but I have been shocked at how few candidates I interviewed came properly prepared.

  • Come with story ideas. Whether it is for a reporter’s or an editor’s position, prepare detailed and relevant story ideas to discuss in the interview. For both the editor’s role and the summer intern position, I had people completely fail to bring story ideas. That doesn’t fill me with confidence in your interest in this position.
  • Research my publications. Throughout my job search, when I got an interview I did as much research about the publications of my potential new employers as I could. Not only does this generate the story ideas mentioned above, it also allowed me to demonstrate some understanding, admittedly superficial, of the local news climate and the challenges facing the business. I was shocked when applicants hadn’t even bothered to look at my sites.
  • Do a little research about the community. The more that you can demonstrate an understanding of the communities and audiences you will be serving, the better. An international business newspaper has a very different community to a local weekly, for example, and story ides for one may not work for the other. Researching the community will, again, help you come up with relevant story ideas.
  • Bring ideas on how to build audience and yes, revenue. This isn’t a mistake, but in this competitive job market, this gets my attention. A couple of candidates for the regional editor’s position highlighted this in their resumes and cover letter, and it immediately got my attention. Although both were ultimately unsuccessful, this got my attention. In 2014, a journalist needs to know and care about the business.

I would have thought that most of this was Job Search 101, but I was surprised at how poorly prepared some of the people who applied for jobs at my papers were. One applicant for the regional features editor’s job didn’t even seem to be aware of the job she had applied for, saying that she wanted to be a features or opinions editor. Within a few minutes it became obvious that she was neither interested in nor prepared for the interview. It was a first round interview to winnow the field, and she definitely made my job easier.

In both interview cycles, we ended up with great candidates who made the final choice very difficult. The successful candidates came to the interview with energy, knowledge of the papers and community, and great story ideas.

The journalism job market is very tough. I know: I spent six months last year looking to move from media consultancy back into a full-time newsroom leadership position. It was a lot harder to get interviews this time round than was back in 2006, the last time I was looking for a job. So when you do land that interview, you really want to nail it.

I don’t think that any of the advice above is earth shattering, but based on interviews I’ve conducted recently, it either isn’t universally known, or candidates think they don’t have to bother. But if you really want that job, then a little legwork up front will pay big dividends when it comes to the interview.

I’m doing a new round of interviews for a reporting position in one of my newsrooms. We’ve already had a number of strong applicants, but if you have a passion to create the future of local journalism, then I want you to apply. I’ll be starting the first round interviews soon so don’t delay.