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Home > Reading Room > ‘You’re the worst one I’ve ever interviewed’

SPJ Reading Room

‘You’re the worst one I’ve ever interviewed’

...and other things I've picked up while interviewing for the job

By Mark Grabowski

Graduation looms and many soon-to-be journalism school alumni are scrambling to land a job. With limited opportunities, competition is fierce, and interviewing skills may make or break a candidate.

Reporters may be in the business of interviewing people. But when they’re in the hot seat, it can be a traumatic experience. Especially if it’s a job interview.

Mark Grabowski, 29, is creator and Web editor of CubReporters.org, an online career guide for young journalists. He also is a third-year law student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he focuses on media law. Prior to law school, he spent five years working as a reporter for the Providence Journal, Arizona Republic and Newsday. Grabowski was a 2003-04 Congressional Fellow with the American Political Science Association.
I know I haven’t always made the best first impression.

When I interviewed at the Philadelphia Inquirer, for example, I arrived two hours late. Despite the fact that I was in my hometown, I somehow got lost driving there. To make matters worse, as I was leaving, I accidentally hit a reporter’s car — with the hiring editor watching.

Needless to say, I didn’t get that job.

At a job interview in Washington, D.C., the topic of politics naturally came up. I was highly critical of a certain lawmaker. The interviewer then revealed that was his nephew I was talking about.

Didn’t get that job, either.

A Providence Journal editor seemed equally unimpressed with my interview skills.

“Over the years, I’ve interviewed about 300 journalists for jobs here,” he told me. “And it’s safe to say, you’re the worst one I’ve ever interviewed.”

I became physically sick immediately after that interview. You can imagine my consternation when I was offered the job two weeks later.

So, if an interview goes bad, don’t despair. Sometimes people surprise you. While making a good impression is important, many hiring editors will admit than an interview is just one of many things they consider when deciding whether to hire a reporter.

As you interview, you'll figure out what's the best approach for you. Of course, the more you interview, the better you will get at handling interviews.

In the meantime, take a look at the tips below to help ensure that your interviews go better than mine.

Some Tips

— Wear your best professional attire.

— Bring a couple sets of resumes and clips with you to the interview. Don’t assume your interviewer(s) will have them handy.

— Arrive on time, and preferably early! If you’re late for a job interview, an editor can’t help but wonder what type of reporter you’ll be when it comes to meeting deadlines.

— Know the media outlet. Check out its Web site ahead of time, and be able to discuss things that you like and don’t like about it. Understand how the newspaper or magazine sees its role in its community. What is its community?

— Be confident, but don’t be cocky. As an editor once told me, “To make it in this business you need to have a super ego. But that doesn’t mean an over-inflated ego. There’s a difference.”

— Make sure you sell your good points in the interview; this might require you steering the interview somewhat. But don’t talk too much. Many editors like a give-and-take-type conversation. Listen carefully to what the interviewer says before responding.

— Questions you may be asked to answer include: “Tell me your life story?” “How did you get interested in journalism?” “What was the best story you ever wrote and why?” “What would your co-workers or editors say about you?” “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” “Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, 20 years?” “Why should we hire you?”

— Come equipped with questions of your own, such as “What sort of feedback can I expect?” or “What type of professional development opportunities are available to the staff?” Remember, you are not just trying to sell yourself in an interview. You should value your professional development, so make sure the media outlet is a good fit for you.

— If you want to separate yourself from other applicants, come equipped with story ideas. The more you have and the more developed they are, the better.

— If your interview doesn’t start out so well, don’t panic. You can always recover. Sometimes recovering from a bad first impression can be better than making no impression at all.

— If your interview bombs, don’t dwell on it. Hopefully, the interview was just one of many things that will be taken into consideration when the hiring committee is deciding whether or not to hire you. Many editors also give your resume, clips and recommendations equal consideration.

— Send thank you notes to all your interviewers afterwards.

— If you don’t get hired, remember, your try wasn’t a waste of time. You got to see another newspaper or magazine and meet with other editors and/or reporters. The insights you gained from your visit and conversations you had with the publication’s staff should add to your personal and professional development.
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