Interviews: The course is over, now the hard work really begins

Up to this point in your life, the chances are that job interviews have only made a minor impact on day-to-day life. In that golden era of studentdom, jobs were primarily for money to fund the extras, and an interview for the job in the local laundrette or call-centre wasn’t enough to keep you awake at night worrying.

But as a newly qualified journalist with all the formal training behind you there are no excuses. The real world beckons. As if this isn’t enough of a shock to the system, jobs in journalism are not exactly easy to come by, and with such fierce competition, you have to put up a fight. Getting an interview in the first place is so difficult that if, or when, you do get one, the pressure is on. So how do you make sure you’ll impress?

Daniell Morrisey is a career writer and recruitment specialist, now working for the BBC. ‘A lack of preparation is the number one complaint of interviewers – candidates come across as not knowing about the job, the company or its products,’he said.

‘Find the company’s website, read everything you can, and Google it to see what others are saying.”

Jennifer Rigby gained a place on the competitive CMPi Internship Scheme two years ago and is now a reporter on Property Week, one of their leading titles.

She found that as well as knowing everything about the job, you also have to show that you’re up to speed on current affairs: ‘Read all the newspapers you can get your hands on,’she said. ‘At lots of the interviews I had, they gave me a short general knowledge test: Who is the UN General Secretary? What is the level of inflation in the UK at the moment? Who won the Turner Prize last year?”

Confident not cocky

While it’s important for a budding journalist to come across as confident, it’s difficult to know whether this could come across as cocky, but Rigby thinks that holding your own can make you stand out from the crowd. ‘Don’t be afraid to enter into a ‘lively discussion’ with the interviewer if they say something really provocative – they might be testing you to see if you’ve got any vim. Don’t get too carried away though!” 

‘Arrogance comes across by making broad statements of competence,’says Morrisey. ‘The job description is your key to the interview. Go through the skills, experience and knowledge stated and think of examples that demonstrate you at your best. In the interview, back-up generalisations with these examples.”

Whatever industry you’re in, it’s always going to be hard getting your first job without any professional experience, and you have to work to convince employers that you’re up to the task.

Just in case you haven’t heard it enough, work experience is essential, and is something you can talk about in the interview to demonstrate all your capabilities and expertise.

Olivia Solon clinched her first job as a journalist only weeks after completing a journalism MA at Goldsmiths, University College London. She says that playing to your strengths is essential, and you can use any previous experience to your advantage: ‘I mentioned the fact that I had worked in the Mini car factory on the production line on my CV – it showed that I wasn’t afraid to get stuck into hard manual work, and that I coped well under pressure. It also made for an interesting talking point, which is always important if you want to be a memorable candidate.”

And finally, the crucial question: What to wear?

‘No one ever minds if you are too smart, but they will remember if you were too scruffy,’said Solon. ‘Ultimately, dressing smartly is never going to get you the job – if you are an excellent interviewee you can get the job in your pyjamas, but you are just making it that bit harder for yourself.”

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