Tips of the trade - JOB INTERVIEW TECHNIQUES

Ian Murray, editor of the Southern Daily Echo

 The old cliché that first impressions count still holds true. But that impression is usually the one gained long before an interviewee sits down at my desk.

In recent years, few journalists or trainees taken on at the Echo have been unknown to us when they arrive for their interview. Work experience, dropping by for a friendly chat with newsdesk, or a more formal “what I can offer you” meeting has often eased the way when a rare vacancy arises.

But all the best greasing of the slipway can come to nothing if the interview goes badly. No editor will be impressed by fine exam marks alone. If the person hasn’t had the gumption to find out the current big stories and whether the paper is taking a stand on any issues, then it’s unlikely they will have the initiative to work a patch.

Candidates don’t have to agree with the paper’s opinion, or even the editor’s, but they do need to show they understand the news value of issues and be able to debate what the reader is looking for. Cuttings files are fine, but I do expect candidates to be able to talk me through how an article was created and not just present something finely crafted by the subs on another title.

Most of all I look for enthusiasm, both for a life in journalism and for life itself. Too many applicants belong to no sports club, have no interests besides the inevitable “film and theatre”, show little likelihood of getting involved with their new community, and wouldn’t dream of propping up the bar at their local in the hope of getting a lead.

And whereas I may not be so foolish as to imagine that all applicants wish to serve out their whole career on my paper, I still don’t want to be told they see it as a step towards the nationals just a couple of years down the road.

Neil Stephenson, editor of The Face

We recruit a lot of our junior positions by getting people in as interns. After a couple of weeks of seeing someone, it’s much easier to get a sense of whether they’re going to work well in the team.

I’m very wary of face-to-face interviews: we’re looking for people with intelligence, enthusiasm and confidence. It’s very hard to get a clear reading of these in such an artificial situation. I try to make up for this by getting several different members of the team to interview a likely candidate.

This gives you a better sense of whether they are the right person. Also when they start, they have already got relationships with several people. In terms of advice for prospective interviewees – try to be natural, interested and engaging.

If all else fails, I use a very crude technique called the “airport lounge test”: imagine that you are stuck together for several hours in an airport lounge after a flight is cancelled. Then you ask yourself, would I enjoy time with this person or would I want to kill them? Charles Creswell, editor of Doctor Like most things, the secret of success is preparation.

Ring beforehand.

This shows you are keen and gives you a chance to find out information, such as what the job entails and what sort of a person they want.

Get hold of a copy. You’ll end up with a better feel for what the job involves and a chance to form some opinions.

Edit your life. Think about your past achievements, in life if not at work.

What are you most proud of and why? Have an opinion. Don’t try to guess what the interviewer wants you to say, you will just look spineless. Or stupid.

Don’t be coy about your career plans.

Even if you see this job as a steppingstone to better things, the interviewer will be impressed by your ambition.

Be positive. Confidence is a great asset. It may not be the easiest commodity to come by in an interview, but a cheerful disposition and a positive outlook are real job winners. Nobody wants a misery.

Finally, be honest.

compiled by Sarah Lagan

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