Congratulations! Your resume and cover letter landed you an interview. Now, the real work begins. The more prepared you are for your interview, the more impressive — and comfortable — you will be and the better your chances that you will get that job.
Do Your Homework
Learn everything you can about the company — its size, its audience, its management, its ownership, its competitors, its challenges. Read its website or watch its shows for at least a week before your interview. Familiarize yourself with major issues in the community. Don’t be surprised if you are asked for ideas on how you would cover a breaking news event if you worked there.
Make an Entrance
Arrive at least 10 minutes early. If the interview is an unfamiliar location, scope it out ahead of time to make sure you don’t get lost and arrive late.
Dress professionally — it shows respect for the organization. It’s fine to dress up in a suit and tie or a tailored pant suit but many newsrooms are more laid-back so business casual is usually fine. For men, that means neatly pressed khakis or neutral-colored slacks, a collared shirt and leather or dark shoes. For women, casual pants or a skirt, blouse or sweater and leather shoes with low or flat heels. Do not wear jeans, t-shirts, loud prints, sneakers, flip flops, excessive jewelry, strong perfumes or anything else that might turn off an interviewer.
Greet the interviewer with a firm, palm-to-palm handshake that is neither limp nor crushing. Two or three shakes from the elbow and done. Stand straight. Make eye contact. Show enthusiasm and initiative by selling yourself.
Pack extra copies of your resume, reference list and clips or demo reel, as well as a pad and pen to take notes. Also come with a ready-made “elevator pitch” that tells the interviewer in 30-60 seconds who you are and why you are the perfect person for the job. You should also bring along some story ideas that are tailored to the style and resources of the outlet.
The best interview is a conversation — not an interrogation. Don’t interrupt the recruiter but do speak up. Give concise — but not one-word — answers. Don’t ramble. Respond to questions or observations by giving animated accounts of your experience and views. Be as specific as possible when talking about your work and skills. Be ready to tell the stories behind your clips. Demonstrate self-confidence but not self-promotion. Don’t exaggerate — lies will come back to haunt you. And make sure you have questions of your own to ask the interviewer.
Know the Answers Before the Questions are Asked
Here are some commonly asked questions you should come prepared to answer:
- Tell me about yourself. [Here is where to use your “elevator pitch”]
- What are your strengths? Your weaknesses?
- Why do you want to work for us?
- Why should we hire you?
- Why are you leaving your old job?
- Where would you like to be in five, 10 or 20 years?
- Tell me about a story you covered that went well (or badly).
- Tell me how you would cover a story in the news if you were working for us.
- What did you learn from any mistakes you’ve made?
- How well do you handle deadline pressure?
- What publications do you read? What news shows do you watch?
- What do you think of our outlet? How would you make it better?
- Would you be willing to move?
- What are your salary requirements?
- What would you like to know about us?
As the interview winds down, repeat your strong interest in the position and ask what the next step is. Shake hands and thank the recruiter.
The minute you get home, e-mail the interviewer a brief thank-you note. Say how much you enjoyed the interview and reiterate your enthusiasm for joining the team. If the interviewer requested more work samples or other materials during the session, now is the time to send them.
Negotiate Your Salary — Later
The one question you should not ask in an initial interview: How much does this job pay? Always let the employer bring up salary first. That usually doesn’t happen until the employer is ready to make a firm job offer, typically in a second or third interview or in a followup email or phone call.
Some recruiters will bring up money in the first interview, to gauge whether you’d be willing to work for what they want to pay. The first offer is the minimum — not the maximum — they are willing to pay. So play it coy by asking something like, “Can you give me an idea what the salary range is for this position?” Don’t be the first to mention a figure as it will weaken your negotiating position.
Of course, you will have arrived at the interview with an amount in mind based on research into salary reports; talks with company employees, alums and professors; and calculations of what you will need to live in that area.
But remember: If you don’t ask for more, you won’t get more. And don’t worry: they won’t rescind the offer if you ask. Salary negotiation is part of the hiring process.
If you are asked to name a salary range, give one in which the bottom is the least you could work for and the top is the highest you will likely get. Don’t forget that benefits such as vacation and comp time may also be part of the negotiation depending on company policies. You can then add, “But I’m happy to consider your best offer.”
Once you agree on a final offer, get it in writing.