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How to nail that other type of interview

January 25, 2011

The other day, Burnaby Now editor Pat Tracy gave all aspiring journalists a cheat-sheet for finding work in a newsroom with a terrific post on her blog. You can read the full post here.

I’ll leave aside sarcastic comments about luck being the primary ingredient and get onto Pat’s super list.

If I may paraphrase, to get a job at the Now you should: have worked at McDonalds; be confident enough to (purposely) reveal a weakness; be ambitious; show initiative; have volunteered; refrain from burning bridges; listen; and maintain a half-decent online reputation.

Some particularly interesting insights:

On confidence:

Ego isn’t a bad thing, but bells go off for me when a job seeker never credits anyone else with any part of their perceived successes. No one does it alone.

I don’t think I’ve ever thought to give credit to others in a job interview. I probably should have, but an interview tends to focus me on, well, me.

On (not) burning bridges:

The ability to deal with a tough situation, and leave on good terms, is an essential skill in journalism.

On not being a total ass online:

I don’t expect people to be saints. But judgment is a large part of a journalist’s job, and if you reveal poor judgment online it raises serious doubts.

On ambition:

I want to see someone who has plans or goals. It gives me an idea of their thinking, and, again, if they’re in touch with reality.

The ambition aspect is what interests me most. I would never go into an interview and tell my prospective editor that I dreamed of a career with a major daily newspaper (back when that was my goal. It’s not anymore. But that’s another post altogether). Of course, most editors realize you’ll eventually move on, but my standard line has always been something like “I plan on staying here for the foreseeable future.”

It just seems weird to say “I hope this to be a mere stepping stone,” even if that is your intention.

That said, I agree that ambition is an absolutely vital trait. Of course “ambition” doesn’t have to mean an overpowering desire to write for a bigger paper; it could be an ambition to write longform magazine articles, to eventually be the editor, to piss off the government, to win awards, or to break huge stories.

Exactly how to communicate that ambition is tricky, but—having thought about it for the first time now—I think I’d focus on a desire to make a name for myself at the paper, in the community. I think it’d still be a mistake to talk about leaving before I started a job.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Photo by bpsusf via Flickr
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