23 Interview Tips for Journalism Students

On April 14, students in the internship and reporting classes participated in the spring mock interviews. Employers in news/editorial, advertising, public relations and photography came to UW Oshkosh to meet with students and provide valuable feedback.

So, did the students emerge with new techniques and insight for success? Absolutely. The following are 23 of the takeaways from this spring’s mock interviews:

  1. Seize every opportunity to practice your interview skills. The chance to sit down with a potential employer to actually practice interviewing skills is priceless.
  2. Learn how to take the conversation beyond the initial question. If a question ties into something you feel you are very talented at, don’t be afraid to expand on the question to highlight those skills.
  3. Keep your resume simple. Keep only jobs that are directly related to what you are applying for.
  4. Be ready for tough questions. In regard to long-distance interviews (via Skype or phone): make sure to be prepared to answer the question, “How soon can you move out here?” Any sort of hesitation can kill your chances of success.  (Also: the answer in these situations should always be “Right away.”)
  5. Anticipate what questions you think you may be asked.  It helps to make a list ahead of time and work through the key points you want to say.
  6. Never underestimate the importance of networking. Meeting and knowing as many people as possible, even those outside your immediate field, is impressive and interviewers will remember it, especially if you share common colleagues.
  7. Know specifically what you would like to do in the future. If you aren’t 100 percent sure, think of something at least related to the career/business you are interviewing with.
  8. Have a long list of quality questions to ask at the conclusion of the interview. “Winging” it never works.
  9. Watch for nervous habits. Words such as “um” or “like” can be like nails on a chalkboard for interviewers.
  10. Research the company. (Do I need to say any more on this one? One of my interviewers told me that if an applicant says he or she hasn’t looked at the organization’s website, they end the interview right there. Ouch.)
  11. Keep your personal life out of it completely. Even if the questions may seem personal, stick to career values and definitions.
  12. Be well rounded. For example, photographers still need to know how to write, etc., especially given staffing shortages.
  13. Have a working knowledge of the organization’s area. Try to immerse yourself in the work you are interviewing for beforehand so you can draw on that fresh experience.
  14. Don’t go into interviews and act like you know everything. Your interviewer has more experience than you in the field, so maintain some humility. Do, however, emphasize that you are ready to learn as quickly as possible. Respect goes a long way.
  15. Make your work as accessible as possible. Employers don’t want to bother downloading ten different PDFs and Word documents from your online portfolio.
  16. Don’t rely on technology. Do not just assume the wireless will work, your PDF won’t be corrupt or that the computer you’re using will even turn on. Always have a backup plan. Preferably two.
  17. When describing who you are, first identify yourself. Example, “I am a senior advertising student graduating from [school]…” and then go into your work ethic/personality traits.
  18. Maintain eye contact. Pretty straight forward for face-to-face interviews, but can get tricky online. Some computers do not have head-on cameras, so it may be awkward looking up at a webcam. Practice.
  19. Keep your cool. You may get asked questions you’re not quite sure about, or flat out don’t know. If you need clarification on wording, ask. If you still don’t know, let them know you aren’t sure but will look into it as soon as possible.
  20. Smile. And laugh (when appropriate…) Have a good time. Neither one of you wants to have a stoic, dead conversation for a half hour. Part of the decision about whether or not to hire you may come down to how personable or pleasant you are.
  21. Don’t feel like you have to write an entire page cover letter. Try to be as concise as possible because, in a pool of 300 applicants, there just isn’t time to sit and read everything.
  22. Know social media. Make sure you understand today’s tools (and tomorrow’s), as well as how to apply them strategically. Knowing how to use Twitter is a lot different than knowing how to use Twitter to achieve business results.
  23. Bring your portfolio with you. Portfolios add another dimension to your conversation. It is good to always have on hand for reference. Make sure it includes relevant samples of work that pertain to the job you seek.

Any other interview suggestions/tips?


2 thoughts on “23 Interview Tips for Journalism Students

  1. “I’m going to go where the opportunities are.”

    This is the magical, all-purpose answer to that awful interview question: Where do you see yourself in five years?

    The truth is that you can’t really answer the question honestly. Most likely you don’t know, but if you tell that truth, you could lose the job.

    If you make it sound like all you want to do is work in the entry-level job you are interviewing for, then you will sound like a sycophant with very low expectations. So you can’t say you want just to work away as a wage slave for the person who is interviewing you. He/she will decide there are better job candidates out there.

    “I’m going to go where the opportunities are.”

    Say that, and you will come across as competent, self-confident and aggressive in a pleasing but not threatening way.

    Say that, and watch your interviewer’s head snap backward in, to use John Keats’ phrase, “wild surmise.”

    I have only shared this little piece of interviewing advice with a handful of people in the past.

    All of them got the job they were interviewing for.

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