Erinn Kerr is a Journalism Diversity Fund recipient who completed the Press Association training course in Newcastle In December 2013. She has since secured a trainee reporter position with a North News and Pictures, a press agency in the North East of England.
Bagging that first job may be the hardest part of any journalist’s training. You may have to deal with lots of rejection before you finally get the call you’ve been waiting for and in some cases you might not even hear anything back.
Something that I feel is important to remember is that if you are rejected that doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t good enough or that no-one will want to hire you, it’s just that you weren’t what they were looking for at the time. You might be rejected from a weekly only to be accepted onto a national newspaper’s traineeship.
Bear in mind that an employer wants the person who will most easily fit in with those already working at a paper and that might not be you for any number of reasons. Don’t become disheartened, move on and tackle your next application with as much enthusiasm and attention to detail as the last and if you manage to secure an interview, here are my top 5 interview tips.
1) Always, always, always go with story ideas.
Whether you are being interviewed for a weekly, daily, national paper or a news agency the editor wants to see that you have the sense to prepare properly, that you have given the interview a lot of thought and that you know how to gather news. What better way to prove you can do all of that than bringing along story ideas?
If your interview is for a paper then I suggest that you use Twitter, Gumtree and local government websites to get ideas for stories. You can then, if you have time, develop the strongest idea by making enquiries by telephone. You could even arrange to meet a councillor or contact before your interview, that kind of forward planning will really impress an editor.
If your interview is for a news agency then things are a little different. It’s harder to find stories that an agency will be interested in. What I did for my North News interview was comb through all the local press for a few days beforehand and pick out stories that hadn’t been explored fully. If you can suggest a new angle or pitch a feature idea from the local papers you should impress a news editor at an agency.
2) Use your portfolio to lead the interview
Anyone interviewing for their first job should have a fairly strong portfolio of work experience and NCTJ training stories.
Make a list of all the things that you want the interviewer to know about you. For example that you know how to build and maintain contacts, you can produce off-diary stories, you know how to use social media etc. and use your portfolio as a jumping-off point to discuss your strengths.
So if you have a story that you found through Twitter you can use it to begin a conversation about social media.
This way you will be able to lead the interview and you will be able to cover all your strongest points in a way you are confident and comfortable with. The interviewer will probably appreciate you taking the lead and easing the pressure off them.
3) Anyone can write
It’s true what they say, anyone can write, don’t waste the interviewers time talking about your style of writing or your English degree – they don’t care. You should use every minute that they are prepared to spend with you talking about news, how to gather it and how to develop it. An editor wants to know that you can do the job, and surprisingly little of it is writing. It’s more important that you can consistently produce exclusives!
4) Don’t be shy
If you are being interviewed for a job that you’re not 100% sure about, don’t be shy. You won’t get any points for trying to guess what a news agency does or what type of writing you’ll be expected to do as a features writer. Make a call to the office and explain you have an upcoming interview, ask if there’s anyone there that can spare you five minutes and ask questions! I did this for an interview and was offered the job because I was well prepared.
5) Be your best self
Be yourself is one of the most overused pieces of interview advice, but it’s one of the best. You have made it this far, they like you on paper and you have everything they are looking for, otherwise they wouldn’t have offered you the interview.
Now they want to see you sparkle.
Be positive, happy and smiley from the moment you walk through the door and make sure you are well presented. You can score a lot of points by taking the lead and selling yourself, don’t wait for anyone to ask you if you have story ideas or whether you think you’re perfect for the job – just tell them! Being a reporter is as much about personality as anything else and you have to show that you won’t be afraid of anything or anyone, your interview is the perfect time to show this.