Last week, I got to sit on the other side of the desk of that heart-rending process known as Job Interviews, more commonly referred to as Inquisitions From Hell That Make You Question (And Give An Example) Of The Meaning Of Life. Ted and I talked to more than 20 amazing, bright Mizzou students who all wanted (and deserved) to serve on the editorial board next year, and while I thought at first it would be as fun as flossing my teeth with lemon-flavored twine, I was startled to learn so much about interviews as the one on the hiring side.
Though I doubt a week of hiring interviews makes me anywhere near qualified to ruminate about this kind of stuff, I thought I’d pass on a few insights I learned and wished I could have told my former self when applying for things — hopefully these can help any aspiring journalist (or aspiring anything, really), and make those dratted job interviews go a bit more smoothly!
Inquisition Survival Tips 101:
1. Relax! First and foremost, you’re talented, intelligent and bright. The fact that you even applied makes us already love you, so don’t sweat it!
2. Dress like you mean it. Even though the applicants were basically our own peers, I loved that they dressed up as if they were at the Hearst headquarters for a “real” interview. One applicant had the misfortune of interviewing on the hottest day of the semester so far, and yet he wore his black button-down and dress pants like a champ. I don’t think a full-on suit is necessary — if you’re interviewing for the hipster-infused arts section, of course, it’s impressive to show a little quirky personality.
3. If you have the option, interview early. The real world probably won’t send out a Google doc for you to sign up for your most convenient time slot to interview, but if it does, try to snag one of the first spots — at least, try to snag one before your direct competition does. Just on an innate, psychological level, the first applicants we talk to for each position automatically set the bar, and whether we liked it or not, every following applicant is subconsciously compared to the firsties afterward. And if you happen to have some similar ideas to share as the other applicants, and you’re the one who talks about them first, guess who ends up sounding the most original?
4. Know who you’re talking to. The way our newsroom works, most people who apply for positions personally know Ted and me. Many of them have worked with us extensively before, but many haven’t. Call me a sucker, but the ones who knew that Ted previously was online development editor and that I have a relationship with MOVE akin to that of obsessive motherhood definitely played to those points of pride. And there’s nothing wrong with a lot of good vibes generated during your interview.
5. Know what you’re going to talk about. It’s way too easy to Google “potential job interview questions,” so definitely have short, succinct answers prepared for run-of-the-mill “Tell us about a time you were a leader.” My favorite thing to ask was, “What makes you stand out among the other applicants?” If you can answer that question succinctly, not only do you make our conversation easier to remember later, but you create a brand identity for yourself.
6. Paint the vision, but don’t forget the details. Since Ted and I have planned a huge structural change for the paper, we asked a lot about what the applicants envisioned for the individual news sections. It’s super impressive to hear all about how you want Arts & Entertainment to change the world as we know it and to use a lot of vague, lofty vocabulary, for example, but don’t forget to flesh out your grand scheme with solid, concrete details. Even if it’s something as small and specific as “I’d like to Tweet at least twice as often as the current editor does,” that shows you’re realistic and have what it takes to make a big dream actually happen.
7. Show that you’re familiar with the company. Or newsroom, in our case. Weirdly shameless as it may be to say, dropping names of who you know in the company/newsroom and who you’ve worked with and what you’ve learned from them shows that you’re familiar with how things work around here. Obviously you don’t want to have a laundry list of every interaction you’ve ever had with the entire world of journalism, but people naturally tend to be drawn towards those with whom they have some common ground.
8. Don’t be freaked out if your interviewer is writing stuff down. I had a little notebook with me during all the interviews to write down questions I was thinking about and general notes about the experience, but looking back, I wonder if I freaked anyone out with all the jotting. My confession: you might think I’m writing down how awful the interview is going, but in reality, I’m enjoying our chat and might honestly be just reminding myself to pick up dinner on the way home.
9. Eye contact is amazing. If you are being interviewed by more than one person, make sure you make eye contact with and “talk at” everyone in the room. Think about how you’d want to be acknowledged if you were having dinner with two acquaintances. If the two others actively seek your input and reactions during the whole conversation, you’d probably be pretty pleased with the experience. But if they’re just chatting exclusively to each other without so much a pitying glance at you, you’d probably feel ignored, bored and immediately disengaged — which are the three top feelings you don’t exactly want to incite in anyone who has a say in hiring you.
10. Despair not. Sometimes, things just don’t work out, and it has absolutely nothing to do with you. You were a stellar candiate, had a flawless resume, churned out heinously fresh ideas and sparkled during the interview. Sometimes, there are a million other factors that go into the hiring decision that are completely out of your control, and it breaks interviewers’ hearts to not be able to bring on staff everyone we actually want to. Don’t forget that the decision is only a moment in time that barely should define your career/growth as a human — you never know what will happen down the line in a month or even a year. If you choose to stay involved with the organization, even on a pretty ephemeral level, it keeps your name on our radar, and we’ll work hard to find a place that’s absolutely perfect for you.