10 Journalism Job Interview Questions

Emma Ann job seeker

There’s more to interviews than looking the part (Pic: Emma Ann)

By Catherine Hancock (@catherineha1991)

In April I had my first journalism interview and since then, I’ve had two more.

Interviews are a learning curve, and no two are the same. The more you go to and (hopefully that wont’ be too many), the more familiar you’ll become with the process.

Out of the three interviews I have been in, similar questions kept cropping up – so I’ve put together a list of things you may be asked and what you should expect:

1) A test

News Quiz

Never be surprised if they throw a news test your way

Oh yes, always be prepared for a test – even if you are not pre-warned about one.

The test could be on anything – whether it’s writing up a story from a press release, or a quiz to see how much you know about the local area and current affairs.

From my experiences I have only had one test and that was in my last interview.

It was a timed ten minute quiz, with questions including: “What is the population of Worksop?”, “Who is the governor of the Bank of England?” and “Who is the editor of the Daily Mail?”

As with the nature of journalism: expect the unexpected!

Questions You Might Be Asked:

2) Tell us about yourself

Catherine baby for blog post

Just how far back should you go?

It’s that old question which everyone is unsure about how to answer!

Don’t give a step-by-step documentation of your birth up until now, or that time you tried to strip naked on the beach (Yep, the above picture is me).

Instead, think about any key moments in your life that will impress and are relevant to the job.

For example – talk about university, work placements and throw in a few things you like doing in your spare time and any clubs you are part of.

Personality plays a big part in getting that job and the interviewers will want to know if you will fit into their team.

3) What do you think of our website/ newspaper, what do you think we could do better?

catherine hancock blog homepage

Room for improvement?

Now, this isn’t the time to slate all the things you dislike about the company’s publications.

It will offend your potential employers and won’t make you look very good.

This is a chance for the interviewers to get an outsider’s view of their work and to see if you are capable of coming up with ideas which will improve the company as a whole.

Start off with positive aspects of their website/ newspaper, then move onto things they could improve on.

For example, you could word it like this: “You have great video content on your website, I think having more of this would drive people to the site.”

4) Tell us about a time when you have found your own story

Catherine Hancock newspaper

Get out there and find some stories

If you go to an interview for a trainee reporter role and haven’t found your own story before, then there is something wrong!

Being able to find your own stories is a key quality of a journalist, so make sure you have at least one example to show to the interviewers.

It doesn’t have to be anything groundbreaking, but a it should be a story that shows you can do the following: spot a story idea, have the confidence to pitch the idea to a newspaper, know who to talk to for quotes, are able to write the story without help and can take a picture.

All of this shows initiative and that you already have the basic skills of a reporter.

5) Scenario: What would you do if someone called the newsroom and said there was an explosion in a nearby town?

Talid Khatib explosion

Be prepared to think on your feet (Pic: Talid Khatib)

This question comes up time and time again in some form, so be prepared for it.

It shows the interviewers you are a modern day thinking journalist. So for example, if this is an interview with a newspaper, in this digital age the first thing you would do is get something up on the website.

Explain how you would get something up and published like: “It has been reported there has been an explosion in an industrial building in Chilwell, more to follow.”

Inform your editor and get someone to check social media for pictures and eyewitness accounts, which you’ll use for quotes for an updated version of the story.

Call the emergency services so they can officially confirm what has happened. What ever you do, keep updating the website with more information.

6) Who would be your key contacts in the area?


Contacts are an essential tool for journalists

I sometimes find this question a bit difficult because I think it wouldn’t be as simple as people in the police force, hospital staff or local councillors.

Think about others who could give a tip off for a story – for example key people in the area such as teachers, shop owners or other key members of the community.

Tell the interviewers how you would get to know people in the community so you’d be the first one they’d contact if a news story broke out.

It’s usually the people you least expect who give you a diamond of a story.

7) How would you cope with door knocking?

door knock

So-called ‘death knocks’: Never a pleasant experience

Door knocks or ‘death knocks’ aren’t a myth and unfortunately these things happen more often than you may think. In case you don’t know, death knocks are when a reporter goes to the house of someone who has recently been bereaved to interview them.

I once heard a horror story of a journalist who went on her first death knock and someone opened the door, greeting her by chucking a bucket of water over her head.

Horrific huh?!

In my last interview I got asked how I would cope with door knocking and even though they sound like horrible things to do, you have to approach the situation with sensitivity but in a firm manner.

You have to respect the families wishes if they tell you to go away. Leave your number with the family, sometimes they will call you. Refer to the PCC code and talk about the ethics of journalism.

8) How do you feel about working weekends and some evenings?

Catherine Hancock

Work weekends? Moi?

If you are going into journalism for a 9-5 job, then you are daft.

Every newsroom is different, but at some point you will have to work weekends and some evenings, because most news isn’t planned.

Say you are flexible and more than happy to swap sunbathing in the garden at short notice to go and cover an exciting story.

Nod along.

Give examples of when you have done this in the past at university in work, and you will be well away.

9) How much do you use social media, which sites do you use the most?

social resume

Don’t underestimate the power of social media

A wise editor once told me that they wouldn’t even consider someone for an interview if they didn’t have a Twitter account.

That may seem harsh, but in reality social media is such an important way of sourcing news stories. By not having a Facebook or Twitter account, you are automatically at a distinct disadvantage.

Mention how much you use social media, how you use it, and how you would use it to find a story.

Make sure you know how many Twitter followers you have! This was a question I got asked in an interview and luckily I knew the exact number.

Talk about your blog if you have one and tell them what type of people you follow or pages you like.

Also talk about the negatives of finding stories by using social media, for example making sure information is legit and how to trawl through all the spam!

10) Give us an example of when you have worked as part of a team to get something done

Catherine Hanckock team

Teamwork - a vital attribute in most working environments

In my last two interviews I never spoke about my experiences of working a part-time job at Costa Coffee, because I didn’t think they were relevant.

In my last interview, however, I was encouraged to talk about it and it enabled me to find the perfect example of working as a team whilst under a lot of pressure.

If you have an example of working as part of a team in a newsroom then use it, but if you don’t, think about the time when you ran the student newspaper or when you were at work and had to make 10,000 lattes in a day, whilst showing the new person what to do and talking to the customers at the same time.

Just because the answer isn’t journalism based doesn’t mean it isn’t relevant to the job.

Have you recently had a job interview for a journalism role? What questions were you asked? Share your experiences on Twitter @JournoGrads or on Facebook


What Should Employers Do For Interns?

Newsroom by David Sim

The newsroom can be a daunting place for interns (Pic: David Sim)

By Hetti Lawrence (@hetti_rose)

Google the phrase ‘work experience’ and you’ll find many articles by top organisations advising students and graduates on how best to behave on their visit to a working environment. Wear smart clothes; be friendly and engaging; be punctual; be clean shaven… the list goes on and on.

However, there is very little advice available for the companies who accept these interns. In my opinion, they are in far more desperate need of advice than we are.

As prospective interns, we go to the trouble of calling or emailing companies, often multiple times, begging them to briefly accept us into their lives, to graciously undertake any odd jobs that they don’t want to do, usually for no pay.

As a result, these companies have on offer dozens of very keen students, often with excellent qualifications and prior experience, willing to work for them in exchange for a decent reference for when we decide its high-bloody-time someone paid us for our work.

So, because of this hideously unfair arrangement that is now basically mandatory to all students and graduates should they wish to secure a decent job (or perhaps even any job at all), I have decided to write a very necessary list of pointers for all employers who are considering offering placements or internships:

1) Assign someone to be responsible for the intern. Make clear to the intern that this is the person they should go to should they have any questions about anything. Make sure the intern knows this person’s name, where they sit in the office, their contact details etc.

2) Introduce the intern to everyone in the office – or, if it is a particularly large office, just to the people in the immediate area. Make sure the intern knows everyone’s name and what they do, and encourage your colleagues to be welcoming and engaging back.

3) Give the intern a tour of the office. It doesn’t have to be particularly in-depth, just the basics – where the toilets are, where the fire exits are, where to make a cup of tea/coffee, where to keep/have your lunch etc. Make sure they know/have written down any codes needed to get in and out of the building (ideally email them this ahead of their arrival) and make sure they know basic information like when they’re expected to arrive and when they can go home.

4) Take the intern to their desk and familiarise them with the equipment they will be using. Ideally, your company should have a ‘work experience email’, so work can be sent to the intern and so that they have a contact address to give out should they need to speak to anyone. Also, make sure the intern knows the company number should they need to ask anyone to call them back, as well as any out-dialling codes etc.

5) MAKE SURE THE INTERN ALWAYS HAS SOMETHING TO DO. Before you bring someone in on work experience, consider whether there will be enough work to occupy them for a week/fortnight. If not, be honest with them: it’s ultimately in their best interests. Let them know they will be first in line should an opportunity for a work experience placement arise in the near future.

And if you DO decide to take them on, here are some pointers on how to keep them busy:

● Before they arrive on the first day, have a list (mental or written) of tasks for them to undertake, ideally some which are ongoing that they can always fall back on should they finish other work.

● If you notice they are finishing work quicker than expected, take that on board. Offer them work that is more challenging and see how they get on.

● If the worst happens and you completely run out of things for them to do, ask other colleagues to see if they would like any assistance with anything. Perhaps the intern could just shadow them for a while, particularly if they are making any out-of-office trips.

Consider this: you have taken on an intelligent, enthusiastic young person who desperately wants to work in your field, perhaps even within your company. If you screw up their first experience in that environment, your sector may have just lost one of the greatest future employees it could have ever had.

Do you have any tips yourself that you think employers should take on board when hiring interns? Join the debate on Twitter @JournoGrads or on Facebook

Top Ten SEO Tips For Journalists

Are you making the most of SEO? (Pic: Javi)

Are you making the most of SEO? (Pic: Javi)

By Tom Etherington

It wasn’t until the end of my second year at University that I decided to learn more about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and its importance to online journalism.

The practice of SEO, in case you’re unfamiliar with the term, is to improve a website or web page’s visibility and rankings in search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing. These ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ search results can actually generate more than half of a website’s overall traffic on a regular basis.

However, some modern classrooms and newsrooms still do not recognise the importance of SEO and many journalists are relying on outdated training as there have been dramatic changes during the past few years.

Here are some useful Search Engine Optimisation tips for journalists:

1) Use related keywords

Keywords are the various phrases that people type into search engines, ranging from “local election results” to “Kim Kardashian wedding”. It’s extremely important to include relevant keywords in your copy as it will help potential readers find your article more easily. Try to cover all the various terms and expressions that people may use when searching for articles about the specific topic or event you are covering, rather than repeating one specific phrase.

2) Avoid jargon

The most effective way of covering as many keywords as possible, without overdoing things, is by avoiding complicated language and jargon. Writers must consider what their target audience is typing into Google and use those specific phrases. This includes using people’s full names and spelling out abbreviations in full at least once or twice, such as using both “the Royal Bank of Scotland” and “RBS”.

3) Include keywords in headlines

The most effective way to optimise headlines for search engines is by thinking of an intriguing title that includes one or two targeted keywords. Don’t use something vague or inexplicable, no matter how funny or clever it might be. Some people believe SEO prevents online journalists from using traditional puns as the focus is on keywords, but there is no reason why news websites can’t find an effective blend of both.

4) Structure your articles

As a trainee journalist or journalism graduate, you should know about the Inverted Pyramid structure and how to prioritise information in a news story, starting with the ‘who, when, where, what and how’ aspects in the introduction. This is crucial when writing for online as you not only need to entice readers, you must also tell the various search engine robots what the rest of your page is about.

5) Sort your content

Another way of letting search engines know what your content is about, is by sorting it into an appropriate category and using relevant tags. For example, if you are about to publish a story about the General Election, a category might be “News” or “Politics”, while the tags may include “David Cameron” and “Conservatives”. Most online journalists will already do this, but you may not realise the benefit of it for SEO.

6) Consider technical aspects

There are a number of user experience and technical aspects that can also affect how websites perform in search engine results. Some of the most important things to do include formatting articles, optimising pictures and photos, writing unique Meta descriptions and page titles, and making sure your website is easy to use, navigate and understand.

7) Customise page titles and URLs

Most news websites automatically use a story’s headline as the title tag, which is the text that appears at the top of your browser window, and URL. However, it is important to rewrite these using keywords prior to publication as search engines look at both of these to see how relevant your article is to a specific search term.

8) Link to other articles

Search engines see hyperlinks like votes of confidence, in the sense that the more links a page has going to it, the better it will do. It’s important to get into a routine of including hyperlinks to sources and other relevant web pages in your articles, and you may get links in return.

For example, if you are writing about the latest development in an ongoing court case, it makes sense to give the reader some background information and link to previous articles on the subject, whether they are on your own website or elsewhere.

9) Optimise anchor text

When you include hyperlinks in your articles, use headlines or relevant keywords as the link text, also known as ‘anchor text’, rather than “click here for my previous article” or “for more information click here”. Search engines look at this text to work out how relevant a page is to those certain words.

10) Don’t duplicate content

Duplicated content is a problem when it comes to SEO, as search engines don’t know which web page is more relevant to a given search query. If you copy and paste from another website, or vice versa, Google will sometimes punish the site they believe has ‘copied’ another one. Journalists need to be particularly careful when it comes to press releases, and you should never publish these word for word.

SEO is a crucial part of writing online content and the sooner you learn these techniques, the better chance you stand of finding more people to read and share your articles. Who knows, you may even choose to pursue a career in the SEO industry like me!

Tom Etherington is a former freelance journalist now working in SEO at international digital marketing agency Silverbean. Follow him on Twitter at @tom_silverbean.

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