August 21, 2005
When last we met here, I was talking about do's and don'ts
for resumes, tapes and cover letters. Now, assuming all those
did their jobs, it's time to prepare for the in-person interview.
There are a few stations that say they don't bring people
in for interviews. This is, in my view, a bad idea. First
of all, it's not expensive: Your airfare and hotel room will
cost the station about what they'll make by selling two or
three spots in prime time, so if they claim they can't afford
to bring you in, that sends up a warning flag right away.
Unless you know the station from previous experience, you
need to see the place and get a feel for what the staff is
like. It's true, when you need a job you feel like you'll
take anything, but keep in mind that they'll want you to sign
a contract. You don't want to be obligated to work somewhere
you don't like just because you were in a hurry to accept
Assuming you arrive the day or night before the interview,
make sure you watch your prospective employer's newscast and,
if you can, at least flip around to other ones as well. Find
some part of the prospective's show that you liked in particular
and can mention the next day. It might be a specific story,
a reporter's live shot, an anchor's toss--anything you can
point to as a positive. Keep mental notes of things about
the newscast you might improve as well, and if asked...ONLY
if asked...give them one or, at a maximum, two, of those.
Be positive and suggest that the element you mention is not
a huge deal.
Dress is important. You should dress the way you would for
work, which means a suit with a tie for men and a professional
dress or suit for women. Not matter how informal you may have
heard the station or newsroom is, you cannot go wrong by dressing
up. You can, however, go very wrong by showing up in khaki
pants and a short-sleeve Dockers shirt...or worse.
Once you arrive, you may go to to lunch or dinner with the
News Director, and maybe a few other staffers. Here's a tip:
order a salad of some kind instead of a full meal. You'll
be doing a lot of talking, and a "real" meal just
becomes a hinderance when people are asking you questions.
You don't want something that will spill or dribble onto your
clothes, either. A salad lets you give the impression you're
eating while allowing you to concentrate on the conversation.
Make no mistake, you're on stage the whole time. The people
who go out with you will compare mental notes later, so pay
attention to what you say and do.
Never, ever drink alcohol during an interview meal, even
if your host does. It's a bad idea for several reasons, not
the least of which is that you may loosen up enough to become
sloppy in your conversation.
Many News Directors use a technique where they take their
interviewees and, after some Q & A, essentially dump them
into the newsroom to fend for themselves. (If they have windows
overlooking the newsroom, they always seem to do this.) If
it happens to you, you must remember that this is part of
the process. The ND will ask various staffers what they thought
of you; what kinds of things you said or questions you asked;
and whether you seemed bored. So make sure you use the time
wisely. In fact, you can use it to your advantage by getting
a feel for how the place works--or doesn't--instead of relying
on other peoples' descriptions.
No matter how comfortable you become with your hosts, avoid
bad-mouthing your current or last station or its management.
This always looks bad, and the ND will end up wondering what
you'll say about him or her down the road: will you say the
same nasty things about them? Remember, you don't have to
be looking to move up just to escape a bad station; there
are lots of other reasons to move on.
Be honest in your answers to the questions. If you exaggerate
or lie, it will catch up with you, and for the first 90 days
of your employment, that's all it takes to be fired.
Or, as Mark Twain said, "It's easier to tell the truth--you
don't have to remember what you said."
When you get home, send a notecard or an e-mail thanking
the ND for having you. It may or may not help you get the
job, but it is the polite thing to do.
See you next time!