The one thing you should ask about in a job interview, but probably don’t

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Oct 032012

We have talked a lot about ways to feel out a station when job interviewing.  We have discussed not judging a place by its market size.  Now let’s talk about the one thing you should ask about in a job interview, but probably don’t.  It is: How does your boss juggle work and family life (and what does he/she do to promote family life for employees)?

Stations continue cutting back on resources and many are chronically short staffed because of budget cuts and the constant threat of layoffs.  So, this may seem like a crazy question to ask in a job interview.  It’s not though.  The reason:  You have to be able to balance your life wherever you end up.  If you have a workaholic, eat three meals a day at the office desk, sleep on a cot when necessary kind of boss, then you can pretty much kiss quality family time goodbye.  If the boss doesn’t get it, you don’t get it either.

Of course all of us understand that TV news is far from a 9 to 5, punch in and out, kind of job.  (If you don’t you are going to be very frustrated!)  Still, some managers take gross advantage of salaried status and work us to death.  Often it isn’t even because of short staffing.  It is simply poor organization.  If you read through our section “Picking a Shop” you will see this is a big theme.  Poor organization, means poor management, means premature greying and a possible heart attack or bleeding ulcer for you.

Sitting in a job interview and asking a potential mentor how he/she manages to juggle work and family is a fair question.  You are getting advice.  You are also getting great insight into how this manager ticks.  Is this a person who will be reasonable when a life crisis happens?  Is this a person who will consider a crews safety during dangerous stories, like natural disasters?  The simple, “How do you juggle family/work?” question helps you naturally delve into these types of scenarios.  You will get great intel on your potential future boss.

If family is very important to you, it is best to be upfront about that from the get go.  If this is a run and gun, take no prisoners, work until you drop type station then you are going to be miserable.  It is possible to balance family life and be a successful highly productive journalist.  It requires organization.  And not just from you either.  Team effort is crucial.  You are not being selfish wanting to protect your family life.  You are maintaining a balance, so you can excel while at your job, because you know your family is fine at home.  A lot of managers get this, but even more need to be reminded.  Small rewards, like occasionally letting you head home early when your work is done, lead to big gains.  When the breaker happens on your day off, you are going to be more apt to call in and offer to help.  Managers, who respect you, get respect and extra effort in return.  It’s only natural.   So, go ahead, ask the question.  Your personal success is at stake.

 

This summer I have had both experienced journalists and soon to be grads asking how to prepare for a job interview.  As great as we journalists are about researching issues, we sometimes fall short when it comes to job interviews.  In fact, several times when I was asked to interview people, I was struck by how little information they seemed to know about the prospective city and the station.  You have to do your homework!  You are providing a first impression of what kind of skills you will provide the station.  If you come across as thinking, “I’m here and my work on my reel stands for itself.” you are letting management know you are not dedicated to research.  Why does this matter?  It makes you look sloppy, self indulgent and therefore a potential liability.  You want to let your potential new bosses know that you are genuinely interested in the area you may soon call home.

So how do you this?  For starters you must catch up on current events in the city where you will interview.  The internet and Twitter are great places to see what’s happening.  Next, watch the station’s newscasts online.  Get a feel for the news philosophy and what skills you might be able to bring to the shows.  If you are a producer, look for ways you could improve the show you are interviewing for.  If you are a reporter, look for the type of perspective that might be missing in the newscasts that you can then offer.  This will also entail researching the news director and Assistant News Director to see what their news philosophies are.  ( See “When the interview really counts” and “Interview the station” for more on how to do that.)  Have some ideas on how you would help cover a local event at the station where you are interviewing.  Be prepared for the question, “So what would you bring to this story today if you worked here.”

It is not uncommon to be given a pop quiz on the movers and shakers in the city where you will interview.  I was given tests like this many times.  Stay current on where you are living also.  ND’s gave me pop quizzes on stories from where I currently lived to make sure I stayed on top of issues even when out of town.

You can also give a sort of pop quiz to the ND.  ND’s especially like to tell you “war stories” while in an interview.  They like to check out your reactions and they are trying to see if they relate to you.  A great way to facilitate a connection is to research the ND and bring up a story he/she once covered and ask for more details.  This also helps you get a moment to catch your breath, while the ND tells you all about covering that event.

Another interesting question you should prepare for:  “What are you reading right now?”  This is trickier than it may seem.  The ND probably doesn’t want to hear about a trashy romance novel.  A super highbrow book may not actually impress either.  Again, the ND wants to see how curious you are as a person.  (Read “Reality check” for more on the reasoning behind this.)  Do you research things besides news?  What subjects are you passionate about?  This not only helps the ND get a feel for you as a person, it also helps him/her figure out if there’s a “beat” available that fits you well.

Finally, be prepared to get a little personal.  I had many deep conversations about “life” with prospective ND’s and GM’s.  They might go there and ask you if your spouse is ok with a move or if you can find a church to get fulfillment.  We’ve talked kids, insecurities that drove us and also about bad decisions made that motivated us to be better.  Covering news is voyeuristic.  It can be intensely personal.  There are a lot of issues that need rational minds to really delve into.  Your ND will do whatever she/he can to see if you are a good fit.  Get ready to get real.  Stay true to who you are.  After all, many journalists give a piece of themselves in every story:  Might as well in the job interview too.

 

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