How to recruit the best journalist for the job

I’ve presided over ones which I’ve wanted to end after a couple of minutes, ones which I’ve enjoyed every second of, ones full of laughter, and ones where I’ve been genuinely moved.

All human life can be writ large at a job interview.

But how do we ensure that finding the journalists of the future is a productive joy rather than a demotivating chore?

I’m getting involved in interviewing for the first time in well over a year this week.

Luckily the job concerned is one that has attracted a clutch of high quality applicants.

And that can bring its own challenges, exciting though they might be compared to the ritual of finding the least-worst candidate for the newsroom.

These days, journalism interviews can require news organisations to sell themselves as passionately as the interviewee sitting in front of them.

That process, as I have said before in what is increasingly becoming an obsession of mine, starts with a truly enticing and persuasive advert, perhaps drawing on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Then must come a sifting process, where it can make sense to get an extra pair of eyes to help draw up a shortlist.

And make the most of any colleagues – perhaps on sister papers – who have worked with candidates in the past.

Increasing numbers of the papers I work with now either set a task or some pre-interview questions, or invite would-be workers in for a trial day.

Once that day comes, the key questions to which you need an answer include:

  • What do my colleagues make of them?
  • Will this person get on with the team?
  • Are they a radiator or a drain?
  • Would he or she win my confidence if I was a contact?
  • Have they done their homework on us and the area?
  • How sharp are their digital instincts and skills?
  • Can they prove their story-getting credentials?
  • How good are they likely to be at multi-tasking, and dealing with pressure or outside criticism?
  • Would I want this person next to me in a crisis?

We’ve all got our pet interview questions, some more surreal than others.

Here are some suggestions:

  • What would your worst enemy say about you?
  • What apps do you use? How do you get your news?
  • Give some examples of when you made contacts in a new area
  • How have you dealt with conflict in your life?
  • Talk about a hobby you’re passionate about
  • If you could interview one person, who would it be and what one question would you ask them?
  • What’s your biggest mistake and how did you learn from it?
  • If I rang your current employer now, what would they say about you?
  • How should we remember you when we’re deciding who to appoint?

After the interview, always take up references – even if you have to take people off the record to get the unvarnished truth.

One question that needs to be asked is ‘would you employ this person again?’

As always, the most important piece of advice throughout this whole process is to trust your instincts.

First impressions count.

If the person doesn’t look you in the eye, or their hands slip through yours when you shake, alarm bells should ring.

This is someone at their best.

If that best isn’t good enough, it’s time to look elsewhere.


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