This continues a series on advice for new top editors in Digital First Media newsrooms.
Interviewing job candidates will be a familiar task in many ways for new editors who are former reporters.
You approach hiring staff members similarly to reporting a story. You interview to learn the stories of the various candidates and you want to learn all the stories well enough that you know who is the best person for the job you’re filling.
Interviewing job candidates is different from interviewing sources, though. And editors without reporting experience may benefit from interviewing advice. So I’ll share some tips for job interviews (and a little crowdsourcing exercise):
Prep for the interview. Review the candidate’s résumé thoroughly before the interview and take a close look at her work – both the clips she sent you and others you found in your own research. As questions occur to you in researching the candidate, take notes and ask those questions during the interview.
Use multiple settings. Don’t interview a candidate just in your office. Go to lunch or dinner. Sit down in a conference room. Drive him around town (you want to show external candidates the community; even if you’re new to the community, they will be, too, and your perspective as a newcomer will be helpful to them). Give a tour of your offices (especially if you still have a sprawling newspaper plant or former plant). Go for a walk. Changing the setting changes the dynamic of an interview as well as giving the candidate a flavor of your community and workplace.
Give the candidate a chance to ask questions. This is more than a courtesy, though it is courteous. The questions may tell you as much about the candidate as the answers to your questions. This is especially important if you’re hiring a reporter. You’ll get a chance to see her in action, interviewing you about this job, you and your newsroom. Don’t take offense if she asks you a few tough questions, especially if he elicits candid answers that maybe you didn’t want to give. That’s what a good reporter does (and, even if you’re not interviewing someone for a reporting position, the journalistic sense of a good reporter is valuable).
Ask some ethical questions. Ask some what-if questions based on current issues in the news in journalism. (Right now, you might ask what he would have done if Edward Snowden had come to him with the story on NSA surveillance.) You want a good sense of the candidate’s decision-making process on ethical issues. The decision-making process here might be more important than whether the journalist would make the same decision you would (though discuss that if you disagree).
Start the interview in writing. When I was hiring community engagement staff for TBD and when we were hiring curators for Digital First Media, I asked candidates to tell me in their applications how they would do the job. If you’re hiring for a new job, the candidate’s vision for the job is one of the most important factors that you’re evaluating. While in-person questions help in evaluating that, you also want to see the thought and writing and creativity in expressing the vision.
Consider video interviews. In-person interviews are best, but you can choose the best candidates to interview in person by conducting initial interviews by Skype or Hangout, which, even with an occasional hitch in your connection, are far better than phone interviews.
Ask some of the same questions. One useful way to measure candidates against each other is to ask them each the same questions. Choose a few key questions relating to the job itself and ask them the same way to each candidate.
Don’t stick to a script. Other than those few questions that you will ask all the candidates, you want to react to the interview, asking follow-up questions, repeating a question the candidate doesn’t answer, etc.
Ask about challenges and failures. The candidate will come to your interview prepared to boast about achievements. That’s fine and you need to hear about those, but tough times tell us more about a journalist than the boasts. I often ask a candidate to tell me about her worst mistake ever. No one is prepared for that question (though people who do their homework will be prepared now), so you get a spontaneous answer, in contrast with the rehearsed answers you might have heard to questions they anticipated. You also get to see whether the candidate learns from mistakes, which is really important to me, or makes excuses or doesn’t accept responsibility for mistakes, which can be a red flag.
Take notes. Record some of your impressions and some things the candidate says during the interview. If you’ve done a good job screening candidates, you’ll have multiple strong contenders and the hire will be a tough decision. Notes will help identify topics for further research and will refresh your memory as you’re weighing two close candidates.
Ask for clips. If the candidate mentions a story (or video, photo or other journalism work) during the interview that you haven’t seen yet, ask her to send you a copy or a link. You’ll want to see if you think it’s as good as the journalist described.
Check facts. If something doesn’t sound right to you, do your own reporting and make sure the candidate is being truthful. Even if you don’t have suspicions, some random fact-checking may be a good idea, mostly to reinforce the positive impressions you had, but occasionally fact-checking will help you identify a BSer whose dishonesty could be troubling if he joins your staff.
Follow up. You’ll think of questions (or answers) after the interview. Ask them with a follow-up email or phone call. This also gives the candidate a chance to make points she thought of after the interview and/or to ask further questions.
Now for the crowdsourcing exercise: What are your tips for job interviews? What are your favorite questions?
Jennifer Paluzzi of the Lowell Sun responded by email with this advice:
Before I joined The Sun, I founded and ran a chain of hyperlocal news sites, CentralMassNews.com, and hiring reporters was both my favorite and least favorite task.
One item you don’t mention about the interview: I always did a show and tell with the websites. I wanted to see if they had done their homework and actually studied them and I wanted to see them react to the realities of the job. Were they tentative about the technology in the content management system, or did they talk about how they used something similar in a previous job or while blogging? Did they ask questions about site metrics? Did they offer any critiques about layout, ask how we handled video, photo galleries and site promotion through social media?
On Facebook, Don Nelson gave this answer:
If you ask lame-ass questions like “what are your weaknesses,” “where do you expect to be in five years” and “tell me why I should hire you,” you are a lazy, unprepared interviewer and they will know it.
Links to help job candidates nail the interview
Some people reading this will not be new editors, but the journalists they might be considering for jobs. So here are some links that might help journalists seeking jobs to perform well in interviews:
Want to contribute a guest post?
If you’re another Digital First editor (or a leader or former leader in another organization) and would like to propose a guest post as part of the series, email me at sbuttry (at) digitalfirstmedia (dot) com and we’ll discuss. Sue Burzynski Bullard provided such a post on organizational tools. Nancy March wrote about balancing work and personal life. Dan Rowinski wrote about mobile opportunities.
I’m not interested in a post of general leadership tips. I’d rather have a post on a particular leadership topic. Feel free to suggest a post that might address a topic I’ve already covered, but from a different perspective. I welcome posts that disagree with my advice. I will invite a few editors I respect to write posts.
Earlier posts with advice for editors
Here are topics I am planning on covering in this series (the order is uncertain). I hope to post at least one more this week. What other topics should I cover?
- Developing new leaders