Interview questions to anticipate

February 1, 2010 at 2:26 am 1 comment

Hiring managers are often surprised by how what they view as basic, ordinary interview questions are met with stares and fumbled answers by otherwise sharp candidates. I have a theory as to why: Candidates tend to prepare and practice mini-speeches about their background, skills, experience and for journalism jobs, coverage they have handled in the past — not what they can do for their new employer.

Yet what interviewers often attempt to ascertain from candidates is just that — how they would perform in this new setting and culture, and with this set of goals and challenges. Things have gotten more sophisticated than the “What do you want to be doing in 10 years?” and “What are your strengths and weaknesses” in an attempt to figure out — not to trip up — whether the candidate will be comfortable and productive in this organization.

Here then, based on my own experience, thoughts from recruiters in online discussion groups and the quite good site, (which as part of its company reviews lists some standard interview questions from a range of employers) are the types of interview questions that those seeking journalism-related jobs are likely to be asked:

*How did you handle a particular problem or challenge in the past? Another way this query is sometimes phrased is: Tell me about a difficult situation you encountered (as a reporter, a manager, an editor, etc.) and how you resolved it. The interviewer here is looking for details — don’t be vague — about a specific situation you handled to try to judge your resourcefulness, attention to detail and your ability to solve problems on your own without bumping them upstairs. It’s best to tell a story, briefly, from beginning to end and to show how you came up with a good solution despite a vexing problem.  It’s also best if the situation doesn’t involve personalities — unless you are directly asked how you handled a problem person (sometimes asked of managers) — but of a situation involving a news story or coverage.

*Why do you want to work here? Another way this is phrased is sometimes a bit more general: What made you want to become a journalist? Or: Why do you want to be a (business, defense, political) reporter? This is a key question that I — and other recruiters in discussion groups — are surprised how often candidates appear unprepared to answer. The interviewer is getting at motivation, wants to make sure you have done your homework on the company or organization and also wants to get a sense of how committed you are to your chosen field. So make sure you have done your homework and have an answer that relates specifically to the company’s goals or operations. And in answering the broader question about why you wanted to become a journalist or a specific type of journalist, try to avoid giving the standard “I became a political junkie when I took my first poli sci class in college” or “I knew I wanted to be a journalist the minute I covered my first story for my high school newspaper.” Be more specific — what about journalism or the type of journalism you’re discussing compels you and then give examples of stories you’ve covered that showcase the coverage that most appeals to you (and which, presumably, this organization specializes in.)

*What would be your ideal job? This trips up job candidates as they are presuming the interviewer wants them to say: Why this job we’re discussing, of course. Perhaps that is truly the case and if it is, the candidate should say so. But usually, it’s really not, and the interviewer will be able to tell if you’re faking it. That’s partly why they ask. But what they’re really seeking is to see what kinds of things appeal to you, what your interests are and where you want your career to be headed. I think it’s best to be honest here. One of the best answers I received in this regard was from a young journalist applying to be a economics writer who said she wanted to be an international filmmaker. She then went on to explain her interest in foreign affairs and global economics (which was connected to the job for which she was applying), her love of film as a story-telling medium and her desire to travel abroad. She appeared quite sincere and it gave me a window into her long-range goals. Again, be specific and paint a picture of who you are but also how your interests relate specifically to the job opening you’re discussing.

*Some good news to report (one of my favorite things to do!!) and I’m especially happy to spread this news as it’s about two friends of this blog landing new jobs. They are:

*Leah Nylen, a CQ reporter who has covered a range of issues (including judicial issues) in her more than two years there, will join Main Justice, a news site that covers the Justice Department, as managing editor in D.C. Her last day at CQ is Feb. 12.

*Caitlin Webber, a CQ reporter for four years who for the past year has been covering foreign policy and homeland security, will be joining International Business-Government Counselors in D.C., an advocacy and consulting firm specializing in international trade, economic and investment issues, as a government relations counselor. Her last day at CQ is also Feb. 12.

Congratulations and much success in their new positions to Leah and Caitlin! And please pass along word of other job searches ending well — it provides hope and also gives hunters a sense of what kinds of jobs are being filled.

*And here are some fresh job and freelance leads to look over to start this new month and work week:

* is looking for freelancers to write articles and blog items targeted to its audience of corporate finance professionals:

Freelance Writers
Location: N/A is seeking freelance writers to produce articles and blogs, as well as contribute to our discussion forum. Successful candidates will have experience writing for our targeted audience of CFOs, treasurers and other corporate finance professionals on topics such as cash management, capital markets, compliance, risk management and deal making. They will also be self-starters who develop and execute fresh and compelling story ideas. Please send a resume and two relevant clips to:

*Thomson Reuters has an opening for an economic policy specialist in D.C. to help shape economic coverage for the “Reuters Insider” financial multimedia service:

Thomson Reuters
Economic Policy Specialist
Location: Washington, D.C.
Reuters’ new financial multimedia service, “Reuters Insider”, is looking for a Washington DC-based economic policy specialist. The successful candidate will use his/her deep understanding of economic policy as well as strong contacts in the White House, Treasury, Fed, and the Hill to help shape the service’s economic coverage.  He/she will develop story ideas, work with Reuters text reporters and columnists, appear on “Reuters Insider” programs, and interview newsmakers in the studio and in the field. Responsibilities will include providing daily on-camera analysis of economic policy news, developing long-range stories and series on trends and policy shifts, working with Reuters text reporters and BreakingViews columnists on story ideas and contacts and identifying, booking, and interviewing newsmakers.  Applicants should have between three to six years experience working as an economic journalist, you should have strong contacts at the White House, Treasury, Fed, and the Hill and have the ability to explain complex economic policies, interpret economic data, and make connections between them in a timely manner.  The ability to communicate ideas clearly and quickly, in short written updates and graphs as well as the ability to work as part of a team in a multimedia environment is a must.  A Master’s degree or equivalent is preferred and previous television training a plus but not required. Please apply online at:

* has openings in D.C. for a political reporter (to be the site’s full-time political correspondent on the Hill) and a deputy managing editor to coordinate, edit and publish content from the site’s writers:

Firedoglake » Two Job Openings at Firedoglake: DC Reporter and Deputy Editor

*The Agency for International Development (USAID) in D.C. is looking for a communications specialist:

Communications Specialist
Agency For International Development – Washington, DC
Job Title: Communications Specialist Agency: Agency… Duties:DUTIES: The Communications Specialist designs systems and processes for communication Bureau-wide… $89,033 – $115,742 a year
From Federal Government Jobs

*And last but not least today, another good opening with the federal government, this one for a public affairs specialist in Web communications in D.C. with the Department of Health and Human Services:

Public Affairs Specialist Web Communication
Health and Human Services: Office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services – Washington, DC
Specialist (Web Communication) in the Office of the Secretary, Office of the assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, Web Communications and New Media Division… $105,211 – $136,771 a year
From Federal Government Jobs

Happy hunting!



Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Don’t undersell yourself in job negotiations Why you might consider teaching while job hunting

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. rogerromon  |  February 9, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    I think you are right that sometimes they get startled when we ask simple questions since that breaks their prepared setup of a interview. I was earlier doing routine interviews and it used to turn out the candidates had faked the words since they were aware of the questions. This reflected later in their work. I also used interviewing templates from various people like proresource. They have free templates on this. I think you can get one from There are other sites i referred to.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

DC Works has moved!

I'm now blogging at I hope you'll join me there!

%d bloggers like this: