How to Answer the Top 10 Journalist Interview Questions


You were editor of your school paper, and you’ve done a bit of freelancing. However, even with that experience under your belt, when it comes to your job search, it still comes down largely to the interview. Here are some tips on how to ace the 10 questions you’re most likely to be asked.

1. 'What did you do to prepare for this interview?'

While this question could be asked in almost any interview, it holds special relevance for journalism jobs. Your interviewer will be looking for research, both that you have the initiative to conduct research and that you know how to do it. The best answer you can give is how you researched the publication: the type of topics they cover, their editorial slant, their best writers, etc.

2. 'What stories should we be covering?'

This question is designed to uncover two things: your awareness of current events and of the publication’s editorial slant and readership. You can slide by with just describing the day’s top stories, but it will be even better if you can illustrate that those stories are relevant to the publication’s readership.

3. 'Which of our writers is your favourite, and why?'

This question is designed to determine how familiar you are with the publication. How you answer isn’t as important, rather that you have an answer. You should be able to mention one or two writers by name and describe what you like about them.

4. 'Who are your contacts? Who would be your sources for a big crime/political/natural disaster story?'

No matter how good a writer you are, you won’t do your employer much good if you can’t get the story. If you’re a local, being able to identify specific people you would use as contacts and why they’d be willing to talk to you can give you a competitive edge. If you’re not local, answer the question generically. Describe the type of position you’d need to contact for the type of story mentioned, and describe how you’d develop those contacts if you were hired.

5. 'Tell us about a time when you’ve found your own story.'

No publication wants to hire a journalist who sits there playing on the computer unless they’re assigned a story. They want to hire people who can come up with their own stories, either brand-new stories or new spins on old stories.

6. 'What would you do if you got a phone call that an explosion had happened in a nearby city?'

This question is designed to ferret out how you would handle a huge breaking story. They’re looking for you to acknowledge that it’s a balance between getting the story out and confirming the story. You do that by getting word out that, “We’ve received reports that….XYZ happened. Stay tuned for more information as we get it.” That accomplishes several things. It lets listeners/readers know that something big may be happening but that you haven’t confirmed it yet. It encourages them to stay with you to find out details without promising events that haven’t yet been confirmed.

7. 'What social media accounts do you have?'

When it comes to journalism these days, eyes matter. It’s not enough just to write compelling stories; you also have to promote those stories and get as many eyes on them as possible. You do that through Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon, Google+, and other social networks. The more social networks you’re involved with, the more eyes your prospective employer will think you can bring to the table.

8. 'How would you feel about working some evenings and weekends?'

This question is designed to determine whether you have realistic expectations about what to expect from a job in journalism. News happens when it happens, and it’s not always convenient. A journalist can’t expect a guaranteed 9-5 job. That’s just not realistic.

9. 'Which journalists do you admire?'

This question is designed to identify the characteristics shared by the journalists you admire. Are your role models serious, objective journalists? Or do they work by hyperbole, getting their audiences all worked up over something that turns out to be….well, nothing? The correct answer depends on the type of publication with which you’re interviewing.

10. 'How do you handle deadlines?'

The only right answer to this question is, “What do you mean? A deadline is a deadline.” There are no excuses or qualifications. You meet your deadline, or you’re not doing your job. Your interviewer is trying to find out whether you see deadlines as fixed points in time or as something that’s negotiable.

When you interview for jobs as a journalist, you may get questions that are just like these or questions that seem only vaguely related. But, whether obvious or not, the questions you get will be designed to reveal whether you possess the core characteristics shared by all competent, responsible journalists.