MACON, Ga. — I serve on the board of the Center for Collaborative Journalism, housed here at Mercer University. Two weekends ago, we had our annual board meeting, which was part of the Engagement Summit, a national un-conference devoted to breaking down barriers between journalists and the communities they serve.
As part of the weekend, I had the chance to interview, with a partner, potential Mercer University journalism students for a generous scholarship program. It was an illuminating experience. Below are 10 lessons I’m sharing with you so you can be prepared for your next interview, whether it’s for a job, a fellowship, a scholarship or another opportunity.
- Dress like you already have the job/scholarship. Of the three students I interviewed, two were dressed properly, wearing suits. The third student looked like he rolled in from a study session in the library (polo shirt, wrinkled khaki pants, old Docksider shoes). He did not make a good impression.
- Show up early so you’re on time. Our time is valuable, and we had a set schedule to interview people, so be there when you’re scheduled. Timeliness is also critical for journalists, so if you can’t show up on time for an interview, that speaks volumes.
- Make eye contact regularly. Only one of the applicants made regular eye contact with me and my interview partner. The second applicant only looked at me when I asked a direct question, while the third one (who was dressed casually) looked everywhere but at us.
- Don’t be afraid to ask an interviewer to repeat a question. One of the applicants didn’t follow this rule. As a result, he answered the questions, but they were the wrong answers. Listening is key as a journalist, so again, he made a bad impression (and yes, it’s the same guy who wasn’t dressed appropriately and didn’t maintain eye contact).
- Use silence if you need to think about an answer — but not too much. One applicant took a few seconds to think about our question and was able to give a thoughtful answer. But one felt like he had to answer everything quickly, and the result wasn’t good.
- Pretend like you care-even if you don’t. One applicant made no attempt to show his disinterest in the interview process (yes, badly dressed dude again). If you’re not feeling the interview, don’t waste time by attending.
- If the interview asks if you have any questions, have one or two ready in your head. This is where you can show that you were paying attention during an interview. It’s also another chance to make a good impression.
- Say thank you and offer a firm handshake at the end of an interview. It’s simple manners to say thank you after an interview. And you can make that final good impression by offering your interviewer a firm handshake. Two of the students did. Guess which one didn’t?
- Ask for a business card or contact information. You are building your network, so you need to collect information from people who may be able to help you in the future, even if you don’t get that job/scholarship this time.
- Write and snail mail a thank-you card. The art of writing is becoming a lost one. Stand out from the crowd by sending a hand-written thank-you card to your interviewer. Trust me — this goes a long way.
Do you have a career question or want more information about the world of work? Send it to me at auntbenet AT gmail DOT com. You may be included in a future column!
Benét J. Wilson is the founder and owner of Aviation Queen LLC, a freelance writing, multimedia and consulting firm. She is a freelance aviation/travel journalist and blogger who has written for publications and blogs including USA Today, AirwaysNews.com, CrankyFlier.com, ACI-NA Centerlines magazine, Aviation International News, Airport World, the Airline Passenger Experience magazine and the Runway Girl Network. She currently serves on the board of the Online News Association, where she chairs the Diversity Committee. She is also vice president-digital of the National Association of Black Journalists and serves on the board of the Center for Collaborative Journalism.