Tuesday, February 21, 2012...9:00 am

Six interview tips for journalism university candidates

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Last week saw interviews of a few dozen prospective candidates for places on the journalism degrees at UCA in Farnham. It was the usual mixed bunch, and some candidates failed to shine – despite the fact that is isn’t that hard, if you know what you’re doing.

So, how do you make the best impression in your interview for a university journalism course? Here are six tips.

  1. Research what’s in the news
    Because, you know, we’re going to ask you about it. Most candidates realised we would do this – but still a bit more preparation would have done them good. Of note: the sports journalism candidates who weren’t aware of the Rangers administration story that week.
  2. Keep a blog
    No one does this anymore, because blogging is so 2004. But if you decide at some point during your A Levels that your burning ambition is to be a journalism student, then getting a blog off the ground and keeping it going for a few months is a key thing to convince us you mean it.
  3. Put together an interesting portfolio 
    Rather than a few scrappy printouts, give us a nice, scrapbook style portfolio with a whole range of creative things in it. The best I saw was actually partly a photography portfolio. It was creative and attractive – and crucially revealed that the candidate could communicate through images. It’s a good indication of whether they could communicate with words too.
  4. Talk us through your portfolio with enthusiasm
    Have something to say about the work you’ve done. How did you research it? What did you learn by doing it? How could you do things better? What did you enjoy about it? The work itself is only one part of what we’re looking for from you.
  5. Have an idea what journalism actually is
    Many candidates did quite well on this. But still some will um and ah, and others will say things like: “journalism is about telling people your opinions”. Find out what journalists think journalism is and then tell us that’s what you think it is. Even if you really just want to tell people your opinions.
  6. Ask questions
    Every interview everywhere finishes with “do you have any questions”. For God’s sake have some. Yes – you can ask about the course. But, to shine, ask questions about journalism itself. The best question I got was about privacy and how legitimate I thought the coverage about Whitney Houston’s bathroom death was. It was a tough question to which I don’t have a fully thought-out answer. Be that candidate.

As a side note: journalism is one of those peculiar trades that are heavily over-subscribed by deluded youngsters, who believe it is glamorous and exciting – while it is also imploding financially thanks to problems with its business model. This means there are few jobs, mostly which do not pay well.

If you only realise this once you graduate, don’t blame us. Ask what the state of the journalism job market is at your university interview. If we aren’t straight with you, then you can get the lawyers in…

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