Is this job or internship the right fit for you?Nov 5th, 2009 | By joegrimm | Category: Internships
By MELISSA JORDAN
So you have a job offer, or at least an interview.
How can you find out if it’s the right job for you? Arm yourself with questions that can help you decide if the job, the newspaper and the company are a good fit and a place where you can grow.
Whether it’s an internship, a first job or a move anywhere along your career path, you should use your journalist’s skills to learn as much as you can about the opportunity.
Here are some areas to explore with the hiring manager:
It seems like every newspaper these days aspires to have a “coaching culture.” Delve into specifics to find out what that means. For example, ask: “How do you make sure employees get regular feedback?” An annual performance evaluation is one thing, but an ongoing emphasis on development is much more. Do supervisors receive training on how to coach? Are supervisors evaluated on the quality of their feedback?
2. Opportunities for growth.
Yes, you’re talking about a specific job right now. But think about how it could help you reach your long-term goals. “What have been some typical next steps for people who were successful in this job?” “How does your newsroom identify and groom its best and brightest?” “Are there clear paths for moving up in the organization?”
3. Training.To reach your career goals, you need to constantly improve your skills. Part of that happens naturally on the job, and part requires training. “What kind of commitment does this newsroom have to professional development?” Get specific. “Can I see this year’s in-house training schedule? Is there a tuition reimbursement program? Does the paper send people to seminars at places such as Poynter and API, and if so what is the selection process?”
The newspaper probably has a mission statement, and it probably is heavy on generalities. Dig deeper into what it means. Talking about the newspaper’s mission can help you decide if its priorities are a good match for your skills, interests and passions. Is its focus largely local? Does the area have a defining attribute that drives coverage? What is its role in the community? Try an open-ended approach: “Can you talk about how the newspaper’s mission affects some specific coverage decisions?”
If you value diversity as a core principle of journalism, make sure that any newspaper you go to does, too. Ask what priority the newspaper places on diversity — in coverage as well as in hiring. “What percentage of newsroom staff are women and people of color? What percentage of managers?” Other aspects of diversity are not as easily measured, but ask how the newspaper defines and embraces the concept. (Does it reflect people of all ages? Socioeconomic groups? Religious or political beliefs?) “Does the paper provide paid time off or pay registration and travel expenses for attending conventions such as the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Native American Journalists Association, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association?
Every newsroom has a culture; it’s the personality of the place. Ask a few people to tell you about the culture, and see if you hear similar themes. Is it hard-charging? Laid-back? Competitive? Collaborative? Ask about specifics and examples for any adjective that’s thrown out. What behaviors or actions are rewarded? Is there a culture committee or culture goals? A “writer’s” paper? A “top-down” paper? Ask: “What does that mean? Give me some examples.”
7. The job.
Find out as much as you can about the job you are seeking. Is there a written job description? Are there clear expectations? Is it a new position? If not, could you speak with the person who held the job? Is there an organizational chart for the department, so that you can see where this position fits into the big picture? Is there a specific yardstick that will let you know if you are achieving the goals of the job? (X number of stories on Page 1A in your first year? Work that wins prizes? Praise from readers? Impact in the community?)
8. The team.
Always ask if you can talk with people who would be your peers. They’ll give you an
in-the-trenches view that may be different from what the hiring manager tells you. Ask what it’s like to do their job. What’s the best thing about the paper? The worst thing? Whatever the most important issue is for you, ask them about it. (“Do you get to choose many of your own story ideas, or do you get more assignments from editors?” “Do copy editors have to call a reporter at home before changing anything in a story?” “Do photographers generate their own photo stories?” “Do you feel respected and valued at this paper?”) It would be a red flag if your new editors were close to making you a job offer but would not connect you with future peers to interview.
9. The boss.
Of course you want to know about your immediate supervisor. But a word of caution: Don’t fixate on finding the perfect supervisor, because they change. Frequently and without warning. Focus more on knowing the overall newsroom, the management philosophy, the nature of the work you’ll be doing. You can find lots of advice once you’re hired on the art of “managing up,” to help you have the best possible relationship with any supervisor. (A good start: If it’s not the immediate supervisor doing the hiring interview, ask if you could talk with him or her to find out more about the job. It’ll show you are interested and give you a chance to sell yourself.)
10. The company.
Who owns the newspaper? Is it privately held? Publicly traded? Controlled by one family? What is its reputation in the industry? This is another entire research project for you, but one that may be important in finding the right fit. Do your homework on the values and the quality of the parent company as well as of the newspaper itself.
Melissa Jordan wrote this as senior editor for recruiting and training at the San Jose Mercury News. She is now senior web producer at Bay Area Rapid Transit.
* Also from the book: You’ve got 60 seconds. Spend them wisely.