Sometimes, the questions you ask are more important than the answers you give.
Especially when you’re interviewing for a job as a reporter.
Every article offering career advice about how to interview will tell you to be ready to ask questions about the company and the job. The articles will tell you asking questions is an important way to demonstrate that you prepped for the interview, researched the company, have a high interest in the job, blah, blah, blah. When I eventually ask, “Do you have any questions for us?” I’m looking for all that and more. You see, the reporter will be spending a good chunk of his/her day asking questions, so he/she better be damn good at it during the interview. I’m gauging not only the quality of the questions, depth of research and interest level, but a bunch of other things, including the candidate’s delivery (essentially: can I send you out to interview a New Jersey CEO without embarrassing yourself and, by extension, me?). Extra points if you surprise me with one of your questions.
When Katie Eder interviewed for an online reporter opening, she did more than surprise me. She asked a question that was like a shot between my eyes: “What reservations, if any, do you still have about hiring me?” The never-before-asked question was brilliant on a few levels from this particular candidate. Katie was interviewing for this job straight out of college. Managing Editor Joe St. Arney and I had made clear to her before the interview that we had never hired someone who had no journalism experience beyond the college newspaper. But Katie came recommended so we agreed to meet with her. A big uncertainty was, would she be too intimidated to ask the tough questions a reporter needs to ask, especially of CEO types.
Clearly Katie wasn’t intimidated. And she was hired.
I still marvel that people are graduating from college and pursuing journalism careers. Talk about a shrinking job market and uncertain career path! And perhaps no one but a recent college graduate best understands the challenges facing news organizations today as they try to figure out how best to deliver news and hold readers’ attention (and, oh yeah, make money) in a crowded world of content.
Then you meet someone like Katie, and you get it. That a journalism job still offers many of the things it offered decades ago: the opportunity to learn something new every day, a place to channel your competitive drive, the adrenaline rush of reporting something first, the realization that a source trusted you (you!!) with a really big secret, the chance to smugly think “sucker” when pals complain about their boring desk jobs even if their paychecks are triple what yours is for working fewer hours, the surprise of starting with a notebook of scribbles that you can barely read and somehow turning it into a story you’re proud to have your name on. And the chance to ask a zillion questions, especially the tough ones that most people don’t have the guts to ask.
Katie basically landed her NJBIZ job with that “What reservations, if any, do you still have about hiring me?” question. Joe and I saw other reporter-like traits in Katie during that interview, but we kept coming back to that one question. It best demonstrated that Katie could be a reporter, and she became a reporter in the NJBIZ newsroom over the past year.
Today is Katie Eder’s last day at NJBIZ before she moves to a new job at another publishing company in New Jersey. When I said good-bye to Katie last night (I’m on vacation today), I told her to let me know if I can ever help her in the future.
I had no reservations about saying that. And, this time, Katie didn’t have to ask.