Burning question on how to get on in journalism? Career crisis? Training dilemma?

BBC News recruitment account manager Daniell Morrisey is on hand to help. Email your questions to careers@journalism.co.uk.

"I’m very nervous about my job interview. What’s the best way to prepare for it? Do you have any tips on what I should focus on?" RD, London

Preparation, preparation, preparation

There's no excuse for a lack of research. As a journalist, it is one of your key skills and, with the internet, there is so much information close to hand. Of the hundreds of journalists that I have interviewed, lack of preparation is the number one mistake.

Almost all of us feel interview nerves – especially if we have not been interviewed for quite a while. On the one hand, the adrenaline can work in your favour by helping you think faster on your feet. On the other, you can become tongue-tied, forget to talk about some of your most important achievements and talk about things you did not really mean to mention.

First tip: remember interviewers are often nervous too! Far from playing games and tricks, their first priority is to get the job filled with the most suitable person and that can often bring its own anxieties.

Know the job

Study the job specification – it is not just an advert for the vacancy; it is telling you what they are looking for. You can use this as a guide to the areas that you are likely to be questioned about.

What skills are required? What technical and subject knowledge are they expecting? What are the soft skills like team working, planning, organising, influencing and persuading?

Once you are clear on these, think through the examples that best demonstrate your skills and experience. Write these down. Your most relevant examples might be from your current or previous job. If you do not have anything appropriate, consider school and college work, work experience and hobbies that might make useful demonstrations.

Find someone to chat to about the job. Sometimes a contact will be given on the job spec or advert – if so, call them. If not, phone the company’s recruitment team and ask who you can talk to. Who in your contact book might be able to tell you more about the job?

If you are going for a job in the same organisation where you already work, is it possible to work alongside someone for an afternoon in the area you have applied for? The job spec is a great start but talking to people in the job, or even better shadowing them, will put you ahead of the crowd.

Know the company

Practically every organisation has a website, so use it to find out about the company and the relevant department.

For example, the BBC has an extensive site including the annual report, facts and figures, biographies and all the latest press information at www.bbc.co.uk/info.

In journalism, you have got to know the content – the programme, the channel, the website. What is the audience, the agenda, the editorial style? This is the most important part of your preparation and the biggest mistake for many interviewees. What do you like and dislike?

The interviewers will be looking for a decent, honest critique of the content that shows that you are familiar with it and that you understand its audience. You will often be asked to demonstrate this further by coming up with ideas for stories, so be prepared.

Know the industry

Keep up with what is happening in the industry. Read the industry magazines and websites. Many of them (journalism.co.uk included) have free email newsletters that you can subscribe to.

If you are being interviewed for a particular programme, magazine, newspaper or website, do you know who the competitors are? You are probably going to be asked to compare and contrast them.

You should be up-to-date with your legal knowledge, and if you are being interviewed as a journalist with the BBC, expect questions on current editorial policy - see www.bbc.co.uk/info/policies/producer_guides.

The practicalities

When and where is the interview? Turning up late and sweaty will give you a bad start. Make sure you have clear directions and give yourself plenty of time to get there. If you are going somewhere unfamiliar, can you dry run the journey?

Find out who is interviewing you – who are they, what are their job titles? Google them. Make sure you have the right people but do not freak them out by demonstrating an intimate knowledge. Just knowing something of who they are might help you include something in your interview that will interest them in particular.

Dealing with nerves

If you get seriously nervous, then arrive in plenty of time. Find somewhere quiet and do some breathing exercises. In the interview, take your time and do not rush to answer a question. Just pause, let the question sink in and then answer.

Remember, it is a two-way conversation, so participate – try to actively listen to what is being asked and if you are unclear, ask for clarification. If you feel you have given a bad example, then come back with another until you feel you have answered the question fully.

Take in your own notepad – you do not want piles of notes but a few bullet points can help you focus on saying the things that you want to talk about.

Nerves often mean that when you are asked if you have any questions, you can not think of a thing to say. To the interviewer, this can look like you are not interested or you can not think on your feet, so have a couple of questions prepared on your notepad.

Nowadays, we are all amateur specialists in body language, so people read all sorts of interpretations in to eye movements and hand gestures. Just remember the basics – make eye contact with each of the interviewers and smile and nod. It makes it more inclusive and more like a conversation.

It is really useful to rehearse – so get a friend to practice interviewing you. Ask them for feedback on your answers – and also ask them to watch your body language carefully.

Most of us never fully get over interview nerves – and adrenaline can be a good thing – but plenty of preparation will help you focus, will help you concentrate on your success stories – and, whilst practice might not make perfect, it will certainly make it easier.

Daniell Morrisey is recruitment account manager at BBC News. To find out about vacancies at the BBC, visit the jobs portal at www.bbc.co.uk/jobs. To get your careers questions answered, email careers@journalism.co.uk.

More news from journalism.co.uk:
Good job prospects for online journalists
BBC opens doors to trainee journalists
BBC offers discounted courses to freelancers
Journalism students offered £10K bursaries

Daniell Morrisey is leading a CV and job interview clinic in London. Click the link to find out more.

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