Passing the job interview test

Be on time. That’s the first rule to keep in mind if you’re lucky enough to get a job interview at a TV station. Rule number two: Allow plenty of time for your station visit, news directors say, because you’ll still have a lot to prove.

Be prepared to take a current events quiz and a writing test. You’d better know who represents the area and the state in Congress. One news director asks, “Who is John Roberts?” [Hint: He’s not talking about the CNN anchor.] Post’s writing test asks “not only for broadcast but AP style because you’re going to be writing for the Web.” And bring some story ideas if you interview at Neal Bennett’s station, WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, Va.

I have reporter interviewees show up before our morning meeting and I’m going to call on you and you’d better have a good story idea. And it can’t be localizing a national story.

“I like them to spend time in the newsroom to see how they get along with others,” said Mark Kraham, news director at WHAG-TV in Hagerstown, Md., during a panel discussion at the RTNDA convention in Las Vegas last week.

“You won’t just meet with the news director,” said Jerry Post, news director at KXLY-TV in Spokane, Wash. “After you leave, I’ll ask everybody what they think.” He tells applicants to make sure they learn about the market and the station ahead of time so they can ask informed questions.

Chris Carl, news director at WDEL in Wilmington, Del., urges applicants to be honest with themselves about the demands of a job in news. “Are you willing to work nights and weekends, to stay at the station for days if there’s a big storm?”

Be prepared for obvious, big picture questions like: Where do you want to be in five years? What are your goals? What kind of stories do you like to tell? “Don’t say you like people stories,” Post said. “All of your stories will have people in them.”

And if you do get a job offer, be prepared to sign a contract for two years, iron clad. What’s negotiable in a first contract? Nothing, said Post.

You’re going to give it to your parents’ lawyer and they’ll say, ‘They own you.’ But we’re taking a risk on you. We’re going to make an investment in you and give you training.

My two cents: Make sure the station really will help you get better. Talk to “alumni” about their experience. Find out what kind of gear the station has and how much you’ll do live. If you’re going to sign away two years of your life for a shockingly low salary, make sure you’ll get everything they’re not paying you for.