August 21, 2002

You won’t find many newsroom leaders who will quibble with the idea
that hiring is one of, if not the most, important things we do.
Selecting the right person for the right job.

It begins with the art of interviewing. Getting to know a
candidate by more than clips and resumes. Learning strengths and
weaknesses, likes and dislikes. Discovering idiosyncrasies that may
enhance or distract from their performances. And much, much more.

There is no one way to interview. No dead-solid system that is
mistake proof. But there are people who do it extremely well and have a
successful track record.

We asked editors around the country to tell us their secrets, and we are pleased to share them with you.

Gregory Favre
Distinguished Fellow in Journalism Values

What do you look for in an interview?
How would you describe your interviewing style?
What are the most important questions?
What are the most important elements in the hiring decision?
What, if any, are the wackiest questions and answers you have heard?

What do you look for in an interview?

James Amoss, Editor, The Times-Picayune
I put the interview at the end of the process. Armed with reference
checks (very important and much neglected by hiring editors), an
application form that asks detailed questions about education, work
history and reasons for applying, and, in the case of writers, clips,
there’s more fodder for an interview. I look for people who have a high
energy and curiosity level; who are dying to work here; who will add to
the diversity of our news operation; who want to excel; who have that
indescribable knack for our craft; who are likely to thrive on the
idiosyncrasies of New Orleans and stay here a good long while; and who
will be fun to work with.

Peter Bhatia, Executive Editor, The (Portland) Oregonian
depends on the position for which we may be hiring, but I always look
for two factors: intelligence and curiosity. If a candidate possesses
both of those characteristics, chances are they are or will be a
successful journalist. Potential is important, too. We’re always
looking for people still on the way up, still interested in improving,
still, as a TV commentator once said about an athlete, someone “who has a
future ahead of him!” (As compared to behind him, I guess…) In other
words, we want journalists who can help the paper improve. This might
be a young journalist just out of college whose youth, energy or
extraordinary background helps us in a unique way. Typically, however,
we’re looking for people of experience whose skills as a writer,
reporter, photographer, designer or editor build on what we have and/or
have a specific expertise that gives us new capabilities. Diversity
plays into that as well. Now and again, a superbly talented candidate
comes across the transom or otherwise seeks us out and does not fit a
specific need we might have at the time. I’m grateful that we have had
the flexibility and willingness (at least before the economic downturn)
to divert from the preplanned course and find room for such people who
can truly make the paper better, even if they don’t, for example, solve
the need of having enough copy editors to properly handle our zone
production on deadline at night.

John Carroll, Editor, Los Angeles Times
am never great at interviewing, but I have had some success by using
reporters’ techniques to evaluate candidates — checking references
closely, finding additional references, etc. An interviewee can put on
a good act for an hour, but nobody can erase his actual deeds on the
job over a period of years. I do regard the interview as important. I
look for some of the intangibles, such as character, passion for
journalism, desire to be at my particular paper, and so on. I also like
to ask specifically, step by step, how the candidate would start out if
given the job; that tends to shed light on how sophisticated he is.
Other thoughts: I’m wary when I hear whining about a previous employer
(Unless it’s over an ethical or serious journalistic issue.). For some
reason, I like to know how candidates decided to go into journalism. I
also ask candidates about their current papers and their best editors;
sometimes that can lead to future hiring. The main thing I did with
candidates over the years in Baltimore was to make sure Bill Marimow
interviewed them. He very often picked up things I missed, and his
radar for character was almost unerring. Between the two of us, we made
some good hires.

Joe Distelheim, Editor, The Huntsville (Ala.) Times
job interviews are more intuitive than regimented. By the time
interviewees get to me, we’ve presumably already established their
journalistic credentials via resume, clips, reference checks. I want to
know about the person — what kind of coworkers they’re going to be.
Energetic? Meticulous? Gregarious? Glass half full or empty? Stickler
for rules or a risk-taker? Relationships with past
supervisors/supervisees. What kind of mind they have. I try to get them
talking about outside-the-office interests — reading habits, admired
writers, reasons for career choice, family/childhood influences,
values. There are no right answers, of course, but this part of the
conversation is an indicator of thoughtfulness. What they know about
us — city and newspaper. I put great stock in the applicant’s
preparation for an interview as an indicator of good work habits and a
disciplined mind. I also note the quality of the applicant’s questions
of me. I’m not comfortable conducting “stress” interviews; I’m just not
built that way. I try to put people at ease enough to carry on a
conversation, rather than a grilling, and try to remember to keep my
mouth shut and theirs open as much as possible. Unless an interview
goes exceedingly badly, the most important element in the hiring
decision, I tell people, is quite tangible: What evidence exists that
the applicant can do the job? Demonstrated ability to
write/edit/illustrate stories for a daily newspaper is the most
convincing evidence for me.

Pam Fine, Managing Editor, (Minneapolis) Star Tribune
of a leader: someone who wants to put their imprimatur on the paper;
someone who’s hungry to get stuff accomplished, who will be proactive
about working with others to strengthen beats, make sections stronger,
take better photos, improve recruiting or whatever the position calls
for…and then I try to determine if the prospect’s drive is matched by
his or her track record.
–Good communicator…I’m partial to
upbeat extroverts who are comfortable engaging with others, expressing
their views and can articulate their ideas. I’ve made the mistake of
hiring smart introverts. They may have good ideas but staffers would
have to be psychics to know it.
–Enjoys collaboration. It takes a
village, or at least a lot of people working together, to put out the
newspaper. I try to assess whether the job candidate is going to be
someone who thinks about what his staff or peers need to know from him
or her. Is this someone who is about ”me” or is about ”us”? ”Me”
is all right for certain jobs but not for leaders. The leaders have to
constantly think about how they’re affecting others, or not. Will they
use their knowledge, insight and resources to help others do a good
–Shares our values. Do we have similar notions about what’s
important and where the newsroom ought to be heading? Assuming the core
values–accuracy, fairness, balance– are shared. How about the need
for diversity, listening to readers, interactivity, multimedia
training, good graphics, storytelling, etc.

Carolina Garcia, Managing Editor, San Antonio Express-News
they’re bright, have native intelligence, ask questions, show
curiosity, ask me hard questions about philosophy of the newsroom — the
newspaper’s goal in covering the community, though few ask about
diversity. I’m also looking for someone who can carry a conversation,
can ask and respond with ease and intelligence. If it’s a designer, I
want them to articulate what they’re trying to do on a page. Why did
they pick that photo over another, etc. Ditto for a photographer. What
was the photographer trying to capture when they took the picture. What
did they think about their work after it ran in the paper. We attract a
lot of photogs because we tend to run large weekend packages with
outstanding art, and we’re developing a photo-friendly reputation, I
think. For writers, I try to find out what they read, who they read,
what they’ve read recently. Can they speak to writing styles, are they
familiar with multiple styles, etc? Also, why did they pick a
particular story for their clipping file? How did they get a story, why
did they write it that way? How did the subject/source feel later? Did
they even ask the subject/source?

Anders Gyllenhaal, Executive Editor, News & Observer
don’t think there’s anything remotely close in importance to hiring
decisions, so we spend a huge amount of time on this. We ask folks to
do a lot of work, including an essay on themselves and their work, a
critique of the paper, a piece on serving the community, and as many
clips or photos or graphics as they want to send. I love to see
first-person things from writers, because I think that tells you
something you can judge any other way. Anybody not interested in doing
that work isn’t going to be a person you’d want to hire. With all that
background, I find interviewing is a very different process than if
you’re coming to somebody cold and you have to cover all that ground.

Charlotte Hall, Managing Editor, Newsday
the interview, I am looking for intellectual curiosity, a passion for
the craft and the ability to engage strangers in meaningful
conversation (isn’t that what reporters have to do much of the time?).
Not all great reporters do good interviews–so the interview is only
one measure, and we have to be careful, as interviewers, not to succumb
to charming personalities or be turned off by crusty or reticent

Craig Klugman, Editor, The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne
look for intelligence, poise, commitment, and enterprise. Someone who
is visibly nervous in my presence won’t do much better in front of the
mayor. I usually allot about an hour for an interview with
reporter-photographer-copy editor-illustrator type. If the conversation
goes significantly over that, I think that is one signal that the
interview has been successful. (For people who are applying to be, say,
the metro editor, I spend considerably more time with them.) A person
who is not committed to newspapers will have trouble getting a job with
mine. A person who has not done much homework about Fort Wayne or The
Journal Gazette has a strike against him or her. A person who is not
interested in NEWS might as well stay home. A good education will go a
long way with me.

Bill Marimow, Editor, Baltimore Sun
look for a record of excellence and achievement in the applicant’s life
and work: It could be outstanding grades. I remember being impressed by
Tom Pelton’s astronomical average at Georgetown (Pelton was a reporter
in New Haven when I first met him; now he’s here at The Sun). Or it
could be accomplishments in sports: If someone was an outstanding long
jumper or
an All East defensive end, that would tell me that they
have the grit and discipline to stand out as a journalist. (Kurt
Streeter, who joined The Sun and left for the LA Times comes to mind;
he was captain of Berkeley’s tennis team, and was later a pro tennis
player). Or it could be leadership: I remember being very impressed by
a young woman who was the editor of the student newspaper at Syracuse.
Equally important, I believe, are the quality of one’s clips: I look
for stories that I wished I had written — stories with great detail in
the reporting or a creative use of public records or vivid imagery in
the writing. In terms of qualities, I like people who combine tenacity,
determination, and ambition with humanism and compassion. That’s often
hard to find and — in an interview — sometimes hard to discern. I
also like applicants whose parents have been teachers; that’s a
personal prejudice. John Carroll also taught me that if people say the
applicant is the best reporter at their paper, it is a VERY strong
predictor of their potential for success at your paper.

Earl Maucker, Editor, Sun-Sentinel
the role I play is to make myself the last person in the interviewing
process. What I usually tell a candidate is that I let my department
heads make the decision, but I am here to explore their longer-term
career goals and to make myself available to answer any questions they
might have about the Sun-Sentinel or the Tribune company. Because they
feel I am not the primary decision-maker in the process, they tend to
relax a bit and allow me to get a bit deeper into their thinking. My
style is to make them feel comfortable, think of me as a good guy – a
friend – an ally in the process. I assume my departments have examined
their skills thoroughly. I want to get into their heads. I am not going
to test their copy editing skills or reporting skills. I want to know
about attitude – instincts – sense of purpose – work ethic – that kind
of thing. As we talk I can find out lots of details: Did they do their
homework. Do they know our newspaper. Do they know our market. What do
they think of the paper. What do they see as its strengths – its
weaknesses. How do they think they could make it better. How
comfortable are they in a very diverse atmosphere. What is their level
of critical thinking. Have they worked the newsroom to find out the
thinking of the rank and file. I want to know if they really understand
what journalism is all about. I want to know how they feel about
readers – about the social purpose of journalism. I want to see passion
not only for journalism, but also for being here. In South Florida and
at the Sun-Sentinel. I want a sense of commitment – I want to know they
intend to be here – not just because it is a fun place to work or an
exciting news market, but because they want to contribute to making the
Sun-Sentinel a better newspaper. My hope is that they interview me as
thoroughly as I interview them.

Gregory Moore, Managing Editor, Boston Globe
look for fire and passion in the candidate. I am looking for the energy
force that drives that person to want to succeed. Another thing that is
very important is ambition. Not naked ambition, but I do want people
who aren’t afraid to say they want to be great. A person who is
properly ambitious will use the opportunity and resources of the Globe
to do terrific work that will reflect well on them and the institution.
I also look for confidence in candidates and the ability to think
through the unexpected. So I always throw in an off the cuff question
based on some area we have explored and see what kind of answer I get.
Sometimes the best answer is deftly avoiding answering the question.
Lastly, I am always trying to get a good handle on why this person
wants to work for the Globe. Usually, if it is for personal reasons, a
girlfriend or boyfriend, I am less interested in them.

Ed Petykiewicz, Editor, The Ann Arbor News
want folks, who are bright, have passion in their work and have fun
doing it. I also look for traits such as tenacity, depending on the
particular job we are trying to fill. More than anything else, I want
someone with a strong work ethic and a great attitude. We can teach or
improve job skills, but there is not much you can do with someone who
is not willing to work hard. I also want folks who are team players
with strong, well-reasoned opinions. I look very carefully at resumes,
and press on anything that looks odd such as gaps between jobs. Whacky
answers? In the last month or so, we asked a job candidate to explain a
discrepancy between his resume and how he answered a question. “Which
resume do you have,” he asked. “Oh, I sent you the wrong one.” He then
opened his briefcase, pulled out a new one. Unlike the one he mailed
us, this one no longer had any employment gaps. When asked to explain
the differences in the two resumes, he said: “Well, I don’t want to
talk about that.” Needless to say, he dropped from our list of
candidates in a hurry. He looked very strong until that point.

Mike Pride, Editor, The Concord Monitor
be honest, the first question we try to answer is whether we like the
person. We’re going to be working at close quarters with the people we
hire for years. Chemistry is important; professional relationships
matter. We also look for ambition. Not ambition to be the editor of the
New York Times, but direction and focus. “I love politics and I want to
get inside it and explain it.” “I want to write, write, write so I can
build on the skills I already have.” That kind of ambition. We look for
a life (even if it is a short one so far) of curiosity. About what
doesn’t matter much. We look for a record of success — an indication
that the applicant has approached some endeavor with zeal and produced
results. We try to figure out in interviewing applicants what they have
done that might indicate an ability to find stories. This is the most
important on-the-job asset at the Monitor. The job for a reporter is to
find a story every day. In towns where unintended irony passes for
humor and silence is often the first and only reaction to young
newcomers, it’s important that reporters have the guile and energy to
find things out. We always walk applicants through their resumes and
often linger on one aspect or another of their pasts.

Sandy Rowe, Editor, Portland Oregonian
the interview, I’m trying to determine what I think of the person and
his/her chance of success rather than focusing primarily on the
specific journalistic skill. I want to get to know the candidate as a
person–and sometimes I succeed pretty well. My competitive streak
makes me want to find out things about the applicant that the 8-12
others who talk to them don’t find out. I frequently do. The first time
I interviewed Janet Weaver for a job (I hired her twice) she left my
office and reportedly told someone in the newsroom, “My God, that woman
knows everything but my shoe size.” That’s my goal. I want to know what
motivates applicants; what has been the greatest challenge or biggest

disappointment they have faced (either personally or professionally)
and how they dealt with it; what things make them angry or happy; what
they are passionate about outside of family; what relationships are
most important to them and always, always WHY. It is not unusual for
applicants to say later they have told me things in an interview that
they had only told their best friend; it’s not unusual for an applicant
(male or female) to cry in an interview because of some emotional chord
I’ve touched. I try to lead an applicant to be introspective and from
that to glean some idea of their values and their level of
self-awareness, both of which are critical to success. My questions are
open-ended and psychological enough that one applicant, mid-interview,
moved from the chair where he was sitting to the sofa in my office,
reclined on the sofa, looked at me and said, “Next question, doctor.” I
hired him.

Charlie Waters, Executive Editor, Fresno Bee
once asked Paul Tash, when he was my city editor at the St. Petersburg
Times, how the paper got so many talented people. His answer was simple
and direct: “We look for smart people.” I would add inquisitiveness and
enthusiasm to that, but nothing beats smarts. Just like you can’t teach
speed in athletics, you can’t give people brains either. You can only
on both.

Janet Weaver, Executive Editor, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
the time a job candidate gets to me, he/she has been through the mill
already in my newsroom. I usually feel confident that this is someone
who has journalistic skill and that my folks think is a good prospect.
So I try to find out a little more about the person and the fit in the
newsroom. I’m looking for two things: passion and flexibility.

David Zeeck, Executive Editor, News-Tribune, Tacoma
looking for a responsibility-seeker with critical thinking skills,
writing capacity and an appreciation for community journalism
(regardless of newspaper size). Also an ability to work in a
collaborative way. I want them to be smart and fun to work with. I want
them to have good ideas and push for better stories or ways to gather
or tell stories (same with photos,
graphics, design, etc).

How would you describe your interviewing style?

James Amoss, Editor, The Times-Picayune
relaxed as I can make it. Candidates don’t reveal themselves when
tense. I spend at least an hour with every candidate for a full-time
newsroom job, usually over a meal or coffee. Never across a desk in my
office. I try to get to know these people, not cross-examine them, so I
want to make it as conversational as possible. I don’t mind being asked
questions by interviewees, although the balance of the questioning
should be with the interviewer. In those settings, people open up, for
better or worse. Recently, a reporter candidate, after an hour in the
cafeteria, told me at length about his editor’s request that he appear
on an affiliated TV channel to discuss a story he had covered and how
proud he was to have refused, because he didn’t think TV could do his
story justice. That anecdote gave me pause about the candidate’s
willingness to do what was asked of him. Another recent candidate was
being driven to the suburban bureau we were considering him for. Three
times during the drive, he asked, “How much further is it?” He made it
clear, despite protestations to the contrary, that a far-flung bureau
would not be a good fit.

Peter Bhatia, Executive Editor, Portland Oregonian
try to keep interviews friendly and conversational. Again, because I am
late in the day, thus being flexible on time and sometimes at the end
of two days of interviewing here, I am tolerant of long asides
especially if they take us interesting places in the conversation. I
always try to find points of common interest ? schools, majors,
cultural, geographic, reportorial, common past employers, people we
know in common, favorite sports teams, family histories, what have you
? to get insight into them as people. (Having the large hat collection
in my office that I do is usually a good conversation starter.) I will
ask the more difficult questions that need to be asked about holes in
resumes or why they left wherever when they did. But I also want to
hear about their hometowns and their kids and their families and what
they do for fun.

Pam Fine, Managing Editor, Star Tribune
try to keep make the candidate comfortable by making a connection to
where they’re from or something in their background. I like to keep
things casual but focused.

Carolina Garcia, Managing Editor, San Antonio Express-News
try to listen, ask questions. Talk less. I’ve been interviewed by
managers for upwards of two hours and barely got in three sentences. I
vowed never to do that to someone.

Anders Gyllenhaal, Executive Editor, News & Observer
like to jump into the middle of things with plenty of time, a very
conversational approach, hopping all around. Lots of times I like to
walk around the company, if we’re here, which gives you a different
sense of a person. I also want to have dinner with people, if it’s a
key hire, because you learn so much more over that stretch of time.

Charlotte Hall, Managing Editor, Newsday
try to conduct interviews as relaxed conversations. I figure the
candidate is nervous and, perhaps, shy, so I try to put him/her at
ease. I don’t go for “stress” type interviewing or mind-twister

Craig Klugman, Editor, The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne
told I intimidate interviewees, though I try hard not to. I try to find
out something about the person that has little if anything to do with
journalism. What, I will ask, were your favorite subjects in school
outside journalism? Why? I ask what books they read, magazines they
subscribe to, interests and enthusiasms they have. If the person is
applying to be a sports copy editor, I ALWAYS ask if she or he is
really interested in writing and is applying for the open job just to
get in the door. I try to get enough information to get at the
attributes I mentioned in your first question–how would I assess this
candidate’s intelligence, poise, commitment, and enterprise? I would
describe my interviewing technique as serious, detailed but collegial
and friendly.

Gregory Moore, Managing Editor, Boston Globe
style is very relaxed. I usually sit on a couch or at a table with the
candidate. We start out with small talk: how has the day gone? Do you
know anyone at the Globe? how did you hear about the job? etc. Then I
go into the more specific interview. I try to make sure to ask pointed
questions about stories in the packet: we talk about how a story was
written, we talk about leads and use of quotes. I try to ask legally
permissible questions about the person — where he or she grew up,
number of siblings, what their parents do for a living. And then I
leave time for the candidate to ask me questions.

Ed Petykiewicz, Editor, The Ann Arbor News
interviewing style varies, depending on particular situations and
whether I am one of a few folks involved in the interview process or
one of many. I tend to ask open-ended questions, and I also put
candidates into hypothetical situations. Often, in these, there are no
correct or incorrect answers. I look closely at how the job candidates
work their way through the situation. I try to figure out if their
answers reflect a philosophical approach, if they’re consistent, if
they’re willing to state when they are unsure, etc. I think this type
of situation is more important when interviewing a candidate for a
management position, but it gives insights into just about any
candidate. I’ve also asked reporters to interview me, sometimes first
sketching a hypothetical scenario. Folks, who aren’t quick on their
feet, aren’t going to be great reporters. I also ask general questions
about their current job, the things they don’t like about it and the
general environment at their current paper. These types of questions
give a lot of insight into attitude.

Mike Pride, Editor, The Concord Monitor
quick-moving, bouncing around, but giving the applicant time to think
and respond. If I’m interested in a particular aspect of the resume,
even if it doesn’t seem germane to the job in question, I’ll pursue it
(e.g., Why did you sing in the chorus, and what did you get out of it?
was it like growing up all around the world in a military family?) I
like people who think before they answer, and often it is the last part
of the answer that is the most telling. I also like to spell out the
expectations very clearly; I try to be sure we do this at least twice
during the interview.

Sandy Rowe, Editor, Portland Oregonian
would describe my style as conversational but intense. Those being
interviewed frequently cite the intensity. I try to help the person
relax–just as a reporter does in a story interview, but then I try to
get them to spill their guts.

Charlie Waters, Executive Editor, Fresno Bee
hope it is friendly and focused. I generally spend about 45 minutes
with every person we are considering for a professional newsroom
position. I try to divide that in equal parts:
1. Just talking about them, their careers, their goals and why they are interested in The Bee.
I want everyone who works in this newsroom to completely understand
what we are trying to do here, so this part is mainly me talking to
them about our values and goals, both for our journalists and for the
newspaper and its readers.
3. The last part is generally clean-up,
giving them a chance to ask questions about part two, following up on
other things that have caught my interest, and/or giving both of us a
chance to sell ourselves or “close the deal,” if we are so inclined. I
always end each interview by thanking them for coming to see us and for
considering The Bee as an employer.

Janet Weaver, Executive Editor, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
style is to be very casual and conversational, and hope the candidate
will be, too. I always talk about what we aspire to for this newsroom
and this newspaper; I want to see how they latch on to those thoughts
and build on them, if they do.

David Zeeck, Executive Editor, News-Tribune, Tacoma
I’ll ask questions all over the lot. I have some basics, but I also
think my job is to get to know the person. I want to know their
personal story.
I’ll ask people what’s the most important thing in the world to them. (No thinking allowed; what springs to mind.)
I’ll ask whom the most influential people in their lives are, both professionally and personally.
What’s on their bedside table right now for reading.
sports questions of city-side candidates and political questions of
sportswriters; interested in their general fund of knowledge.

What are the most important questions?

James Amoss, Editor, The Times-Picayune
want to know how people feel about their current workplace. Unless it’s
known to be a wretched sweatshop, chances are that someone’s who’s
deeply unhappy with their situation and colleagues will remain so when
they come to us. So I ask: What’s the best/worst thing about your
current job? Or: If you had a little sister and she was interested in
going to work for the Towncrier-Gazette, what would you tell her about
what it will be like for her? I want to know what a candidate thinks
he/she does best. I ask them to walk me in detail through an assignment
or project they were proud of. It gives insight into their contribution
and their ability to work with others. I want to know what makes them
tick. I ask: If you weren’t a journalist, what would you be? Other
questions: How did you get this scoop? Or how did you report this
complex story? How and when did you become interested in journalism? If
I interview them after they’ve been here a day or so, I ask: What’s
struck you about the town, the newsroom? A good journalist is quick to
size up. New Orleans being a strange place, I look for signs that they
appreciate it. We’ve put up interviewees in Bourbon Street hotels
during Carnival. If they can handle that, they probably belong here.

Peter Bhatia, Executive Editor, Portland Oregonian
it depends on the situation, but I always try to get to the heart of
their passion. That is, I try to find out why they became a journalist
in the first place and what motivates them in their current job. I
always ask about their ambitions and where they are headed, and I ask
them to describe what they view as their greatest successes in their
current environment. I try to get a sense of their character and almost
always ask for a self-characterization – what would your boss say are
your strongest attributes and usually follow up by asking what their
boss would say are their weaknesses. I may not bore in as much on
specifics of “how they got this story,” because other editors will do
that, but I will usually have one or two questions about their clips.
(One of the “benefits” of the economic downturn and the fact we aren’t
hiring right now is that we are reassessing our interviewing process
and seeing if we can’t have different people “specialize” in different
aspects of the fact-finding with a candidate. It could save the
candidate answering the same question a dozen times and allow us to get
deeper in different areas.) I also always leave lots of time for them
to ask me questions, because – particularly since I am typically later
in the day or process – so I can see what they have absorbed about our
operation and I can get some feeling about how they work, ask
questions, reason through situations. I value those with the courage to
ask specific questions (Is your news meeting always that nice?), as
compared to the more typical: “What’s your vision for the paper?”
That’s not an inappropriate or bad question, but is not a very specific
one either.

Pam Fine, Managing Editor, Star Tribune
Why would this job be a good fit for you?
What are 3-4 things you’d like to accomplish early on?
What kind of help would you need from me and others to achieve those?
Describe what you’ve done to help an underachieving staffer get better?
What has been your best work and why?
What do you like most/least about your current role?
What kinds of positions would you like to have in the future?
Do you see any obvious improvements we could make in the paper?
What appeals to you most about the prospect about coming to work here?
If you weren’t a journalist, what would you be?
What can I tell you about the job or the paper that you’d like to know?

Carolina Garcia, Managing Editor, San Antonio Express-News
are about what the person read that day. It’s amazing how few
candidates bother to read the paper that day . The basic question is
what did you think of today’s front page? Or did they like the lead
story on page one about…. What attracted them to the front page? What
did they like best in the paper that day? If a candidate has not read
the paper, my ‘openness’ to them tends to shift.

Anders Gyllenhaal, Executive Editor, News & Observer
the most important question to me comes toward the end when asking the
candidate what questions they have. The quality and reach of their
questions often tells me more than anything does. If somebody doesn’t
have any good questions, that usually signals problems to me. I ask a
lot of standard questions: strengths, weaknesses, what they’re after,
what they are proudest of, what they’re scared of, what they want to
learn, combinations of those. But I also like to look for something to
dig into, a story or experience they’ve had where you can really test
their idea skills, thinking approaches, motivations, etc. One question
I always ask is whether they ever think about going back to school to
study whatever might make the most sense and go in a different
direction in careers. Or some other question to figure out whether this
person is committed, even obsessed enough, to deserve one of the few
slots that are open these days. I also like to hear about their
families, parents, sisters, brothers, which I think carry lessons of a
lot of importance.

Charlotte Hall, Managing Editor, Newsday
find one of the most fruitful lines of questioning is to get the
candidate to talk about some story she/he has done recently, something
that the candidate was proud of or that presented a particular
challenge. This puts the candidate in a comfort zone–talking about
something he/she is interested in and knows a lot about. It allows me
to get a sense of how they think about stories, how they get ideas, how
they pursue them, and perhaps most importantly, how passionate they
feel about their work. It’s important to have read the clips first. It
allows you to talk intelligently about the story and to direct the
conversation a bit. I also try to find out about their reading habits
and to engage them in discussion about their personal interests. I ask
them how they got interested in the business–what led them to
journalism. And we run through a brief narrative of their career, with
comments and questions about each professional step along the way. I’ve
also begun to ask them what they think their boss or their associates
would tell me about them–their strengths and the areas that need
development. This sometimes is a very fruitful line of questioning
because it allows them to talk about their strengths and weaknesses (if
they’re honest–though many are reluctant to answer that part of the
question) from a third-person perspective, without the fear of
appearing to brag. I also ask them how they want to grow–where are
they currently putting their focus in terms of professional
development. Are they working on their writing, their database
reporting skills, etc. What would they like to get better at? What
would they like their work to look like in a couple of years. I ask
them why Newsday and try to find out if they are looking at other
papers. This tells me whether they have any knowledge or understanding
of the paper, whether they truly want Newsday, whether personal as well
as journalistic reasons are in play, or whether they are simply looking
to move to any big paper. I ask about language skills, because this
gives me an opportunity to talk about the importance we place on
covering our whole community–and to see their reaction. My biggest
challenge, as an interviewer is not to talk too much. But I think it’s
a good sign when they start interviewing me: a sign of curiosity. I
always close by asking if they have any other questions about Newsday
or the hiring process. The answer to that one can be very revealing.

Craig Klugman, Editor, The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne
core of my interview is almost always my situational questions. If the
candidate wants to be a reporter, I will put her or him in a reporter’s
situation. (“You’re alone in the bureau on a quiet summer afternoon
when the prosecutor’s secretary calls and says all she knows is that
the former mayor is due at the sheriff’s office in an hour. What do you
do?” Then I string it out for half an hour or so.) With people who are
applying for top editor positions, I am very precise. I ask, what would
you do about such and such? If it is at all possible, I’ll use real
names, real problems, and real situations. I don’t remember a lot about
the interview with the man we hired as metro editor, but I vividly
remember how he answered a question about a problem with one aspect of
the metro operation. His approach was hands-on (he would come in on his
off-hours and see the operation), realistic (he knew that such people
who were probably creating the problem were hard to find and hence not
reassigned lightly), and appropriately prioritized (OK, it’s a problem,
but how big a problem is it compared with other things he would have to

Bill Marimow, Editor, Baltimore Sun
of the most important ones to me are: What kind of work do your parents
do? What do your brothers and sisters do in their lives? Who was your
best teacher, thinking about teaching in the broadest sense of the word?

Gregory Moore, Managing Editor, Boston Globe
Why do you want to work here?
What do you want to accomplish in your career at the Globe?
What is the most significant thing you’ve learned from an editor?
What is the hardest story you had to do and why?
What do you feel you have to improve upon to be a better journalist?
Which story in your packet are you most proud of and why?
There is a lot of doom and gloom associated with our business. Do you still think newspapers have a bright future?
Can you tell me what the top two or three jobs are that you would like to have in the next 10 years at the paper?
What is the most difficult thing you have had to overcome personally In life?.

Mike Pride, Editor, The Concord Monitor
ones that prod applicants to tell us what in their experience qualifies
them for the job. Since we’re often dealing with beginners, this will
seldom be some big story they landed. But it might be an event where
resourcefulness and curiosity paid off in some other way.

Charlie Waters, Executive Editor, Fresno Bee
What will you do, specifically, to improve the quality of this newspaper?
can we do to help you become a better journalist? (After they have
answered, I tell them that we have just made a contract, and that we
will occasionally talk about how each of us have lived up to our parts
of the bargain.)

Janet Weaver, Executive Editor, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
will put some of the usual questions to them: Why did you decide to go
into this line of work? But I’ll also probe, if the answer I get sounds
too pat. Why this instead of law school, if you like to ask questions?
Why this instead of PR if you like to write? What is it about this line
of work that stands out for you? I like to know what they read and what
authors they consider their greatest influences. I want to hear them
talk about someone else’s words with passion; I think that gives a fair
indication of how passionate they’ll be about their own words. You’d be
amazed how this question stumps people. If they start naming off
non-fiction books by journalists, I ask them about fiction. I think a
well-read person is an indication of someone who will be intellectually
curious and challenging. I ask reporters how they work with
photographers, and photographers how they work with reporters. I want
to know about flexibility and teamwork — this is one of the most
troubled relationships in newsrooms, and I want to hear from folks
about how they negotiate the differences between visuals and words. I
light up when I get a print reporter who talks about photographers who
have given them great tips or picked up great quotes for their stories
on assignments. I always talk about where they come from and their
parents. That, I must admit, I picked up from Sandy Rowe. It’s a
Southern thing, too, I suspect; family and hometowns are always
interesting to me, and if someone can tell their own story well, I
think that is a good hint about how they might tell the stories of

David Zeeck, Executive Editor, News-Tribune, Tacoma
The most difficult professional challenge you’ve ever faced? How you dealt with it?
have you taken an unsolicited leadership role on an issue in your
newsroom? (Want more examples from management/editing candidates than
reporters or copy editors or photogs, etc.)
Engage them on an issue and see how flexible they are; whether they can see the greys in a situation.
get into the subjects of community, readers, etc… see what their view
is of how important those things are to their journalism.
Also I try
to gauge their level of general curiosity about the world. What
interests them outside newspapering? Where do their passions lie
(outside personal relationships)?
Ask them who solve problems in a
number of situations common to newsrooms, what they’ve done in the
past. If they’re solving their own problems, hire them. If they expect
others to solve them, or always turn to others first, beware.
What’s your biggest triumph in newspapering?

What are the most important elements in the hiring decision?

James Amoss, Editor, The Times-Picayune
all the importance we accord the interviews, the tangible evidence of
what someone has accomplished (clips, photos, sections edited or
designed) and the opinions of their current supervisors count for a
lot. We do at least two, and often more, reference checks per candidate
and always assume that negative comments are a gross understatement of
the reference’s true reservations about someone. I’m always amazed at
how few editors do reference checks before hiring or how cursorily they
do them. One of our editors this week was telling me about a call from
another newspaper thinking of hiring a reporter who used to work here.
“He didn’t exactly embrace the editing process,” my editor said,
hinting, albeit understatedly, at the reporter’s obstreperous
personality. It was obvious from the reply that the prospective
employer had already decided he wanted to hire and didn’t wish to probe
anything negative about the candidate. “Oh that,” he said. “It comes
with youth.”

Peter Bhatia, Executive Editor, Portland Oregonian
For us, it is the one overwhelming one already mentioned: that they clearly can help the paper continue to improve.

Pam Fine, Managing Editor, Star Tribune
Skills to do the job, always; good fit in terms of personality, track record; frequently gender/race.

Carolina Garcia, Managing Editor, San Antonio Express-News
current ability and potential. How far will they go in the business,
how long will they stay and how much of a difference will they make at
the paper. Will they make us better and are they a better hire
reporter/writer/photog/etc. than the person who left? Also, did they
have interesting, different, new story ideas. And why do they want to
come here.

Craig Klugman, Editor, The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne
three persons are in the hiring circle here–me, the managing editor,
and the department head. Any one of us can veto the hire. Each of us
brings different priorities to the table. The department head often
wants the person who can hit the job running. Today. Now. The managing
editor wants to make sure the person, in her words, “works and plays
well with others” and will bring diversity to the office. I look for
all those things, as well as long-term potential. Will that person who
can hit the job running be doing essentially the same kind of work in
five years? Will he have five years of experience or one year of
experience five times? Shocking as it may be, I’ve made some hiring
mistakes. Almost always, they were made in a rush.

Gregory Moore, Managing Editor, Boston Globe
Writing skills
Where the person has worked
The types of stories the person has written. a mix of news and features, long and short are the best.
How much upside the candidate has: does he or she still feel they have to prove something?
they will fit in and broaden our newsroom community: diversity but even
broader. We like characters and are always looking for talented ones.

Mike Pride, Editor, The Concord Monitor
a small paper, we’re almost always hiring potential, not proven
ability. Once in a while, we see a sure thing. I remember a guy who,
for his college paper, had done independent tests of condoms from the
condom machines on campus and discovered that a large percentage were
defective (some had holes in them). I remember a reporter who had
insinuated her way into the New York Times Moscow bureau as a gofer and
wound up getting a few bylines on lifestyle-type stories. I remember a
fellow who had done a somewhat clumsy but dogged investigative series
for a weekly. These were all obvious clues to solid reporting careers.
But more generally, a spark in the writing, a flair in the personality
and a hunger to engage the world are the qualities we look for. We want
reporters who love to call people up on the phone — and love more to
go out and talk to them face to face. There is one other big factor. We
must know by the end of the process that the applicant wants to live
and work here. The quickest way not to get hired is to leave the
impression that you know the Monitor is a good stepping stone but you
are worried about how long you might have to stay here. It CAN BE a
good stepping stone — but only for journalists who embrace it fully
and learn to report on things that matter to people here.

Sandy Rowe, Editor, Portland Oregonian
decisions are tough because they are so important and the close calls
are as frequent as the clear calls. I find that the mistakes are most
often those in which key people in the decision-making process are
lukewarm but still decide to go forward. I hate expediency in hiring
but I’m rarely able to stop it. I’d rather be certain and risk being
dead wrong than be lukewarm. I also make mistakes when I allow myself
to be pushed into hiring decisions by others in the process that I
wouldn’t make on my own. In hiring decisions, I think you can’t beat
intelligence and integrity. I place great value on talent, either raw
or refined. Talent counts, big-time. I distinguish between talent and
skill, which can be learned and is valuable but is not the same as
ability or capacity. I further place great value on diversity in the
largest sense of the word. I want people with a wide range of
experiences, backgrounds and interests. I give beaucoup extra points to
applicants who have lived through real struggle and who have shown
determination amid adversity. I want to know whether they worked as
kids and what they did, whether they contributed financially to their
college expenses etc. So, work ethic is important. Also, obviously, I
want to hire people who can deal with others well even in difficult
circumstances and who are driven toward constant improvement themselves.

Charlie Waters, Executive Editor, Fresno Bee
intelligence, and quality of previous work experience. Inquisitiveness
and the quality of his/her questions (even more so at times than
his/her answers). Does he/she listen, then think before replying, or
does he/she just talk? Enthusiasm, for journalism and for coming to
work here. And finally, my gut instinct, which is rarely wrong in
determining if someone will be happy and productive working for me.

David Zeeck, Executive Editor, News-Tribune, Tacoma
Quality, as a journalist and a human being.
Before we hire we always ask the question: “Do I want to work with this
person for the next 20 years?” Not because we expect that will happen,
but it clarifies whether you’re likely to be happy walking into the
newsroom and seeing them every day.
Diversity. It takes all kinds
to make up a good newsroom. Make sure you have different races,
interests, backgrounds, religions, whatever . . . You’re doing well if
you’re occasionally surprised by the ideas that bubble up.
buttheads. Life is too short, and they influence others. There are
actually good journalists out there who also are great people. If you
want to build a newsroom focused on the journalism and not gossip,
etc., then hire people who focus on journalism.

What, if any, are the wackiest questions and answers you have heard?

Peter Bhatia, Executive Editor, Portland Oregonian
so much wacky, but I am always annoyed by applicants who say they want
to work at The Oregonian (and this was true when I was in San
Francisco, too) because the area we live in is so nice. Sure, but what
about the paper? Also, I never ceased to be amazed by the number of
resumes that came in with San Francisco misspelled. I am always wary of
interviewees who immediately begin by trashing the place they currently
work. I’m always surprised by an applicant who demands to know what the
salary of the job they are applying for in the first round of
interviews. And there were the one or two over the years who have
wanted to know my salary. My answer (once) was to smile and say, “Not
enough …”

Pam Fine, Managing Editor, Star Tribune
Tim McGuire to me: ”Tell me, how does your brain work?”

Carolina Garcia, Managing Editor, San Antonio Express-News
have asked folks why they want to move here, one person said they
wanted to come here because his girl friend wanted to move here. I did
not hire him. Many, many more folks say they want to cover a community
that is mostly Hispanic and they want to use their Spanish language
skills. I remind that they will have to write in English.

Charlotte Hall, Managing Editor, Newsday
can’t recall off the top any really wacky questions, but I do remember
the time an intern walked into my office, put a brick on my desk (it
was from a historical farm building he was writing about) and asked,
“Can I have a permanent reporting job?” I still have the brick, but the
intern is long gone.

Craig Klugman, Editor, The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne
the end of every interview, I ask: “Do you have any questions for me?”
I usually get the same from very earnest young people, “What is your
vision for the paper?” (well, I want to cover the news and put it in
the paper) or “What are you looking for in a reporter?” (I like the
kind who makes up juicy quotes). At the end of one interview, I asked a
different interview-ending question, for some reason: “Are there any
questions I haven’t asked that I should have?” And the young reporter
answered, “Yes….’When can you start?’ ” Once the managing editor and
I were together interviewing a candidate for a features writing
opening. Keep that in mind. Features writing. Also keep in mind that
this candidate grew up in Fort Wayne. At the end of the session–it
doesn’t happen often that we interview someone together, but
occasionally we do–one of us asked: “So, tell us what ideas you would
like to pursue if we hired you? What stories would you do?” He. Had.
Not. One. Single. Story. Idea. Not a one. We ended the interview within
five minutes of that.

Bill Marimow, Editor, Baltimore Sun
remember this one: One woman, who we did not hire, told me that her
best teacher was her grandfather. What, I asked did you learn from him
that might help me in terms of my work and my life, I asked her. She
replied: ” He told me that I couldn’t have EVERYthing, but that I could
have ANYthing.” I thought that was a great answer.

Gregory Moore, Managing Editor, Boston Globe
once asked a guy who won a Pulitzer Prize with a colleague what was
left for him to accomplish? He said: To win one by myself I have asked
candidates how much sleep they get? I have asked them what they do when
they are not working? I have stumped them by asking who is the person
they most admire who is still alive and not a relative? I have asked
them to tell me a joke (journalists are witty but don’t do jokes well).

Mike Pride, Editor, The Concord Monitor
to say that none of the wacky things I have heard over the years have
stuck. I forget jokes within 24 hours of hearing them, too.

Janet Weaver, Executive Editor, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
questions and answers? I don’t know about wacky. But one job candidate
and I recently got into a conversation about the meaning of Barbie to
little girls, and how our younger sisters used to abuse our Barbies
when we were kids. We bonded on that one; we hired her. I’ve also
gotten off into discussions about junk food obsessions and learned a
lot about the differences between Krystle’s and White Castle.

David Zeeck, Executive Editor, News-Tribune, Tacoma
Q: So, you grew up in the Keys . . . how did you get to the Pacific Northwest?
A: On an airplane.

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Started in daily newspaper business 57 years ago. Former editor and managing editor at a number of papers, former president of ASNE, retired VP/News for…
Gregory Favre

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