October 27, 2021

Below is an excerpt from The Collective, Poynter’s newsletter by journalists of color for journalists of color and our allies. Subscribe here to get it in your inbox the last Wednesday of every month.

There aren’t enough opportunities to hear real talk about potential workplaces in journalism and related careers. Instead, you need to know somebody. You need to ask questions and do research.

Then you hope that you don’t wake up in a nightmare despite those efforts.

It is well established that too many newsrooms are not inclusive, supportive places for journalists of color. That’s why, when peers reach out to me about places where I’ve worked, because they want to apply or they’re considering an offer, I’m honest about my experiences. If they’re Black or another person of color, I go into detail about microaggressions and racist mistreatment.

At times, my candid advice sounds like Andre 3000’s friends pressing him to do a gut check at the altar: Don’t do it. Reconsider. Read some literature on the subject. You sure?

The choice goes both ways. When job hunting, it’s expected that you demonstrate your worthiness to the hiring team. Keep in mind that employers need to woo you, too.

Know your job-related dealbreakers as well as the tools and support that you need to succeed. Think about those things as you interview for positions and, ultimately, decide whether an opportunity is a good fit. The following are examples of red flags you should look out for.

Job interviews and the hiring process are lengthy and disorganized.

After an interview, did you get information about the next steps, or were you in limbo about where things stand? Were you connected to someone for an interview with no clear idea of who they are or what aspect of the job you would discuss? You can always ask for that information.

If the interviews and the hiring process are haphazard, especially if led by someone who will be your boss, that’s likely their modus operandi. You might be OK with that. If you prefer structure and leaders who are strong planners, for example, a nebulous hiring process would be a concern.

Conversations about the position don’t match the job description.

If you talk to different people in the organization, do they say contradictory things about the position and how it fits within the broader team? Do they mention responsibilities that were not in the job description?

If the people interviewing you do not seem to understand the work required for the role, you may not get the mentoring and support you need. There may be friction when others on the team don’t understand how long tasks should take or the tools needed to complete them. You might have to deal with misguided expectations.

The organization’s leadership team is homogeneous in terms of race, gender and/or socioeconomic background.

The composition of the leadership team is a values statement. If it does not include people of color or women, if it only consists of graduates from elite universities, those are signs about your chances of rising through the ranks if you don’t check the same boxes.

Also, how diverse is the office in general? How many people have been on the team for a year or less? If the organization or company is churning through employees, if the team is homogenous or the people of color there have not been on board for long, there are reasons why. It’s easy to make promises and share feel-good, lofty diversity goals in an interview, but the current staffing suggests a lot more about the organization’s priorities and the obstacles you might encounter on that team.

No one can list ways that the company or organization will invest in you beyond a salary.

What benefits or policies are in place to encourage a positive work-life balance? Will you receive equipment and other tools necessary for your work or be expected to use your own? What is offered in terms of training and professional development beyond standard HR topics? Ideally, there would be money for you to attend classes and conventions to continue building your skillset. The learning should never stop.

It’s impossible to suss out all of the potential pitfalls of a new workplace; the goal is to try to get a sense of the environment you might walk into. To that end, you should also take notes during the interview. Things that you didn’t notice at the moment may take on different importance as you reflect on them later.

If you have the privilege and luxury to pass up job offers that you feel uneasy about, do it. Put yourself first as much as you can. If you start working at a place that turns out to be a bad fit or a nightmare, leave if you can. Start planning an exit strategy and networking if you can’t immediately leave. Your mental health and general well-being are more important than any job.

Subscribe to The Collective for access to a subscriber-only feature: advice from our Council of Truth-Tellers

The Collective is supported by the TEGNA Foundation.

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Marquita Brown is the senior editor of One Day, a team of journalists focused on educational equity and an affiliate of Teach For America. Before…
Marquita Brown

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