By Ania Bessonov (RSJ ’18)

While journalism students get lots of experience conducting interviews for their stories, they have fewer opportunities to answer questions. Yet that’s what they’ll face as they apply for work in school and, later, in their careers. Recalling how difficult job interviews were, Ryerson School of Journalism (RSJ) alumni and professional journalists in Toronto participated in Career Coaching Night last month to give students practice for job interviews.   

Organized by Theresa Ebden, chair of the RSJ Advisory Board and the Journalism Course Union (JCU), the event was like speed dating for a career. A dozen professional “interviewers” conducted mock interviews with the 24 students, followed by feedback. “The idea was to give students real-life experience of what an interview would look like before they go out to do their internship or out in the world looking for jobs,” said Julia Mastroianni, president of the JCU.

The interviewers included professionals with newsroom management experience at the Canadian Press, Bloomberg News, BNN, Corus, the Globe and Mail, the CBC and CP24, which hosted the event. “It’s really important to give students and employers a potential to sit down and have an honest conversation about hiring,” said Joanne MacDonald, a member of the Advisory Council and who retired as vice president of news and general manager at CP24. “The participants come into the interview atmosphere with senior leading journalists in this country and they give you realistic feedback and how to approach interviews,” MacDonald added.

Students were interviewed twice for eight minutes as if they were applying for a job in multimedia, broadcast and newspapers in small communities or Toronto. “The interview is an important part of the process,” said Scanlan, who is also in charge of hiring at Bloomberg. “To have the ability to have four or five interviews in one night on a mock basis is incredibly valuable. We are asking questions that are asked in a real interview and you need to be quick on your feet.”

After the interviews, the journalists discussed the skills they would need for networking, applying for and landing jobs. One piece of advice for standing out? Having a bank of relevant story pitches. “I want to see that they are curious about the world,” said Scanlan, “and I also want to have them show me examples of good work they’ve done, stories they’ve written, and how they got the idea.”

That’s what third-year BJourn student Amanda Pope says she learned. “The biggest take-away for me was to do thorough research . . . and to come prepared with story pitches specifically for the community you would cover,” she said. “The interviewer will definitely know if you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Many of the professionals gave advice about how to network even before looking for a job. “Sit down and have coffee with one of the editors or one of the writers there,” Mastroianni recalled. “Get the connections in any way you can.”

Chances are the request won’t go unheard, Mastroianni continued. “A couple of interviewers said they have never turned down a request to meet for coffee to meet with someone.”

Students were told it’s never too early to start. That’s why Hannah Alberga, a first-year Master of Journalism student, said she participated. “Even though I’m only in the first semester, it’s important to start to talk to people and understanding how they did it themselves.”