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Interviewing tips from the top

November 10, 2010

Camilla Long

Camilla Long, interviewer extraordinaire from The Sunday Times came to City University yesterday to talk to us budding newspaper journalists about various interviewing techniques and tips.

I have been a fan of Ms Long’s writing for a while and was eager to meet the woman behind the witty quips and fascinating interview pieces and to perhaps learn how she has attained such incredible journalistic success at such a young age. The answer, to me, was clear from the moment she stepped into the room, for Ms Long is one of the most lively and dynamic people that I have ever come across, a person who you cannot fail to notice and listen to.

Of course, her quick-witted writing style and intriguing interview techniques are a large part of what has made Ms Long into the well-known and widely envied journalist that she is today, however in the intensely competitive environment that we live in today, skill and talent are not always enough. We, as trainee journalists, are often told that we must have something original to put us ahead of our competitors, a unique selling point that allows us to stand out from the journalistic crowd, so to speak.

Although I am sure that Ms Long has a number of impressive qualities that have enabled her to reach such dizzy heights of journalistic success, her unique personality and unforgettable presence have surely been key to many of her achievements. Having thought a great deal about what my own unique selling point could be, it occurred to me that it doesn’t have to necessarily be a skill or experience that you put down on your CV, but instead an aspect of you as a person that makes you unforgettable (for all the right reasons of course!).

I am not for a second suggesting that you should give up on developing your skills and hope to waltz into a job purely because you have what some might call a sparkling personality. However, I do believe that your general presence can have an enormous impact on your chances and ensure that the interviewer remembers you above all the other would-be journalists out there. I, for one, know that there are countless people out there (many of them are on my course!) who far surpass me in terms of their experience, academic achievements and extra-curricular brilliance and I cannot, therefore get by on that alone, it will take something else, some kind of ‘Camilla Long Factor’, to set me apart from all of these intimidating over-achievers and make a high-flying editor pick me over all others.

Ms Long has this quality, a characteristic that had the majority of City students hanging off her every word and suffering severe pangs of envy at both her job and her undeniable presence. Let’s just hope that, aside from the incredibly useful interviewing techniques, we can all take something from our first meeting with Ms Long and learn to stand out from the crowd and snag ourselves the ‘dream job’.

Camilla Long’s Top Tips

  • Interview preparation – although Ms Long admitted that, often pre-interview preparation ‘doesn’t make much of a difference’ to the quotes that you get, it is important that you know as much about your interviewee as possible. They will be able to tell if you have read their book or watched their movie and will readily use this as an excuse to label you as being unprepared. As Ms Long explained: ‘If you haven’t prepared and they don’t like your interview then that is the first thing they will pick up on.’
  • Come equipped – whether or not you have shorthand, ensure that you are ready with multiple pens and tape recorders at the ready. Don’t miss that outstanding quote just because you’ve run out of batteries…
  • Remember that your interviewee will (most likely) never be your friend – you are there as a journalist and your duty is to your readers. You must find the story, the interesting facts that they will want to read about.
  • Always have a reserve of wide questions – this is one of the best ways of ensuring that you reach a personal level, by asking questions that you know people will want to respond to.
  • Put a lot of energy into what you want – go the extra mile, ask the extra question and don’t give up without a fight. Your persistence will allow you to get the interview or the quote that no one else has been able to.
  • Be cautious about the jobs that you agree to do – if you are not comfortable with a job or feel that you will be unable to come away from an assignment with a good story, voice your concerns (this may be a great deal easier when you have a reputation as great as Camilla Long’s but it is always something to bear in mind!).
One Comment leave one →
  1. Shy permalink
    November 11, 2010 5:38 pm

    Well said charlie, virtually almost everything has been written about, what counts is what YOU have to say about it – or for hard news how you say it.

    We journos can take heart from Camilla’s admission that she wasn’t always so confident and bold…And such a good writer?

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