Interviewing for TV and radio

Simon Wright, talent executive for BBC Vision, is an experienced media talent manager across TV and radio. He also runs the BBC Production Talent Pool and Production Trainee schemes and details the best - and worst - ways of selling yourself in that all-important interview.

So you are sat at home watching Flog It, or on your lunch break queuing for a sandwich and you get that call: “We’d love to see you for an interview.” You agree a date and time and when the initial buzz of excitement wears off you think, “OMG, what am I going to say to get the job?”

Preparation
Preparation is key and essential for any interview. There have been times when I have interviewed people for a particular programme and the question “What do you think of the last series?” comes up. I have had people say, “Oh, I was too busy to watch it” or waffle on about a different programme or an episode from many years ago. This automatically tells the interviewer that you haven’t done your homework and if there was a buzzer a-la Britain’s Got Talent then rest assured this would be pressed right now! So watch or listen to the output. This shows that you are keen, passionate and interested in what you have applied for.

If you are being interviewed by senior producers, research them beforehand, find out what they have been working on and throw that into the conversation. You don’t want to look like a stalker but by knowing someone’s style and history of programmes this can reinforce the fact that you have done your homework.

Be careful not to go too far and talk about partners, kids, or say “I love that you are such a big fan of Adele.” This might throw the interviewer off guard and make you look like a needy fan. I interviewed someone recently who talked about some of my tweets. Now I know that Twitter is a public space but do you need to remind me that I know all the words to Neneh Cherry’s Buffalo Stance?

Take time to look at the job description carefully, know what the tasks are and what is expected of you. Don’t go into an interview talking about a completely different job or a job that you want to do, talk about the job that you applied for. It is great to have ambition but if you apply for a job the interviewer expects you to want that job, not something two grades higher.

If you have more experience than the job requires then acknowledge this and talk about why you want to do the job, what experience it will give you and how your experience can really benefit the role. Don’t give the impression that you are just here to fill in time before you get another job; interviewers can tell when you are doing this. I’ve often heard “I really want to be a researcher and this is a great step to get there.” This might be true but the interviewer needs to know you want the job you applied for and will stick at it, at least for a decent amount of time.

Have an opinion and ideas
Ideas are your currency in the world of TV and radio. Everyone is looking for the next big idea, and ideas can really help you progress with your career. Have an opinion about the programme you are being interviewed for, but avoid being too critical. Don’t say things like “It just didn’t work for me” or “It was just too unrealistic and the camera work was shoddy.” Rather, do say things like “I really enjoyed the programme but I felt that by adding… and… you would have really developed a different angle to the story.” Back your ideas and opinions with evidence and always focus back to the audience.

Watch TV, listen to the radio, get online - love the output! When you love the output this really comes across and it astounds me in interviews when people say “Oh, I don’t really watch TV.” To which I say “Why are you wanting to work in it then?” If you are interviewing for a particular independent production company or the BBC, know their output, know their big successes and read the trade magazines or follow them on Twitter so you know what is coming up and understand the ethos and culture of the company.

Be careful not to make presumptions about the panel. You may well have your own opinions and feelings about political issues, places in the country or human rights issues but think about why you are sharing these in an interview. I have interviewed people who have slagged off the north, and someone who was blatantly homophobic. As a gay northerner this really put my nose out of joint and showed a rudeness and lack of sensitivity from the candidate.

Don’t bad mouth previous employees or colleagues. The media industry is a small world and your interviewer could be the partner, friend or mentor of the person you have been ripping to shreds. If you are asked to talk about a negative experience in work, keep it anonymous in terms of other people, focus on what you learned from the experience and how it developed and shaped you as an individual.

What to wear?
The media industry is known for its casual dress sense in the office and ‘what do I wear’ is a common quandary when attending an interview. Do you go formal and wear a suit – and risk looking slightly out of place but very smart - or do you go casual? There are no rules, but wear what makes you feel comfortable. That doesn’t mean slippers and jogging bottoms, by the way!

Personally I like to dress formally in a suit for an interview, or shirt and smart trousers; that just makes me feel interview ready and smart. A tie might be a step too far but research the company and job and decide what’s appropriate. You can wear jeans but teaming it with a smart shirt/ blouse and a jacket is always good. I am no Gok Wan but make sure your clothes are clean – there is nothing more distracting for an interviewer than a giant stain or dirty hair.

Don’t dress as if you are going clubbing. You might think you are looking sexy but the interviewers may have a different opinion. You don’t need to be dressed like a nun but you want the interviewers to remember your ideas, not what you wore!

I’ve also interviewed people who have worn t-shirts with slogans. This might be cute on a night out but not really interview appropriate.

Informal chats
In the world of media you will often be called in for an ‘informal chat’. This can take place in a coffee shop rather than a formal interview room. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security and think this isn’t an interview. In a short space of time make sure you get across what you’ve worked on, what your skills are, why you want the job and also the output of the company. Be positive, be enthusiastic and listen to the questions.

I know stories of informal chats where the interviewees are asked if they had a good weekend and people have gone into great detail about drunken debauchery. This is still an interview and the interviewer is not your best friend.

Asking questions
Do ask questions at the end of the interview, but make sure the answers are not in the job description. If, for example, it is clear that the job is based in London and is paying £25,000, don’t ask if you can work from Bristol or “What is the salary?”

Ask about the company, future commissions, why people enjoy working there; the kind of questions that show that you have a real interest and a keenness to work for the organisation. When the questions to you are over, don’t say “Is that it? I was expecting you to ask me…” That can annoy the interviewers.

So my key points to remember are
- Prepare.

- Be enthusiastic.

- Dress to impress.

Most importantly LISTEN, and answer the question that is asked - not the question you want to answer.