No doubt about it, news directors are often characters. They are charismatic, intense and usually intimidating. That means it can be hard to know what you are walking into when it’s time to interview.
When I meet someone in the business, it’s inevitable the conversation will come around to: Who I worked for and what some of the job interviews with those people were like. In fact, I had a conversation like this just the other day. These stories are often humorous, sometimes shocking, and always enlightening about news director’s and general manager’s personality types. So let’s delve into some of these personality types, so you don’t suddenly think you have entered the twilight zone.
First, the ego maniac. These are the ND’s that everyone seems to have heard of, and has an opinion, about in the biz. Many are GM’s who had been legendary ND’s. One thing is for sure, you will sit during the interview and hear a bunch of stories about how awesome this person is and all the amazing things he/she has done in the business. You start to feel like maybe the ND or GM is convincing you that you should work for him/her. There are several things to keep in mind when you are interviewing with this personality type.
- Stay engaged
- Do not appear overly impressed
- Do not interrupt stories with how you are like this person
Because these interviews come with a million “I remember when” stories, it can be easy to drift off into la la land or start to panic and think: “I can’t compare to some of this stuff.” Don’t worry, you don’t have to be on the same level. You just have to really listen and throw in a question or two when the interviewer comes up for air. This person is trying to see how passionate you are about the business and if you find him/her engaging. So stay engaged.
Do not go on and on about how amazing these stories are. Smile a lot and occasionally say “wow,” or “impressive.” Gushing about how amazing the ego maniac is actually hurts you. This is the kind of person you want to keep slightly off guard, so he/she feels compelled to try and figure you out. Like we said in “Interview the station,” it is good to play a little hard to get in interviews. You want to remain a little mysterious, by not seeming overly impressed with all the stories.
Do not interrupt the stories to showcase how you are like this person. This is really hard to do because the stories can drone on and on. This doesn’t mean that you should not tell your own stories and engage in conversation. It does mean you need to wait until the ND or GM is done with his or her story. Then if you have an interesting story to keep the conversation going, tell it. If you don’t have a story, ask a question about the ND or GM’s news philosophy and try and mine some valuable information for you to judge the person before the next “I am so great because” story begins. The key point here is to not interrupt the ego maniac. The person will be very offended, which will ruin it for you. And remember, some ego maniacs are brilliant and worth working for. Just know they can be tough to deal with. Expectations are often very high. You have to live up to their ego.
The loyalty tester
Now let’s talk about the ND with loyalty issues. These managers can come across as combative and rude in interviews. But, if you prove your loyalty they can be real gems to work with. It is ideal to know if the ND or GM has loyalty issues before the interview. That requires doing your homework ( Read “The station called”) which frankly you should always do anyway. First this personality type will bring up stories where someone was loyal and when someone was not loyal. Listen closely. These are a warning. If you cannot be loyal and be a real team player, this is not someone you want to work for. Do not say anything negative about anyplace you worked, or anyone you worked with. If you don’t like someone the ND brings up, just smile and say: “Yes I know so and so.” This is why: The ND or GM could suddenly call the person you both know, right then, right in front of you to talk about you. If you just trashed the person, you will be sweating buckets. The key here is to stay calm and not worry what the other person says. This is a tactic to see if you ever appear disloyal. The ND may secretly think the person he/she is calling is a moron. Remember, loyalty has a high cost. If you take a job with this person, no standing in the parking lot with coworkers trashing the ND for a dumb decision, even if you got royally screwed! No coming into the ND or GM’s office furious about a tight spot you were put in. By working for this person, you are agreeing to be the loyal soldier no matter what. I had one ND put me in absolutely horrible positions, including one where half the newsroom thought I was spying on and documenting incidents I didn’t even know about. I had every right to really pitch a fit and demand an apology. I took several hard hits for the team and won a very loyal ally in my ND. He did show me great respect later. I know this person will always go to bat for me because I showed respect for him and the news business.
Beware the bully boss
This is where the whole twilight zone reference in the article title really comes in. I have been interviewed by many bully bosses. I’ve been yelled at over an opinion I gave. I had one GM ask me who I thought I was even walking into his office with “such a crappy resume.” I remember sitting there thinking: “Why did you fly me to the station then?” Guess what. That’s what I asked him. I leaned forward in my chair and threw it right back. He said: “I’d be crazy to hire you.” I said, “You were crazy enough to fly me here, why are you wasting my time? What do you your comments tell me about you?” I got the job and a lot of money to do it. You have to stand up to a bully, especially during a job interview or you are toast. In my opinion, I would stand up to a bully even if I was thinking: “There’s no way in hell I will ever work for this person!” This is a small business. Remember the beginning of this article. When you meet new news people you talk about who you know, who you worked for and who you interviewed with. This bully will remember you. Most bullies like moxie. If you stand up to him/her they often will actually say you would be a good hire, even if you turn him/her down. As far as working for an obvious bully boss, that is a highly personal decision. In my case this bully provided me an incredible opportunity to grow my skills immeasurably. But it did take a lot of blood, sweat and tears.
The happy go lucky
These type B seeming ND’s and GM’s can be really hard to see in a true light. They are charming, witty and you hate it when the interview is over. You pray this person calls to hire you. When you interview with this type, enjoy the stories and enjoy feeling on top of the world with this calm person. But, remember, no one gets high up without some sort of hard edge. This person can, and does, make tough decisions about layoffs and firings. This person will have high expectations, despite seeming so laid back. You are not necessarily any safer working for the happy go lucky than you are the bully. In fact, the happy go lucky may catch you more off guard if the boom comes, because it can be much harder to see it coming.
I worked for several charmers. Again, they came into the room and you were mesmerized. People just love working for the charmer. Morale seems high when you walk through the newsroom. The charmer can be a wonderful boss. When you interview, do not try and out charm them. Just enjoy the stories and share a few witty stories of your own. Your stories will be appreciated. Just know that getting fired or demoted by a charmer can be a real ego buster. It just hurts more. You feel like you really let an incredible person down.
The straight shooter is all business, all the time. You try and throw in a joke or a charming story and the ND or GM just stares at you. You ask philosophy questions and get one line explanations or sometimes blank stares followed by “well how would you handle that if you are hired.” The straight shooter can be unnerving during an interview. You often leave and wonder: “What the hell just happened?” Did you impress or let the person down? Often these interviews are lightning fast. You feel like you didn’t get to know the ND or GM at all. In these cases see what you think of the AND and/or EP. The straight shooter will not spend a lot of time with you during the interview or working for them. But the straight shooter will be fair and you will likely know where you stand. If you are looking for a boss to learn from, the AND and/or EP will be more likely candidates. Judge whether to take the job even more based on them.
Now one final thought. No matter what you see in a job interview, it may never top this story. I know a reporter who interviewed with an ND who kept falling asleep. The reporter obviously felt like he had entered the twilight zone for real. The reporter didn’t get the job, and for years he thought he bored the ND to sleep! Turns out the ND had narcolepsy. When the reporter found out years later he was so relieved. I reminded myself of this story for years whenever I was headed to an interview. You just don’t know what you are up against. A strange interview may have nothing to do with what you said or did, it may just be that you entered the news director twilight zone!