Friday, 9 October 2009

Guardian part 7: A tale of two interviews

Just days after my last update I got a call from the Brighton Argus, inviting me to come down for a chat. Brighton is a long way away but I didn't have to think twice and booked my train tickets — all ten hours journey time of them — immediately.

But first was Congleton. I was taken with the place straight away. To get there you have to drive through the footballer's paradise that is Alderley Edge, and I was worried Congleton would be a clone, all boulangaries and pretentious little cafes. But it's a charming little town, formerly industrial, and now very much a place where it feels people go to bring up families, or to spend their last few years in peace and quiet.

I was kept waiting before the interview, which gave me the chance to flick through the three newspapers produced at the offices, the Chronicles of Congleton and nearby towns Sandbach and Biddulph. In essence the newspapers are identical apart from four news pages (the front and back pages, and the centre spread) specific to each paper. They have quite a distinctive design, with stories from the front page continuing onto the back rather than inside, and no set design for the pages. They basically pour the text onto the page and see how it fits, they told me. It's hard to explain, but it doesn't really look like a newspaper on some of the pages.

The interview went well, although I felt I could have sold myself a bit better on some of the questions. I spoke of my passions for music and football, and that I sometimes felt that writing about them spoiled my enjoyment — the editor, a music writer himself, seemed to agree.

After our chat, I had to do a press release re-write to test my news sense and writing skills. I felt very comfortable with this as it was the kind of thing I did regularly during my degree. It detailed some fictional tourism plans, focussing on the town's bearbaiting history, and I had some fun with it, coming up with the so-bad-it's-good word play headline of 'Bearly believable tourism plans'. I hope it raised a chuckle.

It's a small operation there, with only one edition produced per week. The staff seemed friendly enough, as well as busy, with some of the sub-editing and page designing done by the reporters. I'd be given my own patch if I got the job. I left confident that I had given a decent account of myself, but knowing that I could have done better. I was rusty after the long gap between interviews.

Brighton went much better. My day was already six hours long before I got there, and I was greeted by teeming rain and a swirling wind — not exactly what I had in mind from my adventure to the seaside. The Argus has a big, open-plan, office, and a youthful vitality about its staff. I was interviewed by two men, both under 30 I think, which was disconcerting at first but then comforting as the chat progressed.

This time I felt I put across my strengths more positively and more effectively, They seemed impressed by the editions of the Students' Union mag I edited last year. It was a hell of a trek for just twenty minutes or so of interview time, but I think this showed my dedication and hunger for the role.

The interview actually began with them mentioning this column, which threw me a little as for some reason I'd forgotten that potential employers would have read it having given the link on my CV and covering letter. But I recovered enough to explain how I got involved, although it slipped my mind to mention the Guardian careers fair I'm speaking at in a fortnight.

I wandered around the city centre after finding the right bus (the Argus offices are on an industrial estate three miles out of town) and wondered how I would fit in. It seemed a bit bohemian for me, but then perhaps there is that side of me just waiting for the chance to show itself.

Having had time to reflect on my performance at both interviews I think I may not be highlighting my achievements enough. I have realised I've been a bit reluctant to make a big deal out of writing these articles for the Guardian, apart from in pub-based bravado with my uni friends back at the start of the summer. I think I've been scared of coming across as arrogant to employers, who might think I am showing off about my achievements. But actually by downplaying it, I think I could have been depriving myself of the chance to get more interviews.

I mean, writing this column is hidden away at the bottom of the media experience section on my CV, when really, it's easily the most impressive thing I've done so far, and should be right at the top where it can catch the eye better.

I am going to re-do my CV.

I was told at both interviews that they would make their decisions quickly and that I would hear back this week, so I'm just playing the waiting game once more but to round off a productive week where I've learned a lot about myself, I also passed my driving theory test at the first attempt between the two interviews.

This article was written for the Guardian.

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