If you’d have asked a year ago where my first job would be, I would never have guessed a national newspaper – and certainly not the Daily Mail! But sure enough, this September I am delighted to say I will be beginning as a trainee on the Daily Mail’s graduate scheme, reporting from Liverpool and Cambridge before returning to London in February 2016.
The advice and guidance I had from tutors, trainees and peers along the way was invaluable, so let me share some of my top tips, while they’re still fresh in my mind:
READ PETER SANDS’ BLOG
Peter Sands is a consultant editor at Press Association Training. He sits in on all Daily Mail interviews, and helps with training during the scheme. His blog, therefore, is a brilliant and essential place to start when it comes to applying for the scheme and making it to interviews.
Here’s a short summary of his points:
His blog is also useful for preparing for the news test you will be given before your interviews. Each week, Peter Sands sets his trainees a pretty challenging news quiz – so in the weeks before the test, practice those and that should give you a good taste of the type of thing that might come up!
Follow Peter on Twitter at @petersands55.
GO TO SUE RYAN’S TALK
A few months before applications open, Sue Ryan will come to give a talk at City (this point therefore only applies to City students I’m afraid). Make sure you go, not only because she shares some invaluable advice and tells you more about what the scheme involves, but also to get recognised. Ask a question if you can – you never know, if she remembers your face in the interview then that can only help.
CHECK SPELLING AND GRAMMAR
An obvious point that Peter Sands mentions in his blog post, but it really is crucial. It’s all too easy to make a small error in your CV/cover letter, and this can cost you the chance of an interview (as some of my coursemates suspect it did for them). Get others to check it, in case you overlook any errors. They’re looking for ways of whittling the applications down, so don’t let a silly spelling mistake be the reason yours gets put in the no pile.
DO NOT USE CLICHES
This was advice given to me by one of last year’s trainees, who I met on work experience over Christmas. She makes a good point – do not use the classic phrases such as “I was born to be a journalist” – they’ve heard it all before, and they won’t remember your application above any other. Include facts that make you stand out, even if it’s just a notable person who you’ve interviewed. Include anecdotes – “I once chased after [x] to get an interview” (only if they’re true). Say something different, put yourself in that yes pile.
Which leads me to my next point…
TELL THE TRUTH
The interviews are long, and you can expect to be grilled, even on details you didn’t think they’d bring up. Make sure you don’t tell any white lies or make any big exaggerations in your application – they will find out and you’ll feel like an idiot. This also means brush up on your previous work – remind yourself of the editor’s name at each paper you’ve worked at, remind yourself of details as to how you got a story. Only include joint bylines if you actually did play a role in the article – if you can’t talk about it, they won’t be impressed. So read through your portfolio before the interview and remind yourself of old clippings, and how they demonstrate your various skills.
THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH LOCAL CLIPPINGS
The majority of what I talked about in my interview was local stuff I’d written, which they like because you’ve normally been allowed to play more of a role in getting the story, and are more likely to have a major story/page lead. Of course include national bylines too, if you have them, but don’t be put off if the majority of your portfolio is from local papers – they certainly won’t overlook you. It’s far more about attitude and skills than national experience.
Try to avoid student clippings if possible, although you can always include one or two, especially if they are particularly impressive and were picked up by other media.
My tutor really emphasized this to me before the interview, and it’s an important one (there were a couple dressed less smartly in my group interview, and it showed). The Daily Mail is one of the smartest newsrooms I’ve been in, and you certainly wouldn’t want to be underdressed in the interview.
Girls: no low cut tops, and make sure your skirt/dress is knee-length. A dress and blazer is fine as long as it’s smart. It will also make you feel more professional.
ATTITUDE ATTITUDE ATTITUDE
This is THE most important thing in your interview. Show that you’re a smiley, enthusiastic person. They’re looking for people who can charm everyone they meet (include the interviewers) as you’ll obviously have to speak to a wide variety of people if you end up working for the Mail. Use examples and anecdotes of why you love being a journalist, and what you’ve loved doing on work experience. Show that you’re not afraid of knocking on someone’s door, or speaking to a celebrity/relative of someone who’s died. These are crucial.
KNOW THE MAIL
Again, it may sound obvious, but know the paper inside out. Read it every day for the week’s leading up to the interview, and also online. Note the differences between paper and online. They’ll ask you why you want to work for the Mail, and perhaps even what your friends/family would say if you got the job.
Know the readership, and also the Mail’s style. If you make it to the group interview, you will have to discuss the papers that day, and also write some news lines, so it is important to know what they are looking for. It’s very different to other newspapers, so you can’t expect to get through on the same application/answers you might have done for other publications.
This must also shine through in your application – it will need to be very different for the one you write for The Times, for example.
Of course you’ll be nervous, but be confident in both interviews (they will try to knock you down/put you off just to see how you react) – this is particularly important in the group interview. It’s very easy to feel as though everyone else is better than you, but just make sure you are confident of your own abilities, remember that they must like you if you’ve got this far, and ensure that you contribute to the discussion about the day’s papers. The ones who get through are not always the loudest – just make sure you say something, and that you also listen to others’ ideas.
Good luck to those applying next year!