Six Steps to Prepare for Media Interviews

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When I worked at a real estate trade publication, I often interviewed members to report on their business practices and housing trends. Many of these individuals had never been interviewed before, so naturally they were a bit anxious about the experience. Invariably, one of them would ask me, “What do I have to do to prepare for this interview?”

No matter what type of business you are in, doing media interviews can reap several benefits: to share your knowledge and expertise, gain exposure for your business, improve your credibility and expand your portfolio of work. It is an inexpensive and fairly easy way to create publicity for you and your business.

Despite its advantages, many executives and professionals shy away from doing media interviews. Some people fear being misquoted while others are afraid of looking foolish. Yet others feel they don’t have anything meaningful to say or that there will be a backlash from consumers or colleagues.

But the reality is these individuals lack the preparation needed to feel more confident during interviews. Once you know how to prepare for it, you can relax and enjoy the experience.

Here are a few tips to help you prepare for media interviews so you come across intelligently and confidently.

1. Understand the topic of the news story. The writer should explain what the story is about and why they want to interview you. If you are still unsure, even after they’ve explained it to you, ask for clarification. Ask: What kind of information would you like me to provide? What can I do to help you with this story?

Keep in mind that most reporters will not provide you with their questions ahead of time. They are either too busy to do that or it’s simply not their practice. Don’t get discouraged. As long as you take notes when discussing the topic beforehand and ask for clarification when needed, you should be well prepared to plan what you will say.

2. Develop a few talking points. Once you have a better understanding of the topic and the information the interviewer is looking for, come up with three to five main points that will answer their questions.

3. Do your homework. If the story requires some background research or statistics, such as the history of women in medicine or the percentage of apartments located near public transit routes, find the data ahead of the interview and have it ready so you can talk about it. You will come across as smart and organized, which writers appreciate because they don’t have to waste time following up with you later to get the data.

4. Provide examples and tell anecdotes to explain your points. In most cases, those examples do a better job of making your points than the individual points themselves. These anecdotes are more descriptive and helps readers visualize your meaning.

5. Keep your responses brief and succinct, but provide details. Think in sound bytes, especially if the interview is being recorded. Give the interviewer the information they asked for, then be quiet, indicating you are done talking. If the interviewer wants to know more or needs you to clarify something, they will ask follow up questions.

Remember, many interviewers have limited time to allow for the interview and they want to be respectful of your time as well. Make your points, but don’t run on and on or go off on tangents. Stick to the subject. There’s nothing more embarrassing than having a reporter cut you off because you talked too much.

6. Keep your expectations realistic. Just because you’ve been sought out for an interview doesn’t necessarily mean that it will lead to more sales, more clients or a Pulitzer Prize. In fact, it’s possible that once the interview is done, the writer may not use any part of the interview. This can happen for a number of reasons. Either the article ran too long for the publication and the editors had to cut your comments, or they changed the focus of the article and your comments no longer fit in with the topic. Don’t take it personally. This happens far more frequently than you can imagine.

Doing media interviews is a great way to build your professional credibility and portfolio. Following these steps can help you build confidence in your ability to speak with the media. With enough practice, in time you may become the go-to expert that reporters go to for insightful commentary about your industry.

Charles Schwab’s CEO Takes An Innovative Approach to Hiring

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Several months ago, the New York Times interviewed Charles Schwab’s CEO Walt Bettinger about some of the company’s hiring practices. Before offering candidates a job with his financial institution, Bettinger wants to know what type of person you are. The questions he asks are simple, but he explains the rationale for asking them. His responses were enlightening. (Author’s note: I do not work for Schwab and never have, although I am a current client.)

For example, during the hiring process, Bettinger asks, “What are your greatest successes in life?” He asks this to find out how a candidate defines success and how they view the world. Do they see the world as revolving around others, or around themselves?

He also asks about their greatest failures. Do they own those failures, or do they blame them on someone else?

But it’s the final exercise that reveals a candidate’s true character, as well as Bettinger’s hiring motives.

Bettinger invites the candidate to breakfast, but he arrives at the restaurant a little earlier and arranges with the manager to mess up the candidate’s meal — intentionally. Bettinger says he wants to see how the person responds in situations like this and how they deal with adversity. Mistakes happen, he explains, and how a person responds when someone else makes a mistake reveals the type of person they are. Do they get angry and upset, or do they remain calm and unflappable? Can they remain respectful of others while addressing their mistake?

Berating someone for a messed up breakfast order, or not saying anything at all are messages you don’t want to reveal to a potential employer. On the flip side, these types of questions and hiring practices reveal a lot about the employer too.

It is one thing to ask a candidate in an interview how they deal with adversity, or how they address problems with co-workers and clients. Candidates can respond in any way they wish. But setting up a scenario to observe in real-time how candidates behave in adverse situations, which may not match up with what they said in their interview, is gutsy and inventive.

Hiring practices and interview questions like the ones presented by Bettinger also reveal a lot about him as a CEO and what he values in his employees. If you are looking for a job, consider how they conduct their interviewing process. Is it complicated and cumbersome? Are there multiple tests to pass? Do they do group interviews, or a string of one-on-ones? How many people do you have to see before an offer of employment is given?

Good communications and respectful behavior on the part of the CEO tends to have a trickle-down effect. If a CEO expects it of himself and his employees, chances are his managers and directors will also expect it of their staff. However, if the CEO is unscrupulous and dishonest in his dealings, he indicates his lack of integrity and shows that such behavior is acceptable and tolerated in the company. Is that the type of leader you want to work for?

These might be good questions to ask the next time you interview for a job: What is your CEO like? What are their goals and expectations for the organization? Do the CEO’s values reflect your own? How do they treat their employees?

Using the Schwab story above, Bettinger reveals a lot about his company at the same time that he observes a candidate’s behavior in a restaurant.

* Innovativeness – By inviting a candidate to breakfast, asking the restaurant manager to intentionally mess up their order and observing their behavior shows an innovative approach to hiring. You are likely to find out more about someone by observing them in real-world settings like a restaurant than you do in a formal office environment.

* Emotional intelligence – When asked, most job candidates would say they get along well with others and handle problems professionally. But the breakfast scenario shows their ability to do so in real terms. How they interact with others in public reveals more about a candidate than any of their responses to interview questions in a private office.

* People-oriented – Financial services is a people-oriented business. How you treat people in that kind of business environment is critical to the company’s success. Bettingers practice reveals a desire to hire people with strong character, not just strong professional experience. All things being equal between two candidates in terms of education, knowledge and professional experience, strength of character may prove to be the deciding factor.

The next time you interview for a job, sit back and observe the communications patterns of the hiring manager. You just might learn a thing or two about the company.