When it comes down to it, journalism is all about talking to people. Having the guts to phone up a stranger and ask questions they might not be prepared to answer, grabbing someone in the street for a quick vox pop or interviewing an intimidating professional.
Good communication skills are a must but just because you’ve got friends and can hold an intelligent conversation doesn’t mean you’ve got these. Talking to strangers is a completely different ball park, you have to earn someone’s trust in five seconds flat and that’s no easy feat.
Can you strike up a conversation up with a fellow passenger on the train as well as a university lecturer? How about the hard of hearing old dear at the supermarket checkout or the five year old spoilt brat next door? Some people can but if not – DON’T PANIC – you can learn how to do it by practising.
The best way to practice this is to get a public facing job. Somewhere where you are constantly dealing with people you don’t know and having to make conversation. It might be hard going at first and yes, very often awkward, but the more you do it the easier it will get.
I wasn’t confident, outgoing and popular at school. But for four years of my life I’ve pulled countless pints in a pub, worked in a busy high street shoe shop, debt management and car insurance call centres and held a full time job in a bank notorious for cracking the whip when you didn’t build enough rapport* when talking to customers on the phone. I’ve talked to a lot of strangers and my boss is often quoted as saying that my confidence and interpersonal skills got me my journo apprentice job.
I’d be willing to place a bet that if an editor were to interview two people for a journalism job, one of them with heaps of qualifications but with minimal conversational skills and another with no degree but who chatted and laughed their way through the interview, the latter would succeed.
If you want to be a journalist you DON’T have to be particularly clever or knowledgeable but you DO have to be confident, outgoing and approachable.
*The awkward conversation telephone banking staff make when you just want to check your balance.