Interviewing in the Media

Landing an interview—and doing well.

Posted Jun 29, 2018

U.S. Dept. of State, Public Domain
Source: U.S. Dept. of State, Public Domain

Being interviewed is among the easier ways to share your expertise with many others while benefiting yourself: It casts you as an expert and sharpens your expertise. Knowing you’ll be interviewed motivates you to think hard about what's most worth promulgating.

Having been interviewed everywhere from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal, The Today Show  to The Daily Show, I’ve learned a few things about getting interviewed. These ideas are adapted from my just-published book, Careers for Dummies.

Getting Picked

Unless you’re a brand name, a so-called thought leader, you’ll have to reach out. Your odds are better with targeted media: your community newspaper or website, a local talk radio station, your professional association’s local chapter newsletter, your religious institution’s website, your well-known colleague’s blog or podcast.

What to pitch? Put yourself in the target audience’s shoes. What would you like to talk about that they’d be quite interested in? Ideally it’s at the intersection of your expertise, what’s timely, and what hasn’t been well covered. For example, if you’re a counselor who specializes in anger management, on the day of the next school or workplace shooting, you might pitch “Three fresh ideas for anger management.” An economist might want to talk about the implications of a Democrat or Republican winning the White House in 2020. A fashion designer might want to vote for the three best and worst new fashions. A software engineer specializing in artificial intelligence might want to talk about the three most exciting new apps for staying healthy.

Review the publication or recent programs to identify a particular writer or interviewer who might more likely find your topic of interest. 

Then write a brief email with a self-explanatory subject line. Regarding the anger management example, you might try, “Story idea re latest workplace shooting: 3 fresh ideas.”  In your email, list your few talking points in just a sentence or two each. Include a few-sentence bio that establishes your having sufficient bona fides to be worth interviewing. It’s okay to also include something you’re plugging: your private practice, your book, whatever.

Doing Well

Yes, develop a few fresh, not-obvious talking points perhaps with a supporting anecdote or statistic, but don’t overprepare. Even if it’s just a print interview, it works better if there’s chemistry, and that’s inhibited if you’re too tied to a page crammed with prepared content. Larry Sabato, a frequent guest on major politics shows told me that he prepares little if at all. He recognizes that after years in the field, he’ll come up with a good answer to most questions and, because he’s not tied to his notes, he can be fully present and connecting with the interviewer. You don’t need to have an answer for every question. If you don’t have a decent answer, say so. You’ll gain credibility and avoid giving a lame response.

Be concise, keeping your answers between 15 and 60 seconds, especially in a broadcast or podcast interview.

At the end of a print or recorded interview, it’s okay to ask the interviewer to plug something of yours. If it’s a live interview, ask up-front.

It’s not unseemly to use email or social media to let people know of your upcoming interview and, after, to send the link to it.

The Takeaway

People worry too much about sounding stupid in an interview. If you pick a topic you know a fair amount about, do modest preparation, and then pretend you’re having a beer with your interviewer, chances are you’ll do fine and enjoy rather than be scared by interviews. I used to be afraid of them. Now they’re among my life’s most pleasant activities.