Sarah Rabil is assistant managing editor for talent at The Wall Street Journal. She previously worked as a reporter and editor there and at Bloomberg News. In this interview, conducted by email, Rabil discusses her role in career development, what the Journal looks for in applicants and what she learned in journalism school and beyond.
Q. Describe your job at The Wall Street Journal. What is your typical day like?
A. I support recruiting, hiring and career development across the newsroom. I loved editing the Journal’s media and advertising coverage in my last role (and still get an adrenaline rush when news is breaking!), but I’ve enjoyed shifting that energy into ensuring that this already stellar newsroom is diverse and welcoming and hiring exceptionally talented journalists.
Four months into this job, I’m learning that no day is typical. I got into journalism for the variety, the lifelong learning and the hope that my work helps people, so I appreciate that my current role allows me to constantly meet new people and support 1,230+ of the best journalists I’ve ever known.
One day I may be strategizing about how to define new roles, meeting with Journal reporters to discuss potential next steps in their careers, and interviewing candidates for personal finance reporting or data editing. The next day I may be attending a journalism conference to scout for new talent or spending a day at a university to meet with students and spread the word about our internship opportunities.
The chance to step back and discuss ambitious journalism and figure out how we can help support and train the next generation really is inspiring.
Q. What does the Journal look for in applicants for jobs and internships?
A. Each job opening is an opportunity to think creatively and ambitiously about how we want to evolve our coverage, better serve our two million-plus subscribers and continue to broaden our audience.
When we are hiring reporters and editors, I am looking for skilled writers with a proven ability to chase down (or shepherd) scoops and come up with interesting enterprise stories. The best way to get on my radar is to do great work that I wish we had published ourselves.
I’m also increasingly seeking out video producers, data scientists, interactive graphic designers, newsletter writers and specialized reporters for our Professional Products. The Journal is far more than a newspaper these days. We are very much a digital-first news organization.
For internships, I’m looking for students and recent grads who come from a range of backgrounds and bring diverse perspectives into our newsroom. You don’t have to be an expert in business, finance and economics to intern at the Journal, but an interest and willingness to learn are key.
I look for interns to bring curiosity, passion and new ideas into the newsroom. I’m seeking out students with a foundation in newsgathering and some prior news deadline experience.
Beyond that, I’m also keen to welcome interns who can bring much-needed digital skills that will help us continue to innovate — whether that’s an interest in audience analytics, creative video editing, social media savvy, comfort with data analysis or the ability to code.
Q. You previously worked as a deputy bureau chief at the Journal and as a reporter and editor at Bloomberg. How do those experiences help you in your current job?
A. I tend to think of the Journal newsroom and the broader news/journalism industry as my new beat. Recruiting and offering career advice are, in a way, very similar to developing the relationships with sources that allow you to be a successful beat reporter or developing the relationships with reporters that help you become a better editor.
I also had the benefit of studying our own publication/company and our media competitors for many years from the reporting side. Over the course of 11 years, I was a media reporter, team leader for a global deals column and an editor for coverage of media, telecommunications and advertising. I like to think that it gave me insight into the rapid evolution of the news industry, and I’m enjoying applying that knowledge to shape our talent strategy going forward.
And when it comes to talking to potential job candidates, I can directly speak to what it’s like at the Journal being in the trenches during breaking news, going through the process to publish a front-page enterprise story or brainstorming a visual digital package. I like to think that makes me more credible when I speak about our news values, strategy and culture.
Q. You are a 2007 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills and concepts that you learned there do you use today? What new ones have you acquired?
A. I like to say that I got my journalism degree at UNC. Then I got the equivalent of an MBA on the job as a business reporter.
UNC’s journalism school gave me a solid foundation in reporting and an introduction to business and economics (I also got a business minor at Kenan-Flagler Business School).
Chris Roush’s business reporting program really gave me a leg up in the job market. I was comfortable writing on deadline, deciphering SEC filings, studying the market and interviewing executives. Another great professor — Phil Meyer, a legend in using social science methods in journalism — inspired me to dig deeply into complex topics, ask the tough questions and use data and statistics to test my assumptions and support my conclusions.