CELEBRATING SUCCES: Hiring With Your Gut
Anyone who works in news at some point had to cross an important threshold – someone had to take a chance on them. With resumes that aren’t bulky, a reel that might need some work, writing samples that took a LOOOOONG time to write, or a current events quiz that made you feel like a dummy.
I will forever be grateful STEVE MILLER took a chance on me in 1998, bringing me from Missouri to Reno. I moved, sight unseen, to an overnight shift with dreams of being a producer. I just needed that chance.
As I (started writing) this in the pre-dawn hours, I (was) watching our new Meteorologist on air. MALCOLM BYRON was one candidate in a LONG search for a Weekend Met. He didn’t even find us, our Chief Meteorologist found him. I said, “Okay, I’ll call him but he looks REALLY young and kinda looks like you (The Chief Met)”. As we talked, I was blown away by this man’s love for weather, a true dedication to his family, and life challenges he’s had that have matured him beyond his years. I started the call thinking “Maybe he would be willing to work here” and ended with “We HAVE to get him here.”A few more phone calls later, the stars aligned and Malcolm was on his way after graduation.
He inspired me to write this article, because I have so many other moments like this in my life I want to share, and I want you to share the people you took a chance on at some point or those who took a chance on you.
In smaller markets, when you are hiring, you can’t always go on resume and reel alone. You have to see the person for who they are and who they could be. You have to see the “bones” of the individual are there to build on, even if they still need work. Sometimes it’s a lot of work. Sometimes you hire with hope and a prayer. It doesn’t always work out, but when it does, it’s pure magic.
I get asked a lot when I have to give the dreaded “We’ve gone with another candidate” message “Why not me? What can I do better? Where did I stop being a top candidate?”
It’s not always an easy question to answer, and I don’t mean I have a tough time explaining it or I’m scared to answer it. I’m fine with uncomfortable conversations. Of course, there are times someone was just better in every key area. That’s going to happen. We’re an overachieving bunch. But sometimes there isn’t what you did, it’s what someone else did. Some candidates just stick out. They fit the attitude you want in the newsroom. They blow you away at first Zoom.
Other times, it is just based on nothing but pure gut instinct. Two candidates, equal experience, both gave great interviews, but you’ve got a gut feeling about one of them.
I’ve got a good gut, a strong one. My intuition kicks in randomly, like when I’m driving my normal route home and something inside says “TURN LEFT”, and I take another route home, only to find out later there was an accident and road closure on my normal route.
The day I got the call that my mom’s surgery had “complications” after, I just knew she wasn’t going to make it. As I threw stuff in a suitcase a few days later, after the “it’s now life or death, get to town!”, I saw a black dress and I knew I needed to pack it, but I didn’t. I wouldn’t let myself – “how morbid ARE you, Jennifer”, I said to myself. But I knew deep down. As we waited the next few days while doctors worked the aftermath of a knee-replacement-gone-wrong, I was always crying or grieving. She was intubated and I couldn’t talk with her. My family kept saying to me “She’s going to be okay, calm down, she’s strong and will pull through.” I couldn’t say the words to them my gut said to me. My mom, always bearing the news she heard, had called my dad on his answering machine the day before, to tell him about an accident on an interstate he traveled and told him to avoid the traffic. She sounded so drugged up, and I tried to stop my dad from deleting that message (gut kicked in) – I didn’t make it in time. Those were the last words I ever heard her speak. She died a few days later.
So good intuition and gut instincts sometimes suck, but it can’t control what it tells you – it just gives you “that feeling.”
I once read an article in Cosmo about following your gut. The synopsis was this – when your gut tells you something, follow it. Every time. Every little thing. It will hone your intuition. I’m not sure if there’s any science behind that, but I liked the concept and followed it.
Back to my inspiration for this story.
MALCOM BYRON showed up at the station after a long wait for him to graduate. He hit the ground running. He won people over behind the scenes and on-air. He has a love and passion for weather that goes beyond science, it’s who he is at the core of his being. He’s also a damn nice guy. We’ve received a lot of compliment emails, and he asked me if I was “hiding the bad ones.” See? He’s smart too. He knows a News Director might do that, but I didn’t have to this time.
But there are others like Malcolm I’ve been blessed to be able to hire.
AMANDA (ARENTSEN) PETERS is someone I call “One of the best things to ever come out of a job fair.” It was around 2009 and Green Valley Ranch hosted a job fair. I was there with several managers from work. It was clear many of the people there were just trying to get that “I looked for a job” job proof for unemployment or family or whatever. They had no real interest. Then here comes Amanda, like the ray of sunshine I soon learned she always is. My gut kicked in, and we hired her, despite my candor of “The shift sucks, but the show is fun, and you’ll be able to grow from there – oh and it doesn’t pay very well.” It wasn’t just because she was only of the only serious candidates in the room, she would have stood out in a crowd of any type. I remember the day she called me, years later, to tell me she was getting out of news. She felt she owed that to me since I brought her in. How could I be so disappointed but so impressed at the same time? She was classy from the start until the end of her FOX5 reign, and she’s only climbed ladders since then. I do remember saying to her, “I think you’ll be back, it’s in your blood now.” Guess what? She’s back, working at another Las Vegas TV station as of two weeks ago.
KAYLEE GREENE came to us for an interview in Sarasota. First I think it was a producer job. For some reason, my gut said “no”, with no real reason why. Turns out, there WAS a reason why. Several weeks later, when we had an opening for a part-time producer on our lifestyle show, I handed her resume to the Senior Producer. We were FLOODED with applicants for this position, and the Senior Producer, a real “man about town”, knew almost all of them. But we hired Kaylee, the only person who wasn’t a local, and who didn’t come with a connection to the station. Gut kicked in – this is the right place for her. I watched as she worked frantically those first few weeks trying to keep up the pace. In a snap, this quieter woman who was way too polite was suddenly ushering around elite guests and bellowing out “STANDBY” – even when I was the chatty Cathy in the room – like a skilled producer beyond her years. When we thought of adding a traffic reporter (without adding an actual member to the staff), we said “Maybe Kaylee?” She rehearsed and worked it behind the scenes and eventually debuted. Still doing her former job but also transitioning to full-time to do traffic and lifestyle stuff. Then she started doing segments on the lifestyle show. Then she co-hosted, one fine day when the stars aligned and the main host was out sick. She rocked every single task we threw at her. There are still days I wonder “Damn, why didn’t I make her a producer?”, but then I know how at home she was in her role, and producing news would have only been holding back from what she was born to do.
That said, SYDNEE LITTLE was BORN to produce. She was a reference from a good friend of mine who said “Do you need an MMJ? We have an intern here in Detroit who is great.” I said, “Is she open to producing?”. She was. A few calls later and she moved to Sarasota. My gut said “hire her”, and it also helped I had a direct line to someone who recommended her and could hold THAT person responsible for helping me should Sydnee not cut it. I never had to make that call. As the pandemic slapped us all in the face, she quickly had to learn and take on more responsibility. She was working hours and hours on end, picked up the pace of producing so quickly, and became a strong voice in the newsroom – especially for “the new girl”. She was hired to work overnights, but as she helped us out at night during “training”, she never once saw the sunrise. She was too important dayside and hiring was on hold. Watching her bloom into a strong producer with a sense of humor to be reckoned with, and a quick pickup of any task we sent her way.
KAMARA DAUGHTRY, as many of you know from Digital Career Opportunities Worldwide, came to our newsroom pretty green. She has a little experience and a LOT of personality. On the interview, her hiring manager put an iPhone in front of me with Kamara’s head in a tiny little box. We spoke for a few minutes and it was like she was on a movie screen. She was just that dynamic. This role she was taking was unique and expanding, and she gave off the vibe that she could handle anything. She was scared of nothing, but willing to learn everything. She was louder than most people you’ll ever meet in your life, and as much as I teased her about “inside voices”, the silence was deafening when she moved on.
All of these examples came from doing the background, extensive interviews, evaluating resumes, and sometimes – a lot of waiting. But the hires were propelled from a gut instinct of “This person has got it (or is going to get it)”.
In my career, I’ve made good hires and some not-go-great hires. I’m not batting 1000 on this by any means. When you do come across someone that makes your gut kick in – don’t ignore it. There’s usually something there.
I think it’s why I am a bit more accepting of when I get ghosted professionally, or when I get that dreaded call of “We’re not going forward with this”. I know sometimes it’s just a gut instinct, a match that you can’t force.
I’ve only one time asked “Why didn’t I get the job”, and I was lucky enough to get an honest answer. But really, my gut usually tells me it’s not going to work out long before the obligatory email or call can come.
Work with your gut. Your journalistic instincts kick in all over the place. Are you ignoring them? Or embracing them? Speak up when the gut kicks in.