JOB SEARCH: Take The Damn Call

It’s that time of year recent graduates are looking for jobs. Coming off the COVID Pandemic, travel has been few and far between, and remote jobs have been the rage.

Now, as we return to post-COVID normal, and revenue gets better, stations are once again looking to fill positions.

As a recent graduate, or a person looking for that second or third job, you might have a destination in mind or be concerned about moving too far away from home. That’s natural.

However, there are certain areas of the newsroom that are habitually hard to fill. Producer, EP’s, I’m looking directly at you. MMJs and Reporters, you have more people in your applicant group, and you really need to stand out. Sports people? You need to be a superstar to get considered.

Regardless, you are going to get contacted by a News Director who either A. Doesn’t think you are ready for the job you are applying to or B. Might be in a market you don’t particularly think is a “good” one. We aren’t waiting for you to apply anymore, we are actively looking for people everywhere.

Here’s my advice.

Take the damn call. Do research ahead of time.

I once was approached for a job in Huntsville, Alabama. I was a West Coast girl at that time and didn’t want to go to the Deep South with all its humidity, confederate flags, and “y’all fixin’ to’s”. I had lived in the South before, and I can’t tell you how many times I was called a Yankee. And I’m from Missouri.

The first message? “No, Thank you,” I said without a second thought. The second time I was all “Look, I’m honored, but….”. The third time I was at a training session and the hiring manager happened to be there. We took the time to talk about his city. I learned a little bit more about Huntsville. Still “Nope.”

Then one day, as I contemplated my next job, I decided to spend a little bit of time researching the market, just for kicks. NASA. Paving the way to Mars. Tech Park. Downtown revitalization. Lower cost of living. Interesting. Not what my first thought was what I found was called “The Rocket City”.

Needless to say, I ended up there. More for the boss I got to work with who had impressed me yet again, after having a first impression of him years before, and more for the market size which was an improvement of where I was. Also because of what I thought the city was – it wasn’t. It was a wide market, spanning from border to border of northern Alabama, including some “mountains” (hard for someone living in the Sierra Nevada range to consider it a mountain), small towns in The Shoals area, and then Huntsville proper with its rich history and future innovation living next door to each other.

I found that Nashville was a damn fine day trip and fell in love with that city. Bonus that I didn’t have to pay Nashville rent. 

So, take the damn call.

Here’s why.

·       You don’t know what you don’t know. Market 160 might be in a random place, but what do you know about it? How much can you learn there? What aspects of the community will influence you for years to come? Don’t like Winter? Neither do I. I still loved winter weather coverage this past season in Nebraska. I’ll put on a Columbia coat to get that kind of viewership and engagement. You can’t see it now through the eyes of time, but I promise you those first two years go by so fast, and will forever be some of your best memories even if you can’t remember how you made ends meet.

·       You can learn something. You might not be talking about the position for which you applied. Maybe you applied for a reporter job, but you are fresh out of school and just need experience. Talk about the producer job. Listen to what they do. Listen to the hiring manager and see if you like their style. Ask to talk to station employees. I promise you, if you have producing experience, you are going to get 10 times more eyes on you for the NEXT job. It’s just a priceless skill to have. My first job was as a video editor, which I thought was a “technical” job when I was trying to be a producer. I am a good producer BECAUSE, in part, of the experience I have marrying video to words. It wasn’t a direct path to where I wanted to be, but it helped me in ways I couldn’t value before I had done it. When I did become a producer, I was better for that experience.

·       That News Director knows News Directors. Especially within the same company for those in larger companies or from the years they spent working their way up the ladder. We talk to each other. A LOT. If you aren’t a good fit at that station, or just can’t move that far away because of your own variables, they might know someone in your market preference. Make a good impression on that call and they are going to reach out to people. Don’t be shady about why you are talking, make it clear “I’m not sure this is the right market/position for me, but I’d love to hear more about it.”

·       Find recruiters. Many of the large companies have them. You are off the hook of trying to impress for one job, but you are selling “YOU” to any market they have. The larger companies have a LOT of markets. Get on their radar. Make a good first impression. They have tracking that rivals the NSA to find you when the right job is open, whether it’s in a year or 10 years. 

·       The more managers you talk with, the more you’ll see themes and all-the-smarter of a job candidate you’ll be. Been dying to do sports since you were a kid? The manager is going to tell you there are 300 applicants for that job. You are most likely not near the top. Some stations don’t even have a local sports department, and others have 2 people (like my station) doing extra hard work 6-9 months of the year. They always need help. As a person on staff, you can help shoot football, take in sports scores, log video for sports. You are building a craft in a station that is more invested in your success than someone from the outside. You’ll also hear that sports taps out at a certain salary range. You aren’t going to like that range, now or when you are married with two kids. Being more versatile opens the door to higher salaries down the road, as you see some sports anchors make the move to news. One of the best anchors I’ve worked with started as a sports photog and then reporter and then anchor. He made the transition flawlessly. Looking at you, Dave Hall! Want to anchor? Mine are locked into contracts, sometimes those are long-term contracts, and there’s a line of hard-working reporters waiting for that throne already on staff. Where is an outsider in that mix? You have to stand out all that much more from the outside. It can and is done, but just know what you are up against.

·       News Directors have strong and long memories. If we had a good experience interviewing you for a job that just wasn’t right at the time, we are going to remember you when we are in a market you want. We are going to know your preferences and we’ll find you when the time is right. You can also do yearly “touch base” calls or messages with them. I can’t tell you how many people I have on my “dream team” list, and I’m just waiting for the stars to align so I can work with them.

·       It’s interview experience, and I can tell you – you probably need it. In a world of texts and memes and social media messages, the art of the conversation can get lost. When you talk with someone or video call, you’ll see different styles of interviews, types of questions, and who is really interested in you specifically, and who is just asking questions off a list that everyone gets asked. You’ll have to think on your feet and answer tough questions with no warning. A TV legend had a habit of asking people if they played a musical instrument, and it was a make-or-break question as this person thought playing music made you better able to understand the orchestra of local news. (Thank goodness I kinda knew how to play the piano.) Answer the phone with confidence “Hello. This is Jennifer” is a great way to start (using your own name, of course) instead of a quiet “Hello?”. One of my managers had someone say to him “I was just getting ready to go to sleep, but I can talk I guess.” Not a good first impression since the interview was scheduled.

Here’s what this journalist with Wanderlust can tell you. Montana is breathtakingly beautiful, and if I had known how gorgeous Missoula is, I might not have written it off in my mind early on. If I hadn’t interview in Augusta, Georgia, I wouldn’t have known about the small-town feel with a great golf history and see it firsthand while meeting some of the nicest people ever. I also wouldn’t have realized how much I loved the current job I had, even with its own set of challenges. You don’t realize what you are about to lose until you are about to lose it, sometimes. If I had known how much it cost to live in the smaller market coastal towns of California, I would have probably not applied so much. If I hadn’t chased my dream of wanting to be a line producer in a certain large East Coast market, I wouldn’t have traveled there and realized how much I loved driving my own car and wasn’t going to give it up.

I wouldn’t have had one of the worst interview experiences ever, paving the way for me to always do better with people I interviewed later in life. If I had followed the money, I would have been at a larger market station with a habitual turnover rate measured in months, not years, that might have lessened my passion for the business. If I hadn’t taken the call from Nebraska, I wouldn’t have seen that it’s more than some “small market” in the middle of nowhere. It’s a gem in its own right. If I hadn’t taken that first chance at Reno, in the overnight hours, I wouldn’t have known it doesn’t matter what shift you work – it’s a 24-hour town/state. There were just as many people working your hours as some of the other shifts, and Lake Tahoe as a backyard was a natural wonder all on its own (and it’s free!). Bonus for daytime skiing and summer days on the shore.

Take the damn call.

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