Get Real: Key Interview Secret

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May 282014

Here’s some really interesting insight into what managers look for when interviewing you. They want to get to know YOU. They want to know why you do news, what your hobbies are and if you have ties to a particular area. They love to call me and talk about why they were drawn to a particular person when narrowing down their candidate pool for jobs.

Recently I was really struck by a news director’s comment about a potential producer. “( ) never got real with me. I heard canned answers. I want to know ( ).” I think we all forget this sometimes. ND’s want to hire someone they really like, believe in and want to be an advocate for. That requires making yourself a little vulnerable during an interview and giving a hiring manager a taste of what makes you tick. Think of it this way, that ND or AND will have a direct impact on your success or failure. If you two do not click and connect on a personal level to some degree, you could lose a key advocate.

Despite what many think, ND’s often take the fall for their employees (see “Taking Ownership” for an introduction into what that’s like) if they believe in the person. They will go to bat for you time and again. So when ND’s are interviewing you they are looking for someone they can mentor and help. ND’s really do love playing a role in helping someone launch their careers. Many think that part of leading a newsroom is helping the staff grow and make the most of themselves as journalists. They may not always be tactful. They may not always make it obvious. But most are trying to groom you and love bragging out your success later. So get real during job interviews. Say why you went into news. Say what you love most about your job. Explain your favorite types of stories and why. These answers might not only help you land a great new gig, they might also gain you an advocate throughout your career.

When Job Hunting Tactics Go Horribly Wrong. Strange But True Stories.

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Aug 192013

Sometimes, the best way to describe how to do something, is to show the opposite.  Here are some examples of ways, real, aspiring journalists have really shot themselves in the proverbial foot when job hunting.  We are poking some fun, but please know it is to help prevent more of these scenarios.

One ND I worked for describes getting a pizza box from a young reporter wanting a gig.  Inside the box was a tape, resume and cover letter saying the reporter knew how to “deliver” on a story.  The trouble was, the call letters for the station were wrong on the letter and the reporter misspelled the manager’s name.  This ND’s quote, “so much for delivery.”

Many ND’s and AND’s love to share stories about the “idiots” who get their names wrong.  I mean, they get the names VERY wrong, then are put off and send fiery emails when the ND doesn’t give them an interview.

Speaking of fiery responses, I once had an anchor candidate call and bless me out (I was  an EP) because my station never called to interview him.  One of my producers told me about him and I agreed only to hand the ND the anchor’s information.  This anchor then thought he had an “in” with me and kept calling asking for status updates.  When he read that we hired someone else, he called and told me what a crap station we were and that we all sucked.  Yes, I still remember.  And, no, I will never help you again.

Then there’s the reporter who sent a manager I know a resume and reel and actually put checkboxes at the end of the email, so the manager could check if he was interested or not, right then and there.  His question, why wasn’t there a “could have been, had you not done this” option?

My last interesting scenario, a reporter who sent a long email explaining why a station’s decision not to hire them was a horrible mistake.  This was like a manifesto.  You would be surprised how many managers get emails like this, where the person has to justify to you that you are messed up, that the person knows he/she is wonderful at their profession.  Just remember email, like the internet, never truly disappears.

Oh and keep in mind, if you cannot get a manager’s name and the station’s call letters right, you will not get a call back, no matter how “brilliant” you are. Strange, but true!

 

What Managers Really Want To See On A Producer’s Reel.

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Jul 232013

We recently talked about what hiring managers want to see on a reporter’s reel, and since then producers have reached out asking:  “What do I show?”

Last week I put that question up for debate on Twitter and was surprised to see so many people say “A-Blocks.”  Simple answer:  NO. That is not good enough at all.  Here’s why:  A blocks in most shops are truly a group effort.  Anyone can end up with one or two sizzling A-blocks to show off.

When I screen producer reels, I take a very close look at how you start each and every block, what the flow is like throughout the newscast, and your TEASES.  Often I see a great A-block tease then, as of the end of the B-block, the teases STINK.  That is a clear indicator the producer gets help at the end of the A.

Managers want to see a very solid newscast, with great flow from start to finish. They want consistent use of graphic elements, and natural sound.  They are looking for movement of the anchors with purpose (and that is proving harder to pull off than you might realize for many producers) and conversational flow.  Here’s another element they are looking for:  How you utilize social media in your newscast and with your own accounts.  This is getting to be as important as your reel.  If you act childish on your Twitter handle, they will not look at your reel.

Now let’s address the second most common misconception, that producer reels should always have heavy breaking news.  Not necessarily.  News managers know that to a large degree how breaking news is presented has as much to do with how the staff is guided by management, as it does how well the producer puts it all together.  This does not mean that managers do not want to see a killer breaking news/continuous coverage newscast.  But that should not be the only newscast on your reel.  Your “everyday” work should actually sell you more.

So to answer the “What should my reel have?” question, you need two things:  A very well put together “regular news day” show and one that showcases how you handle breaking news.  Yep, two newscasts.  Oh and, by the way, do not leave all of the WX hits and sports in there, show the transition, then cut to the end of the segment.  We newscast reviewers don’t need to see what the high temperature was or who won the game and we get tired of constantly having to fast forward.  You’ll get brownie points for showing that courtesy!

 

Do I Need An Agent?

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Jun 252013

(FYI, the founder of survivetvnewsjobs.com, who is now an agent, did not solicit this article. Matthew Nordin -a regular contributor to the website – submitted  this article all on his own.)

It’s the question young television reporters and anchors — and now even producers — often ask me. Having been in commercial TV for more than a decade, they wonder aloud, “Do I need an agent?”

“It depends” is an answer I personally hate to receive. But it’s apt here. I usually ask them about their current career situation, whether they have a long-term partner or spouse, and what their goals are.

I can’t do that with everyone who reads Survive TV News Jobs. So I thought I would give you my thoughts on what goes into my decision to hire an agent for myself and whether to recommend one to friends and colleagues.

Where are you in your career? I got lucky. The late Conrad Shadlen, who represented some real heavyweights in his day, took an interest in me for some reason after seeing stories I’d done while an intern for then-CNN correspondent Brooks Jackson and at Southern Illinois University’s WSIU-TV. Rad signed me right out of college. The credibility of being represented by his New York agency helped me months later get my first paid television reporting job at WSPA-TV in Greenville/Spartanburg, South Carolina. It was then the 35th largest market in the country. I was able to rent a nice apartment and buy food. Hey, that was an achievement. I had no idea at the time, but I have since learned that some of my colleagues have been forced to go on government assistance because their first TV station paid them so little.

If your college’s broadcast journalism program did not produce a live, professional-looking newscast every night that allowed you to build a respectable reel then it’s probably a waste of time and money to hire an agent right out of school. They aren’t going to be able to get you a job in a Top 50 market. Plus, they’re going to be taking 5-10% of your gross salary. That’s not what you bring home in your paycheck. We’re talking about 5-10% of your income before taxes. Can you afford that?

What are your goals? When I was in my 20’s, I put my career ahead of everything. I was single. I just wanted to “get to the network” as quickly as possible. Then two things happened: 9/11 and Mark Sanford’s election as governor of South Carolina. 9/11 changed everything. People my age or a little older who were making tons of money on Wall Street prior to that morning were suddenly calling their significant others, leaving the most beautiful, heart-wrenching voicemails I’ve ever heard. Something clicked for a lot of my friends and me. God, the Universe, whatever label you wish to use, didn’t send us to Earth to make money and spend our lives in newsroom cubicles and live trucks.

The next year, WSPA-TV assigned me to cover this recent congressman from Charleston named Mark Sanford. This was long before he went “hiking the Appalachian Trail.” He was taking South Carolina’s Republican Party by storm, making real connections with voters, beating some big GOP names for the gubernatorial nomination. From the primary campaign through Sanford’s general election victory party at a Sticky Fingers BBQ restaurant in November 2002, I was on the campaign trail. Just like network news journalists, my photographer and I traveled all over the state covering Sanford and his opponents, rendezvousing with our satellite truck late in the afternoon, staying in hotel rooms at night, joking that paying rent in Greenville was a waste because we were never in our apartments. Then it was over. The adrenaline vanished. I was back in my Greenville apartment. And I was all alone.

It has taken me years to take these lessons and create the life and career I want — a life and career I continue to tweak — but I realized the life of a network news correspondent was not what I wanted. When NBC News axed a slew of veteran correspondents in 2008, one of them said that for the first time he’d be able to drive his family to dinner. When he was on-staff at NBC, he’d always driven separately and with a bag packed in the back. He was inevitably getting called away to cover something happening somewhere in the world.

I realized I needed stability. I wanted a dog, a spouse, two children — the works.

In the meantime, Conrad Shadlen’s agency had vanished near the end of his life. I didn’t renew with the agency that bought him out because I didn’t know what I wanted to do next. If I went off and freelanced somewhere, that 10% hit to my limited income might have been unsustainable.

So ask yourself: Does an agent really fit into my life plan? Or do I just want the caché of being able to say I have an agent?

Is your significant other willing to move? Once you’re in a relationship, someone’s career has to come first. You both might decide at this point in your lives it makes more sense to put your TV career first. However, if you become involved with a doctor or lawyer who’s already planted the seeds of a nice little practice, it’s going to be hard for him or her to move. In their world, they may have to start from zero and build-up their practice all over again if you both move.

I highly recommend reading Mika Brzezinski’s book All Things at Once. Whether you’re just out of college and the previous paragraph is the furthest thing from your mind or if you’re mid-career and a sizzling pang of recognition just hit your belly, Mika’s negotiation of her career and her husband’s career (she’s married to WABC-TV investigative reporter Jim Hoffer) along with trying to raise two daughters will hit you at an emotional level that is nearly unparalleled in autobiographies of this type. Remember, Mika hasn’t always been this successful. Before reaching star status with MSNBC’s Morning Joe, she had been fired by CBS News. I will say no more. No spoilers here.

If you’re not willing to move, you may not need an agent. In fact, you may be an agent’s worst nightmare because they want to send your tape all over the country to give you the best shot at a great new job.

If you and your significant other don’t want to move, surely you can get to know all of the news directors in town on your own. Then again, if you’re already working in a major market, you may need to keep your agent to negotiate your next deal at the station or to get a meeting at another station across town if you’re let go. (As you can see, we’re back to “it depends.”)

Ready to hire an agent? Do your due diligence. Just like you would vet a source on a news story, do some checking around on this person who wants to be your representative to the broadcast news world. Interview them. Skype with them. Fly out and meet them if you can afford it. Ask them what they like about you. Ask them how they plan to market you. Ask them how they’ll work with you to improve your skills and marketability for the next job search two or three years from now.

The goal is to find someone who wants to represent YOU, not just another anchor/reporter. And the goal is to only hire an agent if he or she truly fits in with your life plan.

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Matthew Nordin is an investigative reporter at WXIX-TV in Cincinnati. Join him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter @FOX19Matthew.

 

A Reporter Reel That Stands Out… In a Good Way!

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Mar 062013

Let’s face it. Getting a job as a reporter in TV news is tough. Even in a media world where TV news is not as dominant as it once was, there are still dozens of resumes that come in for every opening. The competition is fierce.

Good. It should be tough to get a reporter job. It requires a lot of skills:  great writing, an ability to ask insightful questions, building sources, being able to quickly adapt to multiple situations, and perhaps most importantly, an ability to find out why something is important and why people should care.

The vast majority of resume reels I see these days contain nothing of the sort. So, you’re good at breaking news, huh? Then why do I have your live VOSOT from the 5pm news that has you standing (likely far away) at a crime scene, talking over generic video, throwing to a 15 second bite full of “cop speak”, and a live tag promising “I’ll have more details tonight at 6?”

There is NOTHING special about that. ANYBODY can report on that type of breaking news. What I want to see is a story that illustrates what happened, and WHY it happened. What are you using at your disposal to show that to your viewers?  It could be your live location, it could be the video you are using, or it could be the person you interviewed.

Sure, go ahead and create a 1:00 montage at the beginning of your best live reporting. Just make sure it’s not full of clips of you standing outside a darkened courthouse, or other empty building. Likewise if you are moving around—don’t show me the 3 steps to nowhere. Make your live shots have a purpose.

The stories you include in your reel are just as important. Believe me, I can tell which stories are handouts from the desk, or from a press release.

Rule of thumb: if someone is standing at a podium in front of a bunch of microphones, I don’t want to see it on your reel.

I want to see the following:

-How you can enterprise stories based on your ideas, or contacts that you have developed.

-Can you take a mundane topic, and turn it into something interesting and relevant to my life?

-Can you go beyond “just the facts” and get to the heart of WHY something is important?

Creativity and inventiveness counts. But, ultimately, I just want to know if you can meet those objectives and tell the story clearly.

There are plenty of places where people can get their news. What you need to show me, is that you can deliver something that people can’t get anywhere else. Do that, and you WILL get a call.

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Matt Kummer is the  News Director at WBAY-TV, the ABC affiliate in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

He has more than 16 years of experience in television news, with experience as an EP, producer, reporter and photographer in several markets.

You can contact him at mkummer@wbay.com, or on Twitter @mattkummer .

 

A couple of journalists emailed questions about job hunting recently.  Now that sweeps is over, the flood gates will open.

One area that many asked about is the actual application process.  Do you go through Human Resources?  Do you really need a cover letter?  Do you send an application by email, snail mail or both?  Are there any tricks to knowing how to fill out applications for jobs?

So let’s delve into these questions.  First, should you send an application to Human Resources.  Many companies require an application be filed in the corporate HR system before a news director is allowed to contact you.  So if you don’t apply through HR your application may never actually count.  So, fill out the paperwork online then email the ND a cover letter and resume stating that you have applied and are very interested in the specific job.

So the answer to whether you email or snail mail your application is a little of both.  Electronic is the way the corporate world works nowadays.  But it doesn’t hurt to follow up with a letter to an ND making sure the person is aware your application exists.

Do you need a cover letter?  Consider it an opportunity to really explain who you are as an employee.  Where else do you get to describe your work ethic, journalistic goals and strengths clearly?  A well written cover letter still impresses.  Just  make it more than, “Hi, I am so and so and I am applying for _____ job and can be reached at _____ number.”

When filling out applications, really watch for typos.  Keep in mind that many companies use programs to scan for keywords and weed out people without the required experience for a job.  Another good reason to go ahead and send a cover letter and resume.  You just never know.

Finally, as obvious as this may sound, make sure you spell the news director’s name correctly.  If you don’t, nothing else you say or do matters.  I’ve heard many ND’s talk about how often this happens.  A cover letter is sent with their name spelled wrong, a completely different name or the wrong call letters.  If you are sloppy, you will pay for it.

Hope this answers a lot of your questions.  Good luck in your search!

 

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