by Bob Witten
What do employers look for when you apply for a job? Or put another way, what can you do to ensure you don’t get the job? Plenty, according to news directors at a recent conference sponsored by the Texas Association of Broadcasters. Here’s some useful advice along with a few cautionary tales.
Make sure you address the news director personally, not “To whom it may Concern” or “Prospective Employer”–seriously! If necessary, call the station and ask, “Who is the news director and how do you spell his/her name?” One news director was getting letters addressed to his predecessor six months after the guy was fired. Another got a pitch reel with his correct address, but the news director named was the guy across town. Make sure you get the gender right, too. Kelly could be a man.
Personalize the letter, be creative. Tell who you are and what you want to do. This is the first example of your writing this news director will see. Make it GOOD: interesting, original, with correct spelling and punctuation. But don’t try too hard. One memorable letter read: “From murders to rapes to fires, I’ve done it all.” He didn’t get the job.
Also, no gimmicks, no gifts. The panel described job seekers who enclosed candy, toys and Starbucks gift cards–no, no, no.
One page is best. Do not pad, do not exaggerate, do not lie. Some employers like Time Warner demand an extensive background check on any prospective employee. Don’t claim degrees or awards you don’t have. Don’t claim to have worked on a project you had no part in. Even if you’re well qualified otherwise, a lie on your resume makes you unemployable.
Contact information should be professional. Is your personal email address frivolous or offensive (firstname.lastname@example.org)? Create a new, free address at Gmail or Yahoo or spend $10 and get your own domain name. Make it professional.
Give people you intend to list as references the courtesy of asking if you may list them. Also ask if their employer allows them to comment on past employees. Some can’t, as part of company policy.
Provide a name, title, phone number and email address for each reference. If the people you list work odd shifts or days of the week, indicate the best time to reach them.
Whether sending tape or a DVD, label it neatly and professionally. A messy package goes to the bottom of the pile. No cute hearts or sticky stars on the labels either. News directors do not have time to fool around. One said he is currently reviewing 200 to 400 applications for one reporter position. So make the first thing on your pitch reel your absolute best work. Chances are, they will not look past that first piece. Show your real experience and do not include an anchor audition you’ve done on the set at a station or network where you interned. As one news director said, “Send it to your friends and your mother but not to me.”
Also, if you have a job and are seeking another one, do not include anything from college. If your college work is still what you are most proud of, what have you been doing?
Follow directions on the job application. If it says send it to the human resources department, do that. Don’t send it to the news director, and for Pete’s sake, don’t send it to the general manager or the news director’s wife, asking him/her to put in a good word for you. Yes, this really happens. Bad idea.
A hint: Even if you want to work in TV, don’t be afraid of doing radio.”Come to us for a year, then these guys [the TV ND's] will hire you,” one radio news manager said. The TV news directors agreed. But don’t send a radio news director a video.
These days, it’s mandatory for anyone in the news business to have an online presence. But if an employer Googled your name, what would she or he find? Employers are checking you out on Facebook, Twitter and the Web. “If you tweet about being drunk, I’m not going to hire you,” said one news director.
When another news director visited one applicant’s Facebook page, he found a picture of her face down in a thong, passed out, surrounded by empty beer bottles. Deal breaker, right there.
Clean up your online act and do it now.
Dress professionally, as if you were on TV, or being asked to represent the station. No t-shirts, no cleavage, no flip-flops. A presentable haircut. No outlandish facial hair. Dress professionally for the job you are seeking. You might even call the station and ask if there is a dress code.
Do not bad-mouth your current or previous employer. Be a team player before you tell a prospective boss that you are one. If you are high maintenance or have an attitude in your current job, they will find out. ”Do I want to bring a cancer into my newsroom?” one news director asked. “Negative Nelly–I don’t want anything to do with them,” said another.
Be prepared. Some news directors may give you a pop quiz, asking who the local member of Congress is, or the difference between a county or state district attorney or where the Dow Jones is right now. Know these things!
Lastly, it is your interview too. Have an agenda. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Will I work weekends? Is there overtime? What would be expected of me? As one news director put it, “Being really desperate for a job is one thing. Being really miserable in a job is to be avoided.”