Everyone takes a different path to their first media job. Some people land their first choice right out of college. Others need to apply to dozens of places before landing an interview. There’s not a perfect way to get the job you want, but it can help to learn from the experience of others. In our feature “How I Got the Job,” we talk to some of the best people working professionally in media about what they did to get a foot in the door, and what it took to finally sign the contract. This week: Rob Scott, news reporter at KXAN in Austin, Texas.
Short answer: I began applying March 5th of 2012, exactly two months before I graduated from college.
Long answer: In a lot of ways, I began looking for that first job a year and a half in advance. It seems obvious to me now, but I had no idea how employment with local news worked. I knew you don’t just start in Phoenix (where I was living/studying/interning at the time) but then again, I didn’t know how [the hiring process] worked.
At my internships I would study the reporters’ careers as much as their actual work. THIS paid off. I learned which “small market” produced talent that ended up advancing their careers. I quickly realized places like Medford, Yakima and El Paso were better for hungry journalists than other small markets.
The first words out of the mouth of the first reporter I ever shadowed (and a man who become my favorite reporter to shadow) were “First thing’s first: ALWAYS make sure you get paid hourly — not salary,” as he choked down a cigarette. Wise words. Once I became a professional, I quickly realized why he was right!
I continued to learn more about good places to start and by the time I applied, I had a list of eight places I wanted above all others. Truth be told, I would have taken ANY market that gave me a call first. I checked websites for the stations in those markets everyday – multiple times a day – until I found openings. Then I sent my application immediately.
Do you remember what you included on your first tape?
I followed a strict formula I had developed after time spent talking to reporters at internships, professors, and peers. 45 to 50 seconds of live shots and standups followed by my three best packages. A five-second slate started things off with my e-mail and phone number.
I spent HOURS perfecting it, getting feedback by only a select few before leaving it be. Looking back, that reel is TERRIBLE — in every way. (Editor’s note: our first reels always look terrible when we look back on them!)
How many rejections did you get?
Honestly… zero. You either hear back or you don’t.
On March 5th I sent out four applications – Santa Barbara, Lansing, Anchorage and Medford. The next morning I had a phone interview request from a Medford station. A week later, the ink was dry.
I don’t think this part of my career is anywhere near normal, knowing what I know now.
My second job was a much different experience. More realistic too.
Three official rejection e-mails, literally 50+ unanswered applications to about 15 total markets. Took 7 months, countless hours of working my contacts and refining my work, weekly pep talks from either parents or mentors, and three legitimate times I questioned getting out of the biz.
I got my hopes up with one market after a few phone interviews. Never heard from them again.
A total of three stations even showed interest. But it only takes 1, and I was on cloud 9 when the phone rang.
Did you have to change anything about your approach to the job search?
Perhaps I’m stubborn, but no, I stayed the course. Keeping an open mind but trusting your instincts is key.
What happened in your first interview?
A very nervous college senior did all he could to impress a Medford news director with his… shall we say… generously represented news “experience.”
Did you ever turn down a job offer? Why?
Well actually, in a way. I had already signed the Medford contract when my #1 choice, in Anchorage called looking for a phone interview. I had to decline.
When did you get an offer? How did it happen?
I got a phone call on the way to Vegas… what a day!
They wanted an answer right then and there. I asked for an extension. They gave me until the end of the day. I called at the end of the day (a Friday) and asked to think it over and have an answer that following Monday. Went back and forth on it all weekend. Woke up Monday morning not going to take it. Picked up the phone, dialed the number … took the job.
Looking back, what would you have changed about the process?
Excellent question. I would not change anything. Some say I wasted too much time preparing to apply and searching for openings. I say if you want something bad enough, it’s up to you to make it happen, and that’s the mindset I followed.
I take it back, the BIGGEST piece of advice I’d give ANY journalist at ANY stage of their career: Visit, in person, the station you are about to sign your life to. You will never regret a round-trip ticket. Seeing if both the market and station are a good fit for you is key. It may seem like you know what to think, but so much can be learned about a station from mere minutes in a newsroom.