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: Ian Cull, reporter for NBC Bay Area
When did you start looking for your first TV job?
I first started looking at the beginning of my senior year of college. I’d just finished an internship at KING 5 Sports in Seattle, and had a little better idea of how the industry works. I also asked many of these same brilliant questions you’re asking now. That’s a key thing, questions. I always asked these questions of different TV news professionals I came across to get ahead of the competition out there who aren’t asking them. You’ve got to work and be ambitious!
Anyway, I compiled a list of stations of about 20 TV stations in desirable small markets. I checked the websites every day to see what their reporters were doing, what sort of stories they were covering, and most of all if they had any job openings. Now, I’d suggest getting a subscription to TVJobs.com to find job openings. It’s worth $40 a year.
Do you remember what you included on your first tape?
I asked two professors what I should include. Many news directors I’ve spoken with suggest a one minute montage with active standups, followed by three packages, and then anchoring or another montage. Nothing over 10 minutes. Even though my first package wasn’t a “hard news” package, it was my best one. I’ve been told no matter what, it’s always best to put your best stuff first.
That “best” package was about a new horseback riding class at Gonzaga. Looking back at it now, there are about 37 things I’d change. However, I stood by it. It had great nats, characters, and writing.
How many rejections did you get?
I was lucky. I only applied to about 10 places, before I got a job at KCSG in Southern Utah (which doesn’t exist anymore). My professor used to work with the news director there, and he was looking for a news/sports reporter.
Did you have to change anything about your approach to the job search?
I started applying about 5 months before I graduated.
Two months before I graduated I got restless and started following up by e-mailing and calling the news directors. Most of the time, I would call to make sure they had my application, let them know I was interested, if they wanted me to send any more materials or had any questions about me.
Nowadays, ambition is key. Every job I got after, it was because I always followed up with an e-mail about 1-2 weeks after I sent my materials. Nothing crazy. But that way, news directors know you’re serious.
What happened in your first interview?
It was the craziest interview I’ve ever had. I had to buy my own ticket from Spokane, WA to St. George, UT, but the station paid for my hotel. I arrived Saturday morning. The news director picked me up and took me out to lunch. He then brought me by the station to meet everybody and see how they work. The whole time he was asking me questions. What are your strengths/weaknesses? What do you like to do? Do you think you could really make it right out of college? Do you think you’d be comfortable moving to Southern Utah?
During every interview there’s a period where you have down time. The ND has to do some work and you’re left to ask questions of other reporters and walk around by yourself. I personally think it’s a test to see how you get along with co-workers. This can be terrifying. So what I’ve done many times is look up everyone I know I’ll meet. I read their bios, see where they went to school, try and find a connection. That way, when you meet “Jim,” you know he’s from a town where you grew up and you can relate to the nice places to visit. Or if he went to a school with a big football or basketball team like Oregon State (that’s for you Steve), you can say, “so do you think Gary Payton’s son will ever live up to his dad’s legacy at your alma mater?” Most of the time, you’ll get a chuckle … and a great recommendation from that employee when the ND asks if they like you.
I had dinner and a beer with the ND (he insisted). Then on Sunday, the ND picked me up and drove me by the station one more time. He then drove me TWO HOURS to the nearest major airport, which is in Las Vegas. It was a long drive, but I finally relaxed a little. Being grilled with questions all weekend will do that. However, we went to lunch at Margaritaville. SO FUNNY. I think he was trying to show me how awesome it’d be to live there. Looking back, it WAS an awesome first job and great place to live.
Did you ever turn down a job offer? Why?
Just this year. I was approached by an ND, but I just didn’t want to move across the country and be far away from family and friends. At this point in my life, with a child, that is very important to me. For my first job, however, I was willing to move anywhere.
When did you get an offer? How did it happen?
At the end of my interview in Southern Utah, the boss told me the job was mine if I wanted it. He sent me a formal offer two days later. I ran the contract by my family and professors.
Looking back, what would you have changed about the process?
I don’t think I would’ve change much about my job search. However, I wish I would’ve got involved in the community more at my first job. Volunteer, join a church group or intramural sports team at the rec center. Sometimes, those people will give you the best story ideas and a real sense of the town.