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: Erin Maxson, news anchor, reporter and producer at KDRV in Medford, Ore.
Right after my internship. I interned in entertainment news in LA and realized I loved news but … real news … so I started applying to small markets, mostly in the Midwest where I am from.
Do you remember what you included on your first tape?
My internship mentor helped me shoot a bunch of generic newsy stand ups … gas prices, World Cup influence, heat wave, food drive. I also included two packages – one on tourism in LA and another about a new aquatic center in my college town. Technically I shot that after I had officially graduated but I sweet-talked my professors into letting me use the schools gear.
How many rejections did you get?
A lot if you count the number of stations who didn’t reply. I did three interviews and was rejected for the first two – to be fair I totally bombed them – and accepted my first TV job following my third interview. In the meantime I worked at a small town newspaper as their sports editor (!) But I knew I wanted to stay in the “biz” as much as possible … and I learned a lot about writing and the difference between print and broadcast that I did not learn in the classroom.
Did you have to change anything about your approach to the job search?
After the first round of tapes went out and I didn’t hear anything I figured I was aiming too high … so I sent a second round to even smaller markets. Most were hiring, some were not.
What happened in your first interview?
I was sooooo scared! The news director was really intimidating and it was actually my first time in a real news station (yeah, really – to be fair though, I thought I wanted to do entertainment news). I was completely unprepared for his questions about how I would respond to different situations with interviewees, topics, ethical issues, etc. After that terrible experience I started studying – thinking about hypotheticals and asking fellow grads and current students what they thought.
What was your experience like during your in-person interview?
It’s nerve racking. The interview for the two jobs I accepted were so casual, very laid back. More “get to know you” rather than “are you good enough to hire.” The two interviews in which I failed were very standoffish, almost like they knew from the moment I walked in like I was not the “one.”
When did you get an offer? How did it happen?
My first offer came two hours after my interview ended. My second offer came one night while I was out with friends for my birthday. I almost deleted the message (don’t tell Rick Howard) but I called him back and we started to negotiate the details.
Looking back, what would you have changed about the process?
I was totally unprepared during the application process the first time. I wish I would have done more internships because I must have sounded totally clueless in those first interviews. I would have worked to get harder stories on my reel and personalize my cover letter to the stations and the community I was applying to. Back when I first applied, web stories were almost non-existent, social media was non-existent in news, and people still submitted VHS tapes (It was so expensive!) If I ever apply again I will make sure my Facebook and Twitter accounts reflect the atmosphere, environment, and priorities of the kind of station I want to be a part of. I think that’s most important to me now that I’ve worked out the early green years; being at a station with coworkers and a management team that I don’t work for, but truly work with. Of course, that doesn’t happen 100% of the time but it’s a good goal to have.
Also, if you hate the first job, or you are having a tough time getting an interview or offer, don’t give up! Each station, city, boss, owner is different. I almost left the business after my first job and I can honestly say I am SO glad I didn’t!