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: Christine Pitawanich, reporter for KGW in Portland, Ore.
I graduated from my masters program, at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School, in August 2010. Unlike my friends, I actually waited until January 2011 before I began applying. That’s because I had a backpacking trip planned for the whole month of October, followed by the holidays. By the time January rolled around I saw all my friends were getting jobs. I felt like a total slacker, so I figured it was time to start applying!
Do you remember what you included on your first tape?
I had a stand-up montage in the beginning followed by a hard news package, a feature package, then I think I had a couple clips of me on the student newscast anchor desk at the end. I made sure I selected clips where I looked my best, especially to start off the reel. While you need to demonstrate you’re capable of storytelling and getting the facts correct, in TV news it’s almost equally important to look comfortable on camera. I’ve heard multiple times that some news directors will only watch the first 10 seconds or so of your reel before they make the decision to stop watching or watch more. So try to use clips where you look and sound your best in the beginning of your reel. I tried to pick stand-ups that were creative, where I was walking and talking or showing something. In my anchoring clips I made sure to select stories that demonstrated my ability to connect with the content that I was reading (like changing my inflection and the way I read each story).
How many rejections did you get?
I had only applied to two stations before getting the job at the third place I applied. I never heard back from the two stations. But strangely enough, I remember applying to my first station on a Sunday night and getting a call back around noon the next day. Getting the job was, thankfully, pretty quick for me in my first market. However I’ve had friends who sent out more than a hundred applications and applied for months before getting a job. So don’t get discouraged! It’s all about timing and the type of person a station is specifically looking for.
What happened in your first interview?
The news director just wanted to get a feel for me. She asked all the basic questions about my program, why I wanted to do news, etc. I can’t remember everything she asked, but I would just say be prepared to answer questions honestly and confidently about the stories you’ve done, what you think is important about storytelling, and what you would do in hypothetical situations. Some knowledge of international, national and local events wouldn’t hurt either.
Did you ever turn down a job offer? Why?
Not yet! I honestly think I made the right call accepting the offer at my first station, but not just because they were the first to offer me the job. I had a good feeling and felt at ease with my decision. Just go with your gut. You’ll be using that instinct in the field as a reporter anyway, so make sure it’s in working order.
When did you get an offer? How did it happen?
I got an offer a couple weeks after I started talking to the station. I remember getting a call on a Friday. They told me I could start in a month. The weekend passed, then on Monday they called again, wondering if I could start that week! Of course I said yes, packed up all my stuff on Monday, drove to Medford on Tuesday, figured out a place to live on Wednesday, had my first day shadowing a reporter on Thursday, then went live with my first TV story on Friday. It was a whirlwind! While this is not usually how events unfold, it can happen. So be prepared!
Looking back, what would you have changed about the process?
I would not have changed anything. I honestly could not have asked for a better situation in getting my first job. Ask me the same question when I apply for my next job though … I’m anticipating it won’t be a cakewalk!
(Editor’s update: Since this piece ran in February, Christine has since accepted a reporter position with KGW in Portland!)