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: Sarah Schueler, producer at NBC 7 in San Diego.
During college, I was given a lot of warnings about breaking into the broadcast news industry. Things like: you’re going to be overworked, you’re not going to make any money, and you’re going to have to move away for your first job. The thought of leaving Chicago, the only place I’d ever lived, was a bit scary. Because of that, I waited about six months after graduation before sending out those scores of applications that eventually led to my first job.
Do you remember what you included on your first tape?
I was lucky to have the chance to produce segments for ABC 7 Chicago while I was in school. And the people I met there were some of the most helpful I’ve ever encountered. They gave me tapes of the segments I worked on, and those became my work samples.
How many rejections did you get?
Not many rejections, but a lot of dead air. Most just plain didn’t respond. Some I played phone tag with for weeks. It was hard to always be available when I had another full time job.
What happened in your first interview?
It was a particularly crushing defeat. I remember getting a call from an unknown number while I was bowling one night. I went to a quiet area to answer and it was a news director. I was completely unprepared, flustered, and unfocused. I blew it.
Did you have to change anything about your approach to the job search?
After that, I started practicing responses to typical interview questions. The next time a station called, I was much more confident.
Did you ever turn down a job offer?
Twice, when I was looking for my second job. The first time wasn’t my choice. I had a two-year contact that wasn’t quite up. The station wanted me to leave early, and my news director said no. Sometimes that’s just how it goes in this industry. The second was just after I had accepted my second position, signed a new contract, and was getting ready to move. A station in Phoenix (a higher market then the one I was headed to) finally called back with interest in hiring me. They even offered to call the station I had signed with to try to convince them to let me out of the contract. I told them no, and that I had to honor the commitment I had already made. Even though the Phoenix station would have been a better opportunity, I still feel I did the right thing.
When did you get an offer? How did it happen?
I finally got my first job offer after about a month and a half into the job search. It just fell into place. I got the phone call at a time when I was free, the interview came easy and went well, and before I knew it I was headed to Medford, Oregon.
Looking back, what would you have changed about the process?
Nothing, it was all a learning experience. But it did take me awhile to figure out what a news director is looking for. I quickly discovered a lot of producer candidates are really aspiring reporters or anchors, which many news director frown upon. Luckily, that wasn’t my plan, but I learned to emphasize my dedication to the producing position. I also learned to always remember, this is a business. New ideas on how to raise the ratings, how to make the shows more appealing, and how to integrate with the web and social media are always welcome.