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: Kirstin O’Connor, anchor, reporter and producer for KDRV in Medford.
I was a junior in college at the University of California, San Diego when I first applied for a news internship. Since my college didn’t have a journalism program, (I majored in communications) I really needed a way to learn practical skills before graduation. That internship led me straight into my first job at NBC7 San Diego, and I still believe I never would have been hired straight out of school without it!
Do you remember what you included in your reel?
I didn’t need a reel for my first news job, since it was a “freelance position” and I was used mostly as an assignment editor and writer/producer. But I used that time in the big market to put together a solid reel with professional photographers. I really think that’s what set me apart from other people sending out their first reels, because it was shot beautifully. People will give mixed advice about the best ways to put together a reel; some say it just needs to be your best work. But I’ve found the people who get the best jobs, or the jobs they really want, have help from photographers. After all, not everyone sets an end goal to be an MMJ.
How many rejections did you get?
When I applied to my first job at NBC7 San Diego, like I said earlier, I had already been an intern for about a year so the Assistant News Director and News Director knew me pretty well. I did apply to a web writing position first that I interviewed for and wasn’t offered. When the freelance position opened up the Executive Producer immediately asked me if I’d done a writing test and I was hired within the week. Many people who start in big markets work their way in like that, as hourly freelancers, but the position is usually temporary (1-2 years max). So I knew the clock was ticking!
Did you have to change anything about your approach to the job search?
So working at NBC7 San Diego was invaluable for me because I learned how to write scripts, stack and produce, shoot packages, and most importantly, master my local news judgment. And after a few months, I was offered the opportunity to work full time in a salaried position as an Assignment Editor. But I always wanted to work on-air, and was blatantly told by mentors in San Diego that it wouldn’t happen unless I moved to a smaller market first. So I made a TVJobs account and started applying for Anchor/ Reporter jobs across the country.
What happened in your first interview?
My interview at NBC7 San Diego was pretty casual, but I was still nervous! I sat down with the HR Director, who I already knew pretty well from my internship. He asked me what my long-term goals were, and why I thought the freelance position would help me get there. Preparing for interviews can never hurt you, but questions will always pop up that you can’t anticipate. I’ve found it’s just important to be honest. You don’t have to “overshare” but if the station wants you, it also wants to help you get into a position that gives you the opportunity to grow.
Did you ever turn down a job offer? Why?
After I applied to Anchor/Reporter positions I was offered jobs at three stations. I turned down the first two for several reasons. I wasn’t familiar with either city, one was in Texas and the other in Washington state. One of the News Directors offered me a bureau reporting position, even though that’s not how the job opening was listed. My mentors advised against bureau jobs, because I still had a lot to learn and I would miss out on what experienced reporters could share being separated from the station. But overall, I made my decision based on my gut feelings following the phone interviews. It’s great to ask mentors for help, but you are the only one who can make decisions about the position, environment, and move that’s right for you.
What was your experience like during your in-person interview?
In my current job at KDRV, my first in-person interview was after I accepted the job and moved to Medford. Before that, I had two phone interviews and a Skype interview with the News Director, Assistant News Director, and Executive Producer.
When did you get an offer? How did it happen?
My offer came about a week or two after my phone interviews. The News Director called and told me he was impressed with my work and gave me a detailed description of the shift and shows I would start with. I had already talked to my family and mentors and accepted right away. It was a very quick process, so really be ready before you send out those tapes!
Looking back, what would you have changed about the process?
It’s easy to say, “what if I had done this” or “I wish I would have known that” but in the end you have to make your own path. Keep your confidence and a positive attitude even when you’re unsure of yourself, because remember, you can never know it all in news. And if you really want it, just go for it, the rest will fall into place.