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: Adam Thompson, photojournalist with KOIN in Portland.
I started looking for my first TV job pretty late. I graduated college and kind of went back to life as usual. It was probably three or four years before I got my act together. If I’m honest with myself I think I was a little scared about trying and failing. After I decided to go for it, I really went for it.
Do you remember what you included on your first tape/work sample?
I did not include a tape or any work samples. The types of jobs I was looking for were very entry level. I did have some stuff from college that I should have included. At the time I probably thought that my “silly college work” would just be looked down on. Looking back on it now I know that when hiring managers are looking at your tape they take your career level into account. I probably would have gotten more responses if I had included something.
How many rejections did you get?
It required a spreadsheet to keep track of all the stations that never responded. This is one thing that people coming out of college need to know right away: rejection is very common. I became very discouraged because I was applying to the bottom markets around the country and I didn’t hear anything from any of them. Talk about a hit to your confidence. You begin to imagine that people are just reading your resume, laughing, then tossing it into the trash. I know now that it’s just the way it is. Stations get flooded with tapes, resumes, cold e-mails, and recommendations when a position is open and they just don’t have the time to respond to everyone. When you’re not getting responses you cannot take it personally and just keep at it.
Did you have to change anything about your approach to the job search?
My approach actually changed for the worse as time went on. I was so discouraged that I mentally checked out of the process. I felt I needed to keep sending out resumes but I was just going through the motions. Cover letters were not personalized and I am sure that I made a ton of mistakes that did get my resumes thrown way. I started aiming for quantity over quality and that was not the way to go.
What happened in your first interview?
First of all, my first interview almost never happened at all. One of those mistakes that I mentioned before went to KDRV. I typed the call letters wrong on my cover letter (“KRDV”). I later learned that the manager in charge of hiring took one look at that and refused to call me. If it wasn’t for his assistant hounding him every day I would never have heard from him. When he finally did call me I had completely given up on a job in TV and was moving on to something else.
The interview itself was pretty straightforward and relaxed. I have heard some horror stories about other interview situations. I’m very lucky that I had a good experience.
Did you ever turn down a job offer? Why?
I only had one offer to turn down and there was no way I was going to do that after all the time I had spent looking for and applying to jobs. I was offered a part time position at minimum wage and was happy to have it.
When did you get an offer? How did it happen?
I received my offer in person at the end of the interview. It was a huge relief and a little terrifying at the same time. I remember walking out to my car knowing that I was now moving to a new city and beginning a whole new career. Looking back I can see that that walk through the parking lot was a defining moment in my life.
Looking back, what would you have changed about the process?
Knowing what I know now, I would have changed a few things.
One – I would not have flooded what felt like every station in the country with my resume. I would have picked a few appropriate markets where I actually wanted to live.
Two – I would have then monitored job openings in those markets and would have had cover letters targeted to each station in each market. Those cover letters would have had details about the city, the station, and maybe even stories that I had seen on each station’s website.
Three – I would not have been afraid to reach out to people at each station. This should be done very carefully. Don’t start e-mailing the News Director and begging for a job. You could maybe e-mail the assignment desk expressing your interest and just arrange a quick tour. A brief, professional e-mail to the right person can make a huge difference.
Four – One last thing I would have changed would be my cover letter itself. This piece of advice might not be for everyone but it has worked for me later in my career and I wish I would have adopted it earlier. My cover letters used to be these boring run-of-mill blurbs about how I was “excited about the opportunity” or how I “looked forward to our future meeting.” With my latest cover letter that I used to get my current job I ditched the professional banter and wrote it a little bit looser and really tried to convey my passion for photography and for the city that I wanted to move back to. I knew I only had one chance and just put it all out there. I spent four days on the cover letter alone and had a talented writer give me notes on each revision.