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: Whitney Clark, reporter at KGUN9 in Tucson, Ariz.
I started looking a few months before I graduated from college. I didn’t seriously start applying though until the week before graduation. I was so busy at the end of the semester and I really wanted to enjoy my final college days.
Do you remember what you included on your first tape?
I had about 45 seconds of live shots/stand-ups and three packages. I of course put my best stuff first. Choose stand-ups where you are showing viewers something. Include one that shows your personality! It sounds weird but you want to show your smile at least once!
How many rejections did you get?
Too many to count! Well, I guess not really “rejections,” I just never heard back from most stations. For my first job I applied to 50+ stations and heard back from about three of them. That’s the hardest part of the process! You apply to a job and just NEVER hear back. It will make you feel really terrible and that everyone hates you. When I was feeling discouraged I just tried to remember that every station is looking for something VERY specific, and though it may not feel like it there is a news director out there looking for you!
Did you have to change anything about your approach to the job search?
Not really, but I do think that the job search is an ongoing process. Figure out where you want to be in five years and the steps you need to get there. I have spent an insane amount of time researching how anchors and reporters have ended up in their positions. It’s fascinating to me. If you want to live in a particular place, follow the stations and reporters in that market. Reach out to them and ask them for feedback. You’d be surprised at how many people are willing to help. Let them know that when a position opens up you would be interested. Use. Your. Connections. That’s the best/easiest way to get a job!
What happened in your first interview?
It was over the phone and honestly I don’t remember a lot of it because I was so nervous! The news director explained the position and the station. He asked why I wanted to work there and I didn’t know what to say! “I just want a job” is not a good enough answer. Make sure you know why you want to work at that station. Do your research and pick out a few things that you like about their coverage, and maybe something you would improve.
Did you ever turn down a job offer? Why?
There have been a few job opportunities I have not taken because I knew that I had zero interest in living in that particular market. A lot of my friends have had terrible experiences in their first market and they end up getting out of the business. Most of them hate it because they hate where they live. If you like to work around people, don’t work at a bureau. Do you hate the snow? Don’t move to a place where it snows a lot. If you are signing a three-year contract make sure it’s at a place you will enjoy living!
What was your experience like during your in-person interview?
My first in-person interview didn’t really feel like an “interview” at all! I went to a station to interview for a morning anchor position. I went in super early – like I was going in for a normal shift. I shadowed the producers, learned about the newscast, about the station, etc. It can be intimidating going into a newsroom where everyone knows each other. Just be yourself and ask a lot of questions. It shows you’re interested. Also remember – you are kind of interviewing them too! If you get a bad vibe from the news director or the newsroom, maybe that’s a sign it’s not the right place for you.
When did you get an offer? How did it happen?
I had a few phone interviews with my news director, and then he called and offered me the position! I never even went for a visit. I was surprised at how quickly it all happened. I got a contract a few days later and that was it.
Looking back, what would you have changed about the process?
There are a LOT of things I wish I had known. Definitely do your research when it comes to the company that owns your station. What other stations do they own? Is there room for you to grow and transfer to a bigger market? Know what your “outs” are! (Editor’s note: “outs” are terms negotiated into your contract that allow you to leave if certain stations, cities, or markets give you an offer) Also – make sure you know how much notice you have to give when you do get a new job. A lot of times it is 30 days, but others are longer (like 45 days) and some stations might have a problem with waiting that long. Never turn down an interview. If a station reaches out to you, at least do one phone interview. If anything it will be good experience.
I think really the most important thing when looking for a job is to be patient! Go into with an open mind. You learn a lot about the news and just life in general at your first job. I was shocked at how much I didn’t know – from how city government works, the judicial system, etc. It took me about a year to really feel comfortable at my first job. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing and seriously doubted myself — but just know you will get better!