When I was about to graduate college, I thought I was the shit.
I had done awesome work in college, and just got finished doing two excellent media jobs the past two summers. My plan was laid out for me: I would quickly get a TV job, get promoted, rise through the ranks, become a big-time reporter in a large market, win some awards and be well on my way to ESPN.
Then a few weeks went by. And I didn’t hear anything back on my job applications. Nothing. OK, maybe I’ve been shooting too high. I’ll try applying to smaller markets.
A month went by. And another. Radio silence.
I redoubled my efforts. I finally got a TVjobs.com account. I created a folder of every TV market in the west, complete with the names and email addresses of news directors. I spent my mornings printing and shipping DVDs, got a quick lunch, and spent my afternoons emailing and calling news directors. I applied to every market in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, California, Nevada, and Arizona. I sent applications to stations in Wyoming, Montana, Tennessee, Ohio, and Mississippi. When sports jobs weren’t working, I tried news reporter jobs. When those didn’t pan out, I expanded to photog jobs.
It got to the point where I applied and interviewed for a production position with the local cable access channel before I finally got a callback, interview, and offer from a TV station. It was four months since I had started my job search.
Basically, I learned getting a job can take a long time.
During that stretch, I occupied myself in my free time by starting a sports blog. I wrote a new column every day, posted videos and pictures, brought in guest columnists, and tweeted out my links. That daily creative process gave me a regular presence online. I wasn’t stuck in limbo, sending out links to my work from a vacuum. I was creating, interacting, and showcasing my work. Maybe a news director or sports director would see it and get a sense of my personality, work ethic, and writing style.
I have no idea whether that blog actually helped me get an eventual job, but I do know that it didn’t hurt my chances. Anything you can do to maintain an actual presence will help you stand out during your job hunt.
Whether you are just starting out, or you are looking to take the next step in your media career, you need to be prepared for a potentially lengthy job search. That means taking steps to ensure you’re ready when a job comes open, and finding new ways to potentially shorten the search.
Save all of your work
Homer Simpson put it a little better: “Just like the time I could have met Mr. T at the mall. The entire day, I kept saying, ‘I’ll go a little later, I’ll go a little later…’ And when I got there, they told me he just left. And when I asked the mall guy if he’ll ever come back again, he said he didn’t know. Well, I’m never going to let something like that happen again!”
Don’t wait to start saving your best work. The moment it’s in the can, it should also be in your hard drive.
Jobs can appear quickly and disappear just as quickly. When one pops up, you don’t want to waste time editing together a new reel or searching for that old article you wrote. Save everything you make, regardless of quality. You’ll want to hang on to it for nostalgic purposes, but you’ll also need it as work samples. If a news director looks at your reel and says, “OK, now show me three recent packages,” you better have something to show them right away. Saying “I never saved them” is a sure-fire way to have your resume thrown in the trash. Save your work in clearly labeled folders so you can access it the moment you need it.
The same concept goes for your reel or resume. Keep it constantly updated with your best, most recent work, to the point where you may be editing a new one every week. Make the process of sending it to an employer just a few easy clicks.
Put your work online
Part of making it easy to send your work to employers means getting it on the Internet. If you try to mail your resume, clippings, or a DVD of your work, it’s already too late. Not only is snail mail ridiculously slow, it also sends the message to your employer that you don’t know how to use modern communication methods. No news director has the time to open 100 DVDs, put them into a player, watch them, and eject them. They’re under pressure to fill the position quickly, so give them something they can view quickly.
If you have a video reel, it needs to be on YouTube or Vimeo, something that can be sent or shared with a single click. Put other full packages online as well. If you are a writer, get the links to your stories and save a version of them on your own computer. You never know when your former employer changes web servers and all of your old material gets lost.
Create a web site
The easiest way to put this all together is to create your own web site. Think of it as one-stop shopping for employers during your job search. If an employer goes to JohnSmith.com, they will see your resume, your video reel, your biography, links to your work samples, or anything else you choose to include.
The advantage to creating your own web site is that you control everything about it. You don’t have to worry about related YouTube videos distracting your viewer, or unrelated ads or articles getting in the way. It’s entirely your creation, and it serves as a way for an employer to see what you create.
You also need to know where to look to create a professional-looking web site, because we all know journalists need to stretch every dollar. GoDaddy is pretty cheap, and Wix lets you design your site, but the easiest option might be WordPress, which can give you professional looking templates at no cost.
Whether you are creating a web site or just using YouTube you need to understand your legal rights. In most people’s contracts, the station or publication owns all of your work; it’s their property. That being said, I have never heard of any news director coming after a reporter for posting their resume tape online. To me, your reel is your resume, and being forced to take it down because of intellectual property rights would be the equivalent of asking an employee to take a resume down from Monster.com. Like I said, I’ve never heard of a news director ever taking steps like this, so just make sure you’re not selling the video to a third party and you should be fine posting your stories on your web site or to YouTube.
Do a little more
Once your site is up, do more with it. It can’t just be a repository for work samples and resumes. Take this thing you have created and take the next step – be a regular content producer. Show that you still work on new projects even in between jobs.
Write a regular blog, produce a weekly podcast, link to your Twitter feed or a Facebook fan page. Post a photo of the day, a video diary, or link to news that interests you.
This does two things – one, it increases your portfolio and makes you more versatile. Maybe someone is looking for a writer, and you have a ready-made work sample. Maybe a radio job comes along that suddenly interests you because of your podcasting experience. You suddenly become more than your 3-month-old work samples – you are a content creator.
And second, it gives your mind a creative outlet during the job search. Sometimes that job search lasts a hell of a lot longer than you think, and if you get stuck in an endless loop of printing resumes, emailing links, licking stamps and shipping DVDs, your life and sanity will go into a downward spiral. Creating something new, whether it’s a daily blog or a collection of still photos, gives you something to do every day that isn’t job search-related. It will keep you sane. You’ll also create a good collection of work samples to do with it.
The road to a job can be long, so prepare for the trip!