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: Justin Bourke, reporter and anchor for KENS 5 in San Antono.
I first started looking right out of grad school. I thought I was a hotshot because I had good grades and my professors liked me. I was not. Now I’m too embarrassed to even look back at that original reel.
I was lucky enough at the time to intern at the same station where the VP of news the ownership company happened to work. I made a point to introduce myself and have some of my professors put in a good word, and she generously agreed to send my website out to some of her news directors. I heard back from two ND’s pretty quickly, one in Des Moines hoping to fly me out for an interview, another in Burlington, VT. The Burlington station offered me a job … but it was bureau job. So I started applying to places online, and within a few days got a message back from a Medford station. No bureau, an opportunity to anchor, and it was in a cool place I’ve never been to. Sold. A couple of phone calls and a weekend of hair pulling and hang-wringing later, I was packing my car and headed to Oregon.
Do you remember what you included on your first tape?
I followed the basic formula: montage of standups (starting with the good, hard news stuff); three packages (my election coverage was pretty good so I focused on that); a sprinkle of anchoring here and there. The big thing was that I reached out to a friend with a nice DSLR camera. We wrote a bunch standups on big stories that were going on at the time and shot them all in a couple of days. The videography popped, which is probably why people actually responded. I also made a website through Pixpa and made it all pretty with the demo tape front and center.
In retrospect, the packages were way too long. I should have kept them to 1:15-1:20 tops.
How many rejections did you get?
One. I interviewed in Des Moines and the ND was kind enough to inform me that he selected another candidate.
Did I get ignored though? Oh God yes. I can’t even count the amount of applications that simply didn’t get responses. Get ready because there are going to be A LOT of those.
Did you have to change anything about your approach to the job search?
My approach was pretty typical. I milked every contact I had while firing out applications on TVJobs.com. I actually ended up going with a job I got through TVJobs. The big thing I noticed is that small market news tends to move fast. ND’s reach out quickly, interview quickly, and accept/reject you even faster. I would say the whole process typically lasted about a couple of days.
What happened in your first interview?
I had two interviews in person, one in Des Moines and the other in Burlington. Both lasted a couple days; lots of getting to know the station and only a little bit of actual question and answer. The interview for the job I ended up taking was done over the phone. I remember thinking that all of them were far different from interviews in any other industry. It wasn’t so much talking about “your greatest strengths and weaknesses” but more a lengthy conversation about the market, my experience, and the industry as a whole. The best advice I can offer: go over your work so you know exactly what your highlights are, do TONS of research on the market, and do what you do best as a reporter – talk.
Did you ever turn down a job offer? Why?
I turned down two. One was, those stations had two anchors famously quit on-air, so I applied thinking it was low-hanging fruit. I ended up getting an immediate response and an offer with barely an interview at all. The whole thing seemed off.
I turned down another offer because it was a bureau job. I ended up deciding I’d rather get the full newsroom experience rather than roughing it on my own.
When did you get an offer? How did it happen?
The offer I took came very quickly, we had one or two phone interviews. It was a bit terrifying because it gave me two days to pack everything I owned into a 2-door car and drive 50 hours to a place I had never been. I didn’t even have time to find an apartment. I ended up couch surfing for my first few days while I found a place. In retrospect I’m glad I went through that. It prepares you for all the times you’ll have to leave your comfort zone and fly by the seat of your pants in day-to-day work.
Looking back, what would you have changed about the process?
Negotiation, negotiation, negotiation. I was so excited to get my first reporting job that I barely negotiated a thing. I sent the contract out to a few mentors to make sure it checked out before signing it, but that was it. My advice is to not be afraid. And keep in mind money isn’t the only thing you can negotiate. There are opt-out clauses and other perks like moving expenses or clothing allowances. And once it’s signed, it’s signed.