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: Emily Wood, reporter for WLWT in Cincinnati.
I started immediately after I graduated. My final quarter project was to create a resume tape and I may be aging myself but I used a combination of VHS tapes, yes, you heard it right, V-H-S tapes and DVDs. I used a wonderful online site TVjobs.com to search for openings (tip: I split the cost/shared login information with a friend). I also researched markets I really wanted to work in and checked each station’s website for openings.
Do you remember what you included on your first tape/work sample?
My best work! If your favorite story/great video/solid writing is a lighter feature, use it. News directors have seen and heard it all content wise, show your talent in its best form. My reel started with a 30 second montage of stand-ups. It was a combination of static shots, moving active show-and-tells and some creative editing. I followed it up with three packages, only three and I’d be lucky if the person watching made it through the first one. I remember at least one was a feature, the other two slightly harder or more informative news.
How many rejections did you get?
Oh plenty! I still have two or three rejection letters, and those are just the ones I know about because they wrote me back. I saved them all because it reminds me how subjective this business can be. I have no idea how many stations tossed my DVD or trashed my resume. Treat it similar to a relationship. It’s not a question of how good you are or how good the station is, it’s really how well you think the two will work together. You have to be compatible and getting a rejection just means it wouldn’t work out and you are better off.
Did you have to change anything about your approach to the job search?
Not really. I had great advice from my professors and instructors. I was prepared for rejection and how long it could take. In all I think I sent out 30 packets of resumes/tapes, enough that the woman at the post office knew me by name. Every week it was, “So what city are we applying to today?” I kept my search broad; I applied to stations in Hawaii, Alaska, the Midwest, the Southeast, the East Coast and West Coast. Be willing to move!
What happened in your first interview?
My first interview was a phone interview and I was so nervous. The initial call came when I was driving in the car with my parents to visit family. I’d been answering every phone call especially those from an unknown area code. I will never forget telling him I was driving and making my mother nervous since I was on my cell phone. He appreciated my honesty and we set up a time for a more formal interview later that week. The station could not afford to fly me out so the entire interview was over the phone. He asked a lot of questions, many of which I cannot remember but I do remember telling some personal stories. Keep in mind, you are being considered to be a story-teller so don’t make it all professional talk.
Did you ever turn down a job offer? Why?
I did. I had two offers at once so I had to make a really tough decision. They were both far from home, Oregon vs. Washington, $20K/year vs. $21K/year, Market 140 vs. Market 122 (I still have the pro/con list I made). My deciding factor was talking to current employees at each station. I got the best feeling and had the easiest conversations from my future co-workers at the smaller station for less money. Never let market size or salary solidify your decision. Best thing you can do before accepting a job is talk to people who already work there. I simply asked the news director to give me some names and contact information.
When did you get an offer? How did it happen?
It was two months before I got my first phone call, then another month for my second and before I knew it I had two offers on the table. Both were offered over the phone and I was elated but then freaked out about having to make a decision.
Looking back, what would you have changed about the process?
Nothing. I loved my resume, my reel and my cover letters. I took the time to craft each letter to the specific market and the specific station I was applying to. It takes time but it’s well worth it and a preview of what you have to do every day as a reporter — pitch stories! Looking back it would have been nice to fly out to see each station and feel “wined and dined” but I know I made the right decision and Oregon was the perfect fit for me.