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: Will Mahon, newscast director at KDRV in Medford, Ore., and production director at PillowBox Media.
What got you interested in a TV career?
My interest in a TV career was a bit of a happy accident. I didn’t exactly go to school for it, and I hadn’t really considered the work I was doing as anything more than hobby. The initial addiction to visual media started when I was pretty young – junior high I believe. A youth group I was involved in was conducting a small film festival, and my best friend at the time had just acquired a shiny new copy of Adobe Premiere Elements.
After learning the ropes, I plunged in headfirst and before I knew it I had edited my first video. I was hooked. My face would reflect the dull blue glow of an LCD screen for hours, pouring over articles on shooting, editing and effects. The idea that I could tell a story with little more than my cheap Kodak and a razor tool gave me a sense of direction that few things could rival.
I could make people feel something – and that felt good.
My love for media grew exponentially. I took several classes on digital media in high school and my free time was spent shooting, editing and experimenting. I was driven by the idea that, with time, I too could become as good as the industry giants I looked up to.
When did you start looking for your first TV job?
In late 2009 I traded the dusty caldera of northern Nevada for the lush greenery of southern Oregon. It was a bit of a culture shock, but I loved every bit of it. I came to the Rogue Valley jobless and not really sure of what direction I wanted to go in. I dabbled in temp work and some freelance web design gigs. None of it felt like a fit.
One drowsy autumn afternoon, I meandered over to the TV jobs section on Craigslist. I saw a few posts for the local TV stations, and while I entertained the idea, I didn’t feel like I had the skills to do it yet. While scanning through the posts I came upon a listing for an independent satellite/web TV station. After mustering up some courage, I hastily put together an email introducing myself and listing my skills.
It worked. I got a call back later that day and started working as an editor and assistant camera operator.
I was with the company approximately six months. I learned a lot, but it wasn’t the level of professionalism that I had been yearning for. I turned my eyes back to the job listings from the local news affiliates, crafted a resume and crossed my fingers.
It took a few months, and a few different versions of my resume before one stuck. My phone rang while I was at work, I quietly stepped outside and answered. It was the news director for KOBI-TV and she wanted me in for a working interview. I almost fainted from excitement.
Do you remember what you included on your first tape/work sample?
This part was a little strange for me. When I landed my first news job as a video journalist, the concept of a reel or resume tape was foreign to me. I didn’t send anything other than a PDF resume and cover letter. To this day I have no idea how I got into the industry without having a reel. I’m honestly dumbfounded by it.
If I had to guess I would probably have to give an incredible amount of credit to the photog I was shadowing during my interview – Travis Koch. He put in a really good word for me, and guided me through the whole experience.
What happened in your first interview?
My first interview was a working interview. That’s something I was incredibly thankful for, considering that I was fairly nervous to talk to someone I didn’t know about why they should pay me to have fun.
Fortunately the news director let me know that this was going to be the situation beforehand. I came in dressed to work. I sat in on the morning meeting and tried to not draw any attention to myself. I just sat quietly and attempted to play catch up with people who had been in the business for years ahead of me. After the meeting I tailed my mentor photog for the VOSOTs he was assigned that day.
It was a pretty surreal experience, but at the same time I felt like I was in my element. Travis handed me his camera and let me give it my best shot. I grabbed B-roll while he made small talk with the people I was about to interview. We eventually made our way back to the station where I ingested the footage I had shot. He gave me the basic once-over on how to edit news pieces and left me to work. I was sweating bullets. “This is the real test.” I thought. Not yet used to the fast pace of a newsroom, it took me probably a half hour to edit that single vosot. Once again I mustered up some of the courage left inside of me and called it good. The day ended with exchanging a few words and a firm handshake.
Driving home that afternoon I felt like I had found my place in the world for the first time. Some hidden, yet cerebral part of me knew that I would be back in that newsroom soon.
About week after I had my initial working interview, I was working my other job when my phone rang, the news director said that she’d like to offer me the photog spot. I accepted and started a few weeks later.
How many rejections did you get?
I actually never received any outright rejections. I do know that my resume was likely passed on several times, even by the station that eventually hired me. I persevered, refined and re-executed my resume until I got a phone call. Looking back, it was actually a valuable learning experience. It taught me a great deal on how to reexamine my work and how to be okay with changing things that needed to be changed, no matter how much I liked them.
Did you have to change anything about your approach to the job search?
Yes. In the beginning I was trying to do too much. My resume designs were over the top, filled with too much text and were filled with pretty words. I think if you’re just starting your career in TV it’s a good lesson to learn to keep things simple, concise and clean. It’s deceptively easy to create something that is overly-produced. Don’t become a victim of trying to show off your expert camera skills by using movement and rack focusing and cross dissolves in every other shot. One of the hardest concepts I’ve had to learn have been learning when to say “No.” and how to keep things simple and clean.
Looking back, what would you have changed about the process?
You know, I’m pretty appreciative for the way things have happened. I feel as though had it gone any other way I’d likely have missed out on a lot of important learning opportunities.
Getting the job as a photog lead me to getting a job in master control, where I gained a lot of technical and production experience. Going from master control to being the full time editor, photog and live truck operator taught me how to use my time and how to be efficient. I even managed to front a couple packages and live shots. My time spent at KOBI prepared me for production work at KDRV. The production work lead to my current position as a newscast director. All of that, with my hobby and freelance work I feel has prepared me for the next step I want to take.
I suppose if I could change anything, it would have been to learn to lean into the uncomfortable moments of the job. I wish I could have gotten more comfortable with getting Man-On-The-Street interviews, as well as not being as afraid to tell people “no” when I should have said it. I think without those experiences though, the path I have taken thus far could have been drastically different.
I’m proud of where I came from, and I’m excited for where I’m going.