Friday, May 16, 2008

You had me at "Hello"

Dead air is a killer. On radio and television. (see: "The Sopranos")

But it's even worse during a telephone interview. So if you're about to go through one of the more popular (read "cheap") methods of hiring these days, you need your gift of gab to be on top of its game.

If you're looking for that first or even second job, you're probably going to run into some stations that conduct all interviews over the phone. Personally, I always thought this was pretty scary from both points of view. You can never really judge a person until you meet face to face, and, if you're the job applicant, taking a job without checking out the station or the town is a blind leap of faith.

So along with shining your shoes for a face-to-face interview, you need to polish up your phone skills.

(I should point out that in many cases where there is a great distance between the employer and prospective employee, a phone interview can be a preliminary to a face-to-face.)

So, you've sent your tape, the News Director likes it, and wants to chat about the job on the phone. If you're lucky, the ND will contact you in advance via email and set up a time. But you'll need to be on your toes in the event you simply get a cold call. And preparation for this kind of interview is just the same as if you were putting on your best outfit.

Here's your checklist:

-Voice and inflection. The News Director is going to have to "hear" your energy, so make sure you are excited about the job when you get the call. I once called a guy for a preliminary phone interview that went like this:

Me: "I just looked at your tape and thought I'd chat with you a little about our weekend anchor position and tell you about our station and the town."

Applicant: (sounding like Ben Stein from "Ferris Bueller") "Uh, okay."

Me: "So, have you ever been to our city?"

Applicant: "No. I don't care for that part of the country and I'd really like to move to Florida."

As Bruce Willis would say, "Way wrong answer!"

That applicant not only didn't get a plane ticket, the phone call only lasted a few minutes. I don't even remember the rest of the conversation because I just kept thinking, Why did this person even send a tape?

With that in mind, you must force your adrenaline into your voice. Sound excited about the possibilities. Let the News Director "hear" your smile. Next time you watch a newscast, just listen and don't watch. Note the reporters who sound interested and who tell a story by talking and not just reading. That's the kind of tone an ND needs to hear. And lighten up. Job hunting is serious, but the ND needs to know you're a friendly person.

-Have a list of questions. During every interview the News Director will ask, "Do you have any questions for me?" Having a few ready to go shows the ND you've done some thinking about the job. A good one for reporters is to ask about the quality of the photography staff. Another is to simply ask the ND, "Tell me about yourself." You should also ask about cost of living, quality of life, etc. It helps if you've gone to the station's website and checked out the product if possible. "I notice you do a lot of live shots." Another good question that shows you're serious is, "could you send me an apartment guide?"

But don't ask frivolous stuff. I was always amazed at the percentage of young job applicants who asked, "What's the single life like there?" (Geez, I don't know. Can't find a single nightclub that plays the Bee Gees.)

-Have a list of topics. The ND might not be a world-class conversationalist, so find out some things about the market to talk about. "You guys had a really big story there last week." When you hear a little dead air, jump in and fill in the gaps. Don't just wait for the next question.

-Be ready for a current events and/or writing test. The ND may fire a few questions just to see if you actually know what's going on in the world. I've had a few clients who, at the end of the conversation, were told that some wire copy was about to be emailed and they would have 30 minutes to re-write it and send it back.

-If you know when the call is coming, make sure your surroundings are quiet so that you can concentrate. I really don't want to talk with anyone with rap music (oxymoron) playing in the background.

-Hold off asking about money until the very end. It shows you are more interested in the job and the opportunities offered.

-Have something to drink nearby. You will probably be nervous and you mouth will go dry.

-Finally, and I can't believe I have to say this, don't pick up another call if your call waiting beeps. I once had a woman call me about a job, then put me on hold when she got another call. Guess who wasn't on the line when she came back?

So get your voice in shape, just like your resume tape. Because sometimes you can get your foot in the door without taking a step.


Miss Attitude said...

And don't put the ND on hold. A reporter candidate did that to my former boss. The young woman didn't even bother to push the hold button and proceeded to talk to her roommate about something stupid.

TV News Grapevine said...

That reminds me of one more thing... don't use "teen speak" when interviewing. By that I mean, "Like wow, it would be totally cool if you would hire me."