Thursday, August 20, 2009

Background checks: the unseen job killer

Several years ago we were looking for an experienced reporter and an interesting tape crossed my desk. I realized a friend of mine was working in the same market at the competition, so I gave him a call, hoping for some insight on the reporter. It didn't take long for the air to go out of the balloon.

"You don't want him," said my friend.

"Why not?" I asked.

"He closes down a bar every night."

Resume tape, meet trash can.

In that case the guy with a decent tape didn't get any consideration because of something that wasn't on his resume. News Directors look for lots of things, but red flags are right up there with writing ability. If you can hire a reporter who is normal instead of one who's likely to end up in jail, you're gonna hire the one who won't cause a problem.

On another occasion I was applying for a reporting job with a company that required everyone to take a drug test, so I was sent to a medical facility. While sitting in the waiting room, I saw the guy who was in front of me come out of the back room red-faced, and the nurse behind him laughing hysterically. When I asked her what was so funny, she said, "His urine sample was ice cold. If you want to beat a drug test with someone elses sample, don't use a refrigerator."

Then there was the case of the great photog we wanted to steal from the competition. Our ND had asked all the field crews for opinions, and we all liked the guy. He was always professional and the kind of person who'd lend you a battery if yours went dead. Alas, the failed drug test sent his application into the dumpster. Even if the ND had wanted to look the other way, the company had a zero tolerance policy. Fail the test, no job.

These days background checks are becoming standard as more stations fear future liability or downright embarrassment. Recently someone pointed out to me that some companies will even ditch an application for a speeding ticket... since chances are you'll be driving station cars and live trucks.

There are career-enders in this business that have absolutely nothing to do with talent. And in some cases, you can't even get your career started because of transgressions in college. Watch the NFL draft sometime and you'll hear how some players have their stock drop because of problems in college. Lots of things may be chalked up to youthful indiscretions, but they're still red flags.

Even the smallest things can send a bad message. Got a personal website with pictures of yourself drunk or in varying stages of undress? Or a blog with details that hold a clue to your life behind the scenes? Trust me, NDs google everyone these days just to see what's out there.

When you're young you think you're bulletproof, but there's no such thing in the world of television. You have to hold yourself to a higher standard, because employers will do the same.


Amanda said...

In the case of your name being Googled by NDs, what does one do when they have an unusual last name that is their legal name and some other results not related to them turns up too?

In my case, Googling my name brings up my personal and professional stuff - personal website, participation in various industry work groups online - and that of a nude model on the other side of the country who uses my first and last name as a stage name.

I'm well aware of how conservative news directors are, and with how unusual my last name is, its almost a given that the two of us would be assumed to be the same person.

-The Grape said...


Well, in your case I would think it would be obvious to the ND that you woulldn't be that stupid.

And hopefully you two don't look anything alike.