Friday, November 18, 2011

Chemistry: the intangible that can get you...or cost you...a job

We all know the most talented person often doesn't get the job. Same with the most experienced, the best looking, yadda, yadda, yadda.

But there's one factor we've not talked about here over the years when it comes to anchor jobs...and that's chemistry.

During my career I co-anchored with a lot of people. Some were great friends with whom I had a lot in common, others were people who I couldn't stand that made me leave skid marks on the set at 6:31 pm. Some seemed to be on the same wavelength when it came to cross talk and ad-libs, while others would hand you a dead fish coming out of a break.

Which brings us to the "chemistry interview."

Awhile back I was working at a station and we lost our female co-anchor. So we did the usual; ran an ad, went through the tapes, held a gong show, and narrowed things down to the three finalists. Had this been a solo anchor job we would have offered it to the person at the top of the list, but because the woman we hired would have to work with a co-anchor, we had to see if there was a spark of chemistry. Viewers love on-air "couples" with chemistry.

So we arranged to bring all three women in to do a mock newscast with the guy who would be their co-anchor. In effect, we needed his opinion before picking, as one anchor once put it, "My on-air wife." But first, we sent each one to lunch with the guy. No management, just the two of them. We couldn't just pull people off the street, throw them on the set and expect chemistry. We needed to at least let them get to know each other for an hour or two in a casual setting. Then we brought them back to the newsroom, let the woman sit next to the guy as he prepared his newscast.

When the newscast was done we simply re-loaded the prompter and let the two of them do a mock show.

When we were done with all three, we watched each tape to see if there was chemistry. Then we brought the anchor in to ask who he'd like to work with. You might think management had all the power in such decisions, but this is one occasion where an anchor's opinion carries a good deal of weight. The anchor told us who he liked, who he felt comfortable with, who he had the most in common with. Then we made our decision. It was as important for him to be comfortable with the hire as we were.

So, how can you improve your chances in this scenario? You really can't. You can't fake chemistry, and you can't snap your fingers and produce it. It's either there or it's not. And it may be the reason the person most deserving of the job didn't get it.


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