Thursday, May 17, 2012

Interview with a tape screener

Continuing our series of interviews with people in the business, today we sit down with Assistant News Director Jim Nazium, who is about to go though a pile of resume tapes.

Grape: Jim, thanks for letting us sit in on this process.

Jim: No problem. You know, I figured if you were going to be here you could at least help open envelopes and stuff.

Grape: So what are you looking for today?

Jim: Entry level reporter.

Grape: Anything in particular?

Jim: If you mean am I looking for a particular sex or demographic, you know darned well I'm not going to answer that question. You think I wanna get sued?

Grape: So sometimes the best person doesn't get the job?

Jim: You said it, I didn't. I will neither confirm nor deny that premise. You ready to roll on these things?

Grape: By the way, why isn't the News Director in on this?

Jim: I know her tastes very well, so I'll just weed out the people I know she wouldn't like.

Grape: (Opening package with tape, resume and cover letter, handing tape to Jim.) Okay, here we go. First up is Kathy  who just graduated from Iwannaworkfor U.

Jim: (Pops tape into machine. Slate fills the screen with exotic graphics and pictures of a young woman flying by for sixty seconds. Jim begins to hum the theme from Jeopardy and rolls his eyes.) Is there some work anywhere in our near future?

Grape: I know, they all think a fancy slate will get them a job.

Jim: (Tape goes black for a second, then the montage begins.) Nope. (Jim hits the eject button after ten seconds.)

Grape: Tell me why you didn't like her?

Jim: Too wooden. Arms straight at her sides like a soldier. No animation in her face. Looks bored.

Grape: You got all that in ten seconds?

Jim: Well, if her best work is up front, it aint gonna get any better. Next tape please.

Grape: (Struggling with package that has been wrapped with an amazing amount of duct tape.) You got a pair of scissors?

Jim: I know. Do they want me to look at the tape or have it defused? Just move on to the next one and I'll get to that one later.

Grape: Okay, next we have Bill from New Mexico.

Jim: (Pops tape into machine) Hmmmm. Not bad. Looks like he's about eighteen though. (Ejects tape.) Next.

Grape: (Opening package and finding bag of microwave popcorn along with tape & resume.) Ellen from New Jersey sent a gift.

Jim: Cool. Free lunch. (Pops tape into machine. Woman with wicked accent makes us both reach for the mute button, but we continue watching because she's so comfortable on camera.) Dear Lord, she sounds like that woman who played The Nanny. What's that word you always say?

Grape: Fuhgeddaboudit.

Jim: Yep.

Grape: So do you ever send any of these people a note telling them to fix stuff like this? I mean, she was pretty good if you could fix the voice.

Jim: I'd love to, but no time. We've got three hundred tapes here.

Grape: Gail from Mississippi is next.

Jim: Well, at least we know she won't have a New Jersey accent. (Pops tape into machine. Screen fills with a fairly attractive young woman with good voice.) Hmmmm.

Grape: So what are you thinking?

Jim: I like her. Nice energy, mature voice for her age. Not a beauty queen... comes off as credible. (Jim lets the tape play through the first package.) Okay, she's a keeper. (He tosses the tape into a box.) What's her cover letter like?

Grape: (Reading letter) Well written. Clever.

Jim: The ND will like her, and we need people who can actually write well. Next.

Grape: Gina from Oregon.

Jim: (Tape reveals a montage in which the woman has blonde hair in one standup, brunette in another, and red in a third.) Nope. High maintenance.

Grape: She had potential.

Jim: Too much jewelry, too flashy. Trashy outfits. With all her hair colors she should work for an NBC affiliate. She could be the human peacock.

Grape: Bob from Michigan is next.

Jim: (Tape shows nice looking young man in cheap suit. But the work is solid.) Well, obviously a starving student, but underneath the wrinkled clothes he's got a lot of talent. We could trade him out some decent suits. He's a keeper.

Grape: (Opening package with tape and modeling portfolio, featuring bikini shots.) Jillian from Miami. She apparently doesn't need any clothes.

Jim: (Grabs tape and throws it away without even looking at it.) Really high maintenance.

Grape: So what happens here after you've gone through all these?

Jim: I take the good box to the ND and we watch the tapes together. Then she takes the best ones to the GM, then we start the interview process.

Grape: So what do you say to those people who have talent but didn't make the cut?

Jim: Well, the stars have to align, and this time they didn't. Maybe next time they will. Every ND has his or her own preferences, everyone's looking for something specific. A special talent, a specific demo, you never know. That's why you keep sending tapes. Even if you're not qualified with the right experience, sometimes your potential is enough to get the job.

Grape: Anything else you'd like to add?

Jim: Please don't call. Do you really think I can remember every tape I looked at in this fashion?

Grape: Unless the girl with The Nanny voice calls.

Jim: Her, I'd remember.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Job hunting in a recession part deux: sometimes life gets in the way of your career

Got this very valid question after the last post:

News Directors don't think bad of you if it's been a few months since graduation and you haven't fond a job in the industry yet, what if it's been a few years? A few years and you've been working in a totally different field? How does one overcome that on their resume?

To answer this, let me go back to a job fair I attended as a manager several years ago.

We were looking for some entry level people, specifically assistant producers, and had a booth set up at the job fair. Lots of people with journalism degrees dropped off resumes but none had impressed me. At one point this young lady in her mid-20's came up and started talking to me. I could tell right away she was very smart, well read and ambitious. She had zero television experience and had been working in a totally unrelated field. She'd gotten married in her teens, had a kid, etc. so everything got put on hold in her life.

Anyway, long story short, we hired her and she turned out to be one of our best people.

So the answer is that life can often get in the way of your career.

Let's say you graduated two years ago and couldn't find that first job. You had bills to pay, so you grabbed a job as an insurance salesman. Or a waitress. Or cutting lawns. You did what you had to do to survive.

And a News Director knows that. At least, a good one will. A good one will see that you didn't sit at home forever waiting for something to pop. A good one will see that your dream is still alive.

But here's the caveat: you have to keep your head in the game. You can't go into an interview after a few years out of the business and not know who's running for President, why the Secret Service is under scrutiny and the latest on the John Edwards trial. You must be up on current events. You have to let the ND know that even though you've been working in dad's deli (I'm looking in the mirror here) you're still going home and reading lots of newspapers and watching plenty of newscasts.

Life gets in the way more often than not. You may expect to be in a certain market by a certain age, but factors you can't even comprehend can change your plan. You can graduate during a recession, fall in love, have to take time to deal with a sick parent, any number of things. The point is to stay focused on your ultimate goal and keep your head in the game, even if your body has had to be somewhere else.