A female anchor once told me, “News Directors are just like single men. They say they’ll call, but they never do.”
Nothing drives on-air people nuts more than wondering what actually happens to their resume tapes after they send them. Did the ND watch my tape? Is it sitting in a giant pile unopened?
And the big one.
Is my resume tape good enough? There are no definitive answers to any of these, but you have to keep one thing in mind to maintain your sanity.
In many cases, it is not a matter of hiring the best person for the job, but the right person. Here are some of the comments I’ve heard over the years from various managers after watching really good resume tapes. Preface all of these with “great tape, but...”“Too old.”
“Not another blonde.”
“But we need a male/female.”
“Overqualified/not enough experience.”
“Won’t fit with the current co-anchor.”
“I’d rather hire someone local so we can save moving expenses.”
You get the picture. It is a lot like that episode of Seinfeld: “It’s not you, it’s me.” In many cases, the stars have to align for you to get the job. Your tape may be just fine, but you are not what the ND is looking for. Or your tape may need some improvement. (More on that later.) But in order to understand how the hiring process works, we need to take a peek inside the News Director’s office.
Let’s start at the beginning. There’s an opening. The ND runs an ad in TVJobs.com. (He thinks he’ll save himself a few headaches by putting the term “no phone calls” in the ad only to have the phone ring one nanosecond after the opening hits the website.) Then the tapes begin to arrive.(Let me preface the rest of this discussion by saying that when I made the transition from reporter to manager I made myself a promise that I would watch every resume tape as soon as it came in. This promise died a grisly death when we ran an ad for a sports anchor and had 100 tapes show up in a week.)The tapes begin to pile up the next day thanks to the wonders of overnight delivery. The sad thing is, if the job was just posted, the applicant has just wasted fifteen bucks. ND’s don’t think any more of a tape which arrived via Fedex than one that was sent Media Mail. The only time to send a tape overnight is when it is requested, or when you know for a fact the News Director is making a decision tomorrow.
Okay, back to our story. Now there’s a giant pile of tapes in the ND’s office, or if he has an assistant, in the assistant’s office. Every ND has his or her own system. In one case, I as the assistant news director was asked to go through the tapes and only bring the best ones to the ND. Since he and I had the same taste in reporters, this worked well. In another case, the ND watched them all himself, then asked me and the Executive Producer to watch what he considered the finalists. At another station, the ND piled up the tapes and invited the whole news staff to watch them after the 6pm newscast and honestly listened to everyone’s opinion. And finally, I worked as a reporter at a station that changed News Directors. I noticed the new guy watched resume tapes with the sound off. When I asked him why, he said “if they don’t look good, I don’t want them.” (Not being anything close to Robert Redford, I sent out a dozen tapes the next day.)When it is time to watch the tape, here is what generally happens. The envelope is opened and the tape, resume and cover letter are pulled out. The tape goes in the machine while the ND takes a quick glance at the resume to see the person’s name and the current station or university. “Okay, we’ve got Joe from Wichita.” The “play” button is hit, and the show begins.
Okay, your slate has rolled by and your first standup begins. It had better be your best work or the “eject” button will be hit very quickly. At this point you’re asking, “How can this be? This isn’t fair! The ND hasn’t even gotten to my packages yet!” Bud sadly, in most cases, this is true. Most managers are looking for their own style of on-air person. So your first few seconds of tape had better show some personality, creative writing ability, ability to communicate, animation, connection with the viewer. Remember, first impressions count the most. And, yes, this is a very superficial business. Some ND’s are very concerned with how you look. Once again, not fair, but that’s how the business is. So, if you’re lucky your tape is still rolling. If an ND watches a package or two, you’ll make the short list. The tape will be put aside. This is generally when your cover letter is read, and this is a chance for you to shine. A clever, well-written cover letter can set you apart from one filled with grammar and spelling errors.
So now all the tapes have been viewed and the ND has narrowed it down to maybe six. In most stations, the GM will want to approve on-air hires, and in some cases, approval must come from corporate. The list is narrowed, usually down to three, and the interview process begins. The rest is up to you.
Things to improve your chances:
-A tape that really moves. A nice montage of standups, a great live shot, and three great packages. If you’re an anchor, make sure to include some crosstalk and a good variety of stories. Make sure at some point in the tape we can see your smile. (If you’re a college student, we really don’t expect you to have a live shot.)
-Your personality must come out. The world is full of cookie-cutter people; what makes you different? Don’t tell me, show me.
-Make your first package an enterprise story or something in which you’ve done some digging. Sadly, many reporters start with a spot news package. Remember, the police do most of the information gathering in spot news, so unless the story is really unique, don’t lead with it. (That’s why most stations let interns cover car wrecks.)
-A story with some kind of emotion or humor. A lot of times managers will be talking about applicants and one will say “she’s the reporter who did that homeless story” or “he’s the reporter with the waterskiing squirrel feature.” Make an ND laugh or cry and you’ll be more memorable.
-Anchoring in which your energy and personality comes through the screen. Too many anchors send tapes in which they are simply reading. Talk to the viewer.
And here are some things that can work against you:
-Voice. Nothing takes you out of the running faster than a wicked accent. No one wants an anchor who sounds like “The Nanny” or Scarlett O’Hara. (In a bizarre bit of irony, you can’t get to New York if you sound too Noo Yawk.) If you’ve got an accent, get rid of it and make a new tape.
-The work is not your own. News Directors are like Columbo in spotting little things that don’t add up. A favorite trick of a college intern is to “borrow” a local or network reporter’s package, re-voice it and add his or her own standup. But it is often obvious this is not the applicant’s work. In one such case a young man was well into his package when his “exclusive interview” included a sound bite featuring a hand holding a microphone. The hand had beautifully manicured long red nails and an engagement ring.
-Misspelling the News Director’s name on your cover letter. Why would you hire a reporter who is supposed to have attention to detail if he or she can’t spell your name correctly? If the name is not listed in the ad, call the station and ask for it. (Even if the ad calls for you to submit a tape to Human Resources, you want your cover letter addressed to the ND.) Ask for the correct spelling, and if it is one of those names that can be male or female, like Terry, Kelly, or yeah, Randy, ask if the ND is a he or she. My name is Italian and really isn’t that difficult to spell, but I’ve had mail addressed to “Tonto,” “Toronto,” and my favorite, “Ranno Tanno.” I once had a phone call for “Mr. Tomato.”
-Getting the call letters wrong in your cover letter. We realize job applicants send the same cover letter to everyone, just make sure you match the ND with the station.
-Bars and tone on the tape. For those who don’t know, bars and tone are used by engineers to set broadcast levels and to chase on-air people out of master control. They are not necessary on a tape. You may as well just mail a screaming baby with your application.
-The DVD is blank. Amazingly this happens more often than you would think. Check each tape before mailing.
-Calls to find out if your tape has arrived. ND’s know this is an attempt to get feedback and can find these calls annoying. Just use the US Postal Service delivery confirmation if you want to make sure.
-Beauty pageants listed on your resume. If you’re attractive, it is obvious on your tape. While I know many pageant vets who are competant journalists and nice people, there is a stigma that pageant people are all style and no substance. If you’re going to list a parade of pageant victories on your resume you might as well just tattoo “high maintenance” on your forehead. Enter as many pageants as you want, just leave them off the resume. (I actually worked with one anchor who listed her dress size on her resume.)
-Modeling portfolio photos. Once again, if you’re attractive, it is obvious. Sending photos of yourself in a bikini just labels you as superficial. Sending any kind of still photos is a colossal waste of money.
-Packing peanuts. Not really a mistake, but a good way to get an ND in a bad mood. Proponents of packing peanuts often send their tapes in giant boxes sealed with enough tape to bind Ironman to a chair. The ND struggles to open the box, then endures an explosion of styrofoam. Since most stations no longer have maintenance men, this sends the ND to the Chief Engineer, who presents him with a 1958 Electrolux vacuum cleaner that makes more noise that the generator on the live truck.
Now a word about feedback. Don’t call for it. A good way to get some is to include a self addressed stamped postcard asking for it. You’re bound to get some response. But there are two kinds. Good old-fashioned constructive criticism is always welcome, especially if it points out something of which you might not be aware. Make a note of those NDs, fix the problem, and send a new tape when you do. On the other hand, there are some NDs who seem to enjoy writing feedback that demeans the job applicant. If you get feedback like this, ignore it and be thankful you don’t work for someone who would be that mean spirited.