6 Months left on my contract, how do I shop myself without ticking off the bosses?

A very talented anchor friend of mine recently asked me this question: How do you shop yourself, when you are six months or so out from your contract end date, without ticking off the ND and/or GM?  Is posting my stuff on Collective Talent okay?  Or, is it likely to make the boss start looking for my replacement?

No doubt you have to tread lightly when deciding to shop yourself, especially if you do not have an agent.  My gut instinct was to put your stuff on Collective Talent, MediaLine or MyAirCheck type websites, only if you are pretty sure you are about to be “on the beach.”  But I wanted to be sure, so I contacted former news director turned agent, Micah Johnson with Media Stars Worldwide.  There’s good news job seekers!  His take is:  Your ND and/or GM expects to see you “putting your work out there.”  Why wouldn’t you want to better your situation?  It’s all about leverage.  Two things Micah said to keep in mind before posting on these type of sites though:

1) If your ND wants to keep you, this will speed up the negotiation process.  You will only get 60 to 90 days to hunt for a new job. Then either sign with the current station, or know you will be let go and must find another gig.

2) If you really like your job, and where you are, you will quickly find out if the station likes you as much as you like the station.  If you post and there’s no push to negotiate, management may not be as eager to keep you around as you hoped.  Keep in mind the ND will see your work on these sites.  They routinely check to see who at the station is potentially looking and who’s on the sites from competing stations.

Not doing anything guarantees your ND is going to try and get you at a bargain.  This is important to keep in mind as well.  When your contract is coming up, if you possibly can, you want leverage.  If you do not have an agent, this is riskier.  It is still doable, but you might want to start networking well before the last 6 month mark on your contract.

So how do you network without an agent when you are considering a move?  For starters, head back to Collective Talent, MediaLine and MyAirCheck.  Check where the people with postings are from.  Chances are this talent is at least casually looking, so their job could come open in a place where you would like to live.  Might be a good time to send the ND at that station a link to your work and an email or letter and disc introducing yourself and letting him or her know when you will be available if a job came open.  Do not write that you saw anchor so and so on Collective Talent and you want that job.  That doesn’t look good. Keep it more general.  Wait a couple of weeks, then follow up with an email asking if you can keep in touch and occasionally send links to some of your current work.  Now earlier I referenced sending a disc and letter.  It’s not because I am a dinosaur.  Email is a great route as well, but I like sending hard copies because ND’s get flooded with email.  It can be easy to miss yours.  An assistant will hand deliver that letter.  Sending a letter, then following up with an email gives you the best of both worlds.  Be sure to include a copy of your resume and link to your work when you do the follow up email, just in case the ND did not get the letter.

If you have a dream market, make sure you make multiple connections with those stations.  Do not limit yourself to the ND’s.  Tweet with producers, reporters and anchors in the market.  Like them on Facebook and check in once in a while.  If these people end up feeling connected with you and can mention you to the boss, it makes you both look good.

Now let’s address the idea of job hunting without ticking the current boss off.  Without an agent, this is obviously a more slippery slope. Again, if you really like where you are the key is to be subtle.  You are playing a leverage game.  But agent Micah Johnson told me something else that really stuck in my head.  When I repeatedly asked what to do, in order to not tick off the ND, he said, “I’m shocked you believe it’s an issue.”  He kept repeating that ND’s expect talent to look.  They usually don’t hold it against you.  If you seem to be getting nibbles, this is actually flattering to the ND’s.  It validates their own feelings about your talent and potential.  If the ND or GM is vindictive about it, you probably don’t want to work for this person long term anyway.

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Thank you Micah Johnson for your insight on job searches.  For more of his views on the TV news biz, follow him on Twitter at @TV_Agent.  His agency is Media Stars Worldwide at www.MediaStars.tv.

 

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Is this the twilight zone? When job interviews just get weird.

No doubt about it, news directors are often characters.  They are charismatic, intense and usually intimidating.  That means it can be hard to know what you are walking into when it’s time to interview.

When I meet someone in the business, it’s inevitable the conversation will come around to: Who I worked for and what some of the job interviews with those people were like.  In fact, I had a conversation like this just the other day.  These stories are often humorous, sometimes shocking, and always enlightening about news director’s and general manager’s personality types.  So let’s delve into some of these personality types, so you don’t suddenly think you have entered the twilight zone.

Ego maniac

First, the ego maniac.  These are the ND’s that everyone seems to have heard of, and has an opinion, about in the biz.  Many are GM’s who had been legendary ND’s.  One thing is for sure, you will sit during the interview and hear a bunch of stories about how awesome this person is and all the amazing things he/she has done in the business.  You start to feel like maybe the ND or GM is convincing you that you should work for him/her.  There are several things to keep in mind when you are interviewing with this personality type.

  • Stay engaged
  • Do not appear overly impressed
  • Do not interrupt stories with how you are like this person

Because these interviews come with a million “I remember when” stories, it can be easy to drift off into la la land or start to panic and think: “I can’t compare to some of this stuff.”  Don’t worry, you don’t have to be on the same level.  You just have to really listen and throw in a question or two when the interviewer comes up for air.  This person is trying to see how passionate you are about the business and if you find him/her engaging.  So stay engaged.

Do not go on and on about how amazing these stories are.  Smile a lot and occasionally say “wow,” or “impressive.” Gushing about how amazing the ego maniac is actually hurts you. This is the kind of person you want to keep slightly off guard, so he/she feels compelled to try and figure you out.  Like we said in “Interview the station,” it is good to play a little hard to get in interviews.  You want to remain a little mysterious, by not seeming overly impressed with all the stories.

Do not interrupt the stories to showcase how you are like this person.  This is really hard to do because the stories can drone on and on.  This doesn’t mean that you should not tell your own stories and engage in conversation.  It does mean you need to wait until the ND or GM is done with his or her story.  Then if you have an interesting story to keep the conversation going, tell it.  If you don’t have a story, ask a question about the ND or GM’s news philosophy and try and mine some valuable information for you to judge the person before the next “I am so great because” story begins.  The key point here is to not interrupt the ego maniac.  The person will be very offended, which will ruin it for you.  And remember, some ego maniacs are brilliant and worth working for.  Just know they can be tough to deal with.  Expectations are often very high.  You have to live up to their ego.

The loyalty tester

Now let’s talk about the ND with loyalty issues.  These managers can come across as combative and rude in interviews. But, if you prove your loyalty they can be real gems to work with.  It is ideal to know if the ND or GM has loyalty issues before the interview.  That requires doing your homework ( Read “The station called”) which frankly you should always do anyway.  First this personality type will bring up stories where someone was loyal and when someone was not loyal.  Listen closely. These are a warning.  If you cannot be loyal and be a real team player, this is not someone you want to work for.  Do not say anything negative about anyplace you worked, or anyone you worked with.  If you don’t like someone the ND brings up, just smile and say: “Yes I know so and so.”  This is why:  The ND or GM could suddenly call the person you both know, right then, right in front of you to talk about you.  If you just trashed the person, you will be sweating buckets.  The key here is to stay calm and not worry what the other person says.  This is a tactic to see if you ever appear disloyal.  The ND may secretly think the person he/she is calling is a moron.  Remember, loyalty has a high cost.  If you take a job with this person, no standing in the parking lot with coworkers trashing the ND for a dumb decision, even if you got royally screwed!   No coming into the ND or GM’s office furious about a tight spot you were put in.  By working for this person, you are agreeing to be the loyal soldier no matter what.  I had one ND put me in absolutely horrible positions, including one where half the newsroom thought I was spying on and documenting incidents I didn’t even know about.  I had every right to really pitch a fit and demand an apology.  I took several hard hits for the team and won a very loyal ally in my ND.  He did show me great respect later.  I know this person will always go to bat for me because I showed respect for him and the news business.

Beware the bully boss

This is where the whole twilight zone reference in the article title really comes in.  I have been interviewed by many bully bosses.  I’ve been yelled at over an opinion I gave.  I had one GM ask me who I thought I was even walking into his office with “such a crappy resume.”  I remember sitting there thinking: “Why did you fly me to the station then?” Guess what.  That’s what I asked him.  I leaned forward in my chair and threw it right back.  He said: “I’d be crazy to hire you.” I said, “You were crazy enough to fly me here, why are you wasting my time?  What do you your comments tell me about you?”  I got the job and a lot of money to do it.  You have to stand up to a bully, especially during a job interview or you are toast.  In my opinion, I would stand up to a bully even if I was thinking:  “There’s no way in hell I will ever work for this person!”  This is a small business.  Remember the beginning of this article.  When you meet new news people you talk about who you know, who you worked for and who you interviewed with.  This bully will remember you.  Most bullies like moxie.  If you stand up to him/her they often will actually say you would be a good hire, even if you turn him/her down.  As far as working for an obvious bully boss, that is a highly personal decision. In my case this bully provided me an incredible opportunity to grow my skills immeasurably.  But it did take a lot of blood, sweat and tears.

The happy go lucky

These type B seeming ND’s and GM’s can be really hard to see in a true light.  They are charming, witty and you hate it when the interview is over.  You pray this person calls to hire you.  When you interview with this type, enjoy the stories and enjoy feeling on top of the world with this calm person.  But, remember, no one gets high up without some sort of hard edge.  This person can, and does, make tough decisions about layoffs and firings.  This person will have high expectations, despite seeming so laid back.  You are not necessarily any safer working for the happy go lucky than you are the bully.  In fact, the happy go lucky may catch you more off guard if the boom comes, because it can be much harder to see it coming.

The charmer

I worked for several charmers.  Again, they came into the room and you were mesmerized.  People just love working for the charmer. Morale seems high when you walk through the newsroom.  The charmer can be a wonderful boss.  When you interview, do not try and out charm them.  Just enjoy the stories and share a few witty stories of your own. Your stories will be appreciated.  Just know that getting fired or demoted by a charmer can be a real ego buster.  It just hurts more.  You feel like you really let an incredible person down.

Straight Shooter

The straight shooter is all business, all the time.  You try and throw in a joke or a charming story and the ND or GM just stares at you.  You ask philosophy questions and get one line explanations or sometimes blank stares followed by “well how would you handle that if you are hired.” The straight shooter can be unnerving during an interview.  You often leave and wonder: “What the hell just happened?”  Did you impress or let the person down?  Often these interviews are lightning fast.  You feel like you didn’t get to know the ND or GM at all.  In these cases see what you think of the AND and/or EP.  The straight shooter will not spend a lot of time with you during the interview or working for them.  But the straight shooter will be fair and you will likely know where you stand.  If you are looking for a boss to learn from, the AND and/or EP will be more likely candidates.  Judge whether to take the job even more based on them.

Now one final thought.  No matter what you see in a job interview, it may never top this story.  I know a reporter who interviewed with an ND who kept falling asleep.  The reporter obviously felt like he had entered the twilight zone for real.  The reporter didn’t get the job, and for years he thought he bored the ND to sleep!  Turns out the ND had narcolepsy.  When the reporter found out years later he was so relieved.  I reminded myself of this story for years whenever I was headed to an interview.  You just don’t know what you are up against.  A strange interview may have nothing to do with what you said or did, it may just be that you entered the news director twilight zone!

 

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Newsflash! This opportunity is too good to pass up.

We told you how to interview the station.  Now let’s lay out how to identify a truly cool shop.  Here are some clear ways to discover if the place you’re considering is a place where you would want to work.

Sit in the newsroom and watch how the staff interacts with each other.  Are people smiling?  Do you see some good natured joking around?  You should look for a management team that encourages staffers to work together instead of competing against each other.  Another way to tell if everyone’s there to work together is to attend a debrief after a show.  Do people take ownership of any mistakes and work through the issues together?

Most good shops give you a writing test or quiz you on ethical situations in a conversational way.  Then the manager lays out situations for you to problem solve together.

The best shop we ever worked in had a system in place to train and help everyone get better.  When we say “train”, we’re not talking about about giving newbies a chance to sit with a veteran reporter, photog, or producer for a day.   Mentoring systems were in place for all skill levels.  Veterans were sent to workshops to build skills for future jobs, like management.  There also was a review system that was used more than 1 time a year to help you goal set,  both short and long term, so the job was not monotonous.   There also tends to be a certain progression.  Staffers start on weekend or morning shifts but move up to other day parts.  Find out if this is the case in the shop you’re checking out.

A huge sign that this is an awesome shop:  the same management team has been in place for years and at least one of those managers worked up from a regular staff position.  Again, this shows teamwork is fostered and that people can grow as much as they want without having to move to a new city every few years for another opportunity.  Usually, in awesome newsrooms, you will meet a staffer that left the station and then came back.  That person will talk about how he/she learned that there were more opportunities at the shop and then returned there.

During your interview managers will ask you what you think of the place.  What would you like to do to be part of the staff?  How can management help you get wins at your job each day?  These are signs the managers get it and will do what they can to help you succeed and grow.  Happy employees who grow in their jobs are a key part of a successful newsroom.

Awesome shops often set up lunches with staff members on the shift on which you would work.  This shows that the station strongly believes in teamwork and is looking to see if your personality fits the group.  Often staffers are then called in to give their opinion of you.  You want this situation.  It increases your chances of finding that great fit we all dream about.

Often, really good shops are known regionally and sometimes even nationally for being coveted places to work.  Others in the business will know of these stations.   If you get a call from one of these stations, jump on it even if the work hours are not ideal.  Others will be eager to take your place and it could be worth making the sacrifice and working your way up.

Another interesting trend we found, one of the star anchors at the station will at least seem very down to earth and do some mentoring.  That person really leads by example and sets the tone for the newsroom even when management does have to come down hard.

Lastly, most of these stations are long time, powerhouse number ones in the ratings.  Notice we said most of the time.  With the introduction of people meters this is changing a bit.  So, if the station has a long standing good reputation, but numbers have fallen a bit in recent years, still give the place a chance to impress you in an interview.  This could be a small hiccup and the place is still worth your time.

 

 

 

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The Station called. The job’s yours. Now what?

So you got the big call. The news director throws a few compliments, says he/she needed you there yesterday, then offers so-so money.  How do you react?  Be polite.  Don’t sound excited.  Say you have to think about it.  In other words make the news director sweat just a little bit. Why?  You want to eek out as much money as you can and this is your last chance to see if there is any wiggle room.  Remember if you don’t get the money when you first walk in the door, the odds are about as good as playing the lottery that you will ever “see the money” in that shop.  Eek out as much as you can immediately.  The other reason to not jump for joy is to see how the news director acts towards you.  Remember, be polite.  Say you feel complimented.  Just don’t say yes right away.  Play a little hard to get.  If the news director starts firing off that 10 other people are dying to be in your shoes right now and you better make up your mind fast, you know this person is will be hard to deal with and you should probably turn the job down.  If the news director says take some time and think about it (usually that’s a day, maybe two) he/she knows this is a big decision, the odds are higher you really will be working for someone reasonable.

Then, before you decide to take the job, research two things:  The management team and the cost of living where you might move.

Do Google searches and find out where this news director worked before.  You want to find out as much as possible about the news director and assistant news director.  Cold call old TV stations if you must and ask for people who worked under these managers.  If you are told the person is amazing, demand to know the bad things.  You need to figure out if you can handle this person’s quirks.  News directors and A.N.D.’s can quickly make or break you.  Don’t trust that they checked you out and know you will click.  He/she is overworked, overstressed and mostly interested in getting through each day without being eaten alive.  Your personality means little to nothing.  Filling the job means one less headache for management.

Next, if you haven’t already, research the heck out of the cost of living in this particular city.  Check out various cost of living calculators online, like the one at Monster.com (http://monster.salary.com/costoflivingwizard/layoutscripts/coll_start.asp).  Better yet, get online and read the local newspaper.  Find out the average cost of renting an apartment by looking at the classifieds and take a look at the grocery store flyers to try and gauge the cost of food.  It can vary wildly and may make a huge difference to your bottom line.  Also, call your car insurance company and find out what rates would be like in that city.  You need to make sure that raise you think you are getting will really be there once you factor in these things.  If you live in the south and are considering heading north, check out tax rates.  One place we lived had state income taxes, county income taxes and city income taxes.  A nearly 30 thousand dollar jump didn’t look so glamorous after that was factored in.  You can use this information to try and eek out more money.  Even if you end up getting only a little more, every bit helps.

 

 

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