Hidden References: Why You Must Expand Your List

Everyone knows that in a lot of ways this is a small business. But many journalists today think that likely means you just need a few peers and a boss, maybe two, to root for you or serve as references. This is simply not true.

What “this is a small business” really means is there is a high probability if you decide to chew out that producer who you thought was clueless, or cuss out the “snooty” anchor or just walk out because you have a new job and are sick of these (insert expletive); that will be the person the hiring manager for your dream job calls because they are buds. Don’t believe me? Wait and see.

Most companies ask for a reference list. But those references are not the people they actually call. They call their pal from back in the day. Or they call a friend of their pal from back in the day. Why? Well, your references think you are great, right? Hiring managers know this. The more important question is: What did most of the newsroom think about you? Or maybe that hiring manager thinks the ND on your list sucks. “I’m not calling (insert name). I used to kick that person’s &** when we competed in (market) X years ago.”

So, with all this in mind, you need to expand your list of references. How? First, don’t act vindictive when you leave a station, even if you feel totally justified. I promise, at some point, it will come back to bite you. It can happen YEARS after the fact. But memories are long. Next, do your job and don’t whine. Seriously. You just have to save the griping sessions for your mom, spouse or friend outside of the business. And understand that the best reputation you can have is that of a team player. It’s your best shot at preventing a bad reference.


Hot And Cold: Why Are Job Interviews Taking So Long?

When I would tire of a station or the raise offered was below that of inflation, I always knew it would take about 3 weeks to move on. That was it. Ten or so resume reels, and three weeks.

But now, when I coach TV journalists on job searches, I have to tell them there will be a lot of hurry up and wait. Managers are going to seem hot and cold. And the process can easily last 4 to 6 weeks, from first interview to contract signing. The question is: Why?

Well, there are actually several reasons. The biggest is that a lot of managers have more day-to-day responsibilities than they used to. Making time to review resumes and call prospective new employees can be really hard. I have had many managers that do not call me until months after making an initial inquiry. The reason is always the same. “I got so bogged down.”

Next come temporary job freezes. The manager can have a short list and be ready to fly candidates in, only to get word they have to wait x amount of time to fill the position. And, yes, this can even include “critical need” producer positions where current staff is double showing, not getting days off etc. The term “critical need” varies a lot from one broadcasting company to the next.

Speaking of flying in candidates, more and more stations are being told by their parent companies that they are not allowed to pay for flights. Or, at most, they only get to fly in one candidate. This is going to mean a lot more phone conversations, Skype interviews and writing tests via email exchanges. So there are extra steps and more time is taken to get this all done.

Desire to get it right the first time is another reason job interviews are taking so long. Managers are less willing to just settle and hope on a hunch. They often have a hard time getting the money to bring people in and then are judged on the performance of their selections. So, they have to be really sure that next hire, is a good hire. This takes time.

Finally, because of staff cuts many are looking for more versatile candidates. Web gurus who can also shoot and edit. Producers who have SEO experience. These sorts of hybrids are in demand. News managers will hold out hoping for candidates like this, because they know the newsroom has to have all of these qualities. Want to speed up the hiring process? Build up your skill sets. The more versatile, the better your options. If you can’t be flexible, neither can many stations. So be prepared to hurry up and wait. And while you wait, take a class on how to create apps, or work on building your social media accounts. It can only make you more marketable.


Job Hunting Bill Of Rights

Job hunting journalists need to know that they have the right to ask for information during interviews to determine whether the station/job is right for them. I say this because lately I am hearing about some rather interesting station and company policies that are counter to this concept.

So here’s a bill of rights job candidates should keep on hand. If these things do not happen during the interview process, walk away.

Job Hunting Bill Of Rights:

You have the right to be flown/brought in for an interview
You have the right to reimbursement for cab fares/lodging/gas during the interview
You have the right to entertain many job opportunities
You have a right to meet staff you will be working with
You have a right to make a counter offer

Let’s start at the beginning. How can you decide if you want a job, if the station is unwilling to bring you in to see the station and meet potential co-workers? One large broadcasting company with plenty of cash, has decided that stations should not routinely fly candidates in. One of its stations even gets crappy about paying for gas reimbursement if a candidate drives to the station. This is simply unacceptable. If they care so little about making sure you see what the company is about, why invest your time, passion for news and career with such a group? Pass.

Station/company: If you tell a candidate they will have to pay upfront for cab fare, hotel rooms and or gas during the interview, then reimburse the expense right away. Ask the candidate to collect their receipts and provide them during the interview. Then as they leave, hand over a check or at least get one in the mail within 10 days of the interview. It is just common courtesy to not spend someone else’s money. Remember these candidates can go elsewhere, including the station across the street that is already kicking your a*s! That 30 dollar cab fare you screwed the person on, can and will become the stuff of urban legend in networking circles. Don’t be cheap. Choose classy. Job Candidate: If you are stuck with the bill and no reimbursement, do not be embarrassed about hounding the station’s human resources department for the cash. You are in the right!

Another station, in a top 5 market, has decided to require candidates to “commit” before the interview process is completed. When I say before, I’m talking before even being flown in to see the place. This is a huge sign that you need to just pass. If a station bullies before you even get in the door, the treatment will only become worse once you are there. This station wants to prevent candidates from entertaining several job opportunities. In fact the ND even has been known to threaten candidates who say they are looking at several options, mentioning that “it’s a small biz” and “strings can be pulled.” Years ago another group tried to pull something similar on friends of mine. Job candidates: Never fear a scenario where stations have to vie for your services. If they are not even willing to try to woo, you need to say bye-bye.

You have a right to meet the staff you will be working with. Let’s say you interviewed to work nightside, then you get a call with an offer for dayside. Problem is you did not meet a single dayside staffer. Say that you are flattered, and ask that some of those staff members call you. Also if you are flown in for an interview on a weekend for a weekday gig, it is not unreasonable to expect that at least the manager you would work with, shows up for the interview. Again, I emphasize, this is what you should expect, AT THE LEAST. It is crucial that you are able to relate well with your co-workers. News requires too many long work hours, and too many pressure cooker situations to work around people with whom you do not relate. Team cohesiveness is crucial. Demand to get access and see if it’s a group with whom you want to be aligned.

Lastly, you have a right to counter offer. Many stations are getting better about coming to the table with the top money they can give. Many more intentionally go lower to see how little they can spend to get you in the door. This part of job hunting can be a real game and candidates often feel they just cannot ask for more. Ask! If you don’t get the most you can, coming in the door, you will never get much once you are there. Even if the deal sounds great, ask for more. Make sure the station is doing the most it can to show it values you, the position and the impact you will have. Don’t sell yourself short. If you are not confident in yourself, no one else will be confident in you either. Make a counter offer even if the ND says the initial offer is the best they can do. You have to call the potential bluff. Managers expect to negotiate.

Now that you have a job hunting bill of rights, hold stations and broadcasting companies to them. Each time each you do you not only improve things for yourself, but you help pave the way for everyone else. This is a crucial time to make sure broadcasting companies remember who is the most important in their newsrooms. It’s the people busting it every day. And it all begins with your first impression. Be strong!


Job Hunting Etiquette 101

I could not help but utter out loud “Can I get an Amen?” when I read a recent DM from a managing editor I love talking with on Twitter. She requested an article on job hunting etiquette in 2014. Then she gave examples like bailing on job interview plans with an email or phone message. Can you imagine booking a plane flight for someone then getting a reply email with the itinerary saying “never mind?” It happens. Another example: Turning down job offers by email or phone message. Recently an AND mentioned to me how casual job candidates are becoming on email. An example he gave was emailing a job candidate about when the person could talk the next week. The reply, 1 line “I’m busy.” No, “Thanks for reaching out.” No, “Dear (name and title). Just the 1 line. “I’m busy.” Believe me when I tell you that AND got too busy to talk to that candidate real quick. Another candidate made fun of the station he was heading to on social media and the hiring managers saw the rude comment as they were waiting for the candidate to arrive at the station. I really could go on and on with more examples. But this one really covers a lot of the issue. Another hiring manager told me that a recent candidate told her to call back, because the candidate was at the gym and too busy to talk. It’s not about what’s convenient for you. It’s about whether you are good enough and responsible enough to do the job. Saying you would rather go to the gym sends a pretty clear message about your priorities.

Look, we dinosaurs get it that the world is more casual now because of email and text messages. We get it that etiquette is not as much of a given. But there are some guidelines that simply must be followed if you ever want to be taken seriously in this business. And you must understand, just avoiding these difficult but necessary conversations will give you a bad label and fast. You do not want to be known as difficult, righteous, clueless and just plain rude. There’s no way to sugar coat this. If you think the news biz is small (and you should) understand that the pool of hiring managers is even smaller. And they compare notes and dish on names. So if you ignore the job offer emailed to you, or make fun of a station on Facebook or bail on a job interview with a phone message, you are not just turning that one potential job down. Those managers have buddies in the biz and they will know what you did as well.

So let’s outline some expectations hiring managers have for potential candidates.

Job Hunting Etiquette Expectations

Use salutations
Spell names correctly
Be available for calls
Call and talk to hiring manager about job interviews and offers
If job hunting in the company, tell your boss
Do not trash stations or towns on social media
Say thank you

When you get an email from a station, respond back with some sort of salutation. Let’s use the name Joe Smith for example. When you reply, start off with “Dear Mr Smith”, “Dear Joe”, “Mr. Smith”, “Joe”, “Hi Joe”, or “Hi Mr Smith”. Something other than just the reply itself, with no salutation. This person could be your next boss, show some respect.

Also, spell their name correctly. I cannot tell you how often this does not happen. You are a journalist, who supposedly cares about the facts. If your potential boss’s name is not important enough to double check, will those facts in your story be important to you? Hiring managers are not going to say, “Well, typos happen to everyone.” They will hit delete, and you are done.

Be available for calls. I understand that sometimes hiring managers can leave you hanging. I understand that sometimes they say they will call at 2 and don’t call until 4 or even the next day. Truthfully, most will send you an email or text apologizing for getting caught up in an emergency. They are handling big issues. The fact you like to go to the gym at 3PM every day is not a good enough reason to miss a call or cause scheduling difficulties. If you work overnights, it is okay to tell the hiring manager when you are awake and even to set an appointment time to call. If you work dayside, hiring managers understand they may need to wait to talk to you until after your live hit or newscast. But you do need to make yourself available. You need to give several options and possibly skip the gym for a day to talk.

If a station is flying you in or inviting you for a visit, or making an offer and you are turning it down, you need to talk about it with that hiring manager. This does not mean leaving a “bail out” message on VM. You need to show respect. Talk about it. If you got another offer, say so. If you decided the station is just too far from home, apologize and say so. Again, if you cannot have this kind of conversation how will you handle tough interviews as a reporter, and difficult situations as a show boss? These hiring managers are people too. They can relate a lot better than you might expect. Think of how you feel when you are just bold face rejected. Stations can feel the same way. Candidates have to take the high road, fair or not. You have more at stake.

The same applies if you want to check out a job in the same company at which you currently work. You cannot just go for it and not let your boss know. Companies have policies where the new station will call the station where you are and make sure it can afford to lose you. You do not want your boss to get a “surprise” call like this. It makes your boss look bad.

When you are on a job interview, do not trash the station if you did not like it. Do not trash the town you are checking out. Do not try and make witty jokes about these locations to seem clever. They can be taken the wrong way. Expect your potential new bosses to be monitoring your social media accounts. Obviously they do not mind the city the station is located in, or they would not live there! Picking on the place, is just not smart. It will not be taken as funny or witty or clever. You will be labeled low class and they will tell others.

Lastly, say thank you for a phone call, job interview and/or offer. It is surprising how often a station will fly out a candidate and then never hear anything back. Yes, I know stations can sometimes be low class and blow you off inappropriately. Once again, you have more at stake. You need to be professional and appreciative at all times. That ND may not have impressed you but likely has a lot of ties in the industry that could kill your chances at your dream job later. Do not burn a bridge. Be classy and AT LEAST email a thank you.

Remember, the more respect you show potential bosses and stations, the more likely you will get the same respect back. It is not uncommon for a station to pass on a person, but then give your name to another station looking to hire. And frankly, with so many mergers and more emphasis on collaboration, that manager you blew off, could end up at your station or broadcast group one day. Memories are long, when you lack etiquette during the job interview process. You simply cannot risk getting a bad reputation. So mind your manners, even now in the age of email, VM’s, DM’s and text messages. Hiring managers will thank you for it, one way or another.