So You Want a Job?
by Steve Sweitzer, Chief Photographer at WISH TV (CBS) Indianapolis,IN.
It may come as a surprise to those of you who have experienced the agony of a job search, but it is no piece of cake being on the other side of the fence and trying to find the right photographer to fill an opening. Here at WISH TV, we recently completed a search for a news photographer.
What follows is far from the definitive word on finding work but there are some suggestions from the perspective of one who has just completed the exhausting process of finding the right photographer for our staff.
As soon as the word was out that WISH was looking for a photographer, I was swamped with calls and resumes. The stack of resume tapes was almost as tall as I am and they were on every imaginable tape format. Some of the resumes were five pages long and others did not include a phone number where they could be contacted.
Many photographers called to find out more details and this is probably a good idea. It gives you a chance to hear the job description and ask questions about the timetable for filling the opening and whether they are interested in seeing any particular types of work on your resume tape.
When the application deadline finally arrived, I headed for the viewing room with as many tapes as I could carry. At this point I was not looking for reasons to hire a photographer, I wanted to eliminate applicants. It was my goal to get the forty tapes down to six or seven for further consideration.
Keep in mind the fact that, if the station is not filling a new position, they are replacing someone. This means they are conducting a job search in addition to their regular responsibilities. Anything you can do to make it easier for them will only improve your chances of landing the job.
After looking at the tapes, I was blurry eyed and I had developed some very strong opinions about what should be on a resume tape. First off, how the tape is packaged is important. Make sure both the tape and the tape box are labeled with your name, address and a phone number where you can be reached. It is helpful to list both a home and a work phone.
You should include the title of the stories in the order they appear and list the story time and where it can be located on the resume tape. This should also be on the tape box and the tape. When viewing, it is nice to be able to see the title of the story without having to eject the tape. It is also helpful to include a brief description of the stories and your role in making them. If you did not edit the stories you should say so and if you originated the story idea or produced it, that should be mentioned as well.
These may seem like a small things but when you are dealing with so many tapes, the little things add up. As for what to put on the tape, start with a grabber. Remember, you are trying to catch the attention of someone looking at lots of other work. Unless you are applying for a specific type job, like a sports photographer, you should cover the bases and include hard news, spot news and a good feature or two.
Usually an employer is looking for a certain kind of photographer. Some shops place a high priority on experience and technical proficiency. I was looking for creativity and an ability to work closely with subjects. I was particularly impressed by photographers who found new ways to do the same old stories. For example, I saw lots of balloon racing stories that looked similar but I really liked a story about a medical helicopter because it was told uniquely with a mixture of natural sound and voice overs. On a resume tape, quality is far more important than quantity. Do not send anything for which you have to apologize or make excuses. It is a good idea to pre-mix your audio to one channel. This eliminates the possibility of your work being poorly mixed when it is played on their equipment.
Wizzy titling and production between stories doesn't help your chances much and it can actually hurt them if you are not careful. One photographer introduced himself on camera and explained why he thought he was the right guy for the job. It was a nice touch but he was sitting sideways to the camera and he hung the lavalier microphone on the shoulder away from the camera. It left me wondering, if he is so good, why doesn't he take more care with his own standup?
The resume tape is where most employers begin their search. The reasoning is simple, if you can't shoot, there is no point in giving you further consideration. When I had narrowed our search to seven applicants I turned to the resumes themselves. I like short ones, two pages or less, that include educational background, special workshops or responsibilities (like being equipment manager), and awards.
Be sure all your references can give you a good recommendation and include their phone numbers. Several references I contacted did not even know they had been listed. In a few cases they actually gave the person a bad reference.
You should also include a cover letter explaining briefly that you are interested in being considered for the job and what special attributes you might bring. It is also a good idea to send your entry registered mail. That way you know it actually arrived. It is probably ok to call once to see how the process is going but when you are trying to deal with forty applicants, people who call repeatedly to see "How's it going?" do not help their cause.
If you are invited for an interview, it is fine to ask about reimbursement for travel, meals and lodging, but don't be disappointed if the station refuses to pay. It is sad but true that many stations do not pay these expenses when looking for photographers.
Be early to your appointment and make sure you have the whole day available. Do some research on the station. Talk to people who already work there and ask their opinion of the station's strengths and weaknesses. The interview is the time to ask your questions about the station and its policies. This is also a good time to talk about your chances for advancement, moving expenses, and to bring up any special requests you may have, like asking for a special vacation in Hawaii for which you already have reservations.
In the interview, try to avoid making stupid mistakes. I'll never forget being flown to Boston for a second interview for a magazine photographer's position. The deal was, I had passed the interview part of the application and now they wanted to see how I shot. I wanted to impress them with my steadiness so, when it was time to photograph the first interview, I said I wouldn't need the tripod. This was the old days before most news photographers were using tripods much and I was used to shooting ten minute interviews for news but their interviews took almost half an hour. Needless to say, I couldn't hold it steady for that long and I made a real fool of myself and I didn't get the job.
I'll always remember the first time I did a job search. Another supervisor took me aside and offered this advice. "When you hire someone there are only three things that are important. They are attitude, attitude and attitude." I like to think that photojournalistic skills are also important but I don't think the advice was far off the mark.
By writing about how to get a job, I may have put the cart before the horse. Most people think you have to hear about an opening before you can apply but that isn't always the case. I wonce hired a woman who called me almost six months before. She said she would be in town and wondered if she could set up an appointment to come by and see the station and have me critique her resume tape. Later, when she applied for the job, the fact that she used some of my suggestions on her updated resume tape didn't hurt her application any.
So how do you hear about job openings in the first place? Many people put too much faith in Broadcasting Magazine. Just remember, jobs listed in Broadcasting are likely to attract literally hundreds of applicants. Your best bet is the NPPA's Job Information Bank. The next best source is still word of mouth. Stay in touch with friends who have moved to other markets and let them know you are interested in hearing about any and all openings.
Finally, remember all kinds of considerations go into an employer's decision on who to hire. They may only consider photographers with so many years of experience or they may want to fill an entry level position. They may want someone who can report and shoot. Maybe they are only considering people who already know their way around the city. They may have a limited budget. For one reason or another, they may not think you will be happy at the station or they may think you are a "video nomad." The point is, don't become discouraged when you receive the inevitable rejection letter. Keep looking and keep perfecting your craft.
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