The Anatomy of a TV News Job Opening

With graduation right coming up, hundreds of student reporters, photographers and meteorologists will be flooding local news stations with hopes of snagging an entry-level job. Landing the first job is always the scariest and most uncertain, and probably also the hardest job to get. As an adjunct professor of broadcast meteorology at Lyndon State College, I’ve seen many graduates make the leap from college to local news. Since I also work at a local CBS affiliate, I get to watch the other side of the job hunt as well. I see the piles of DVDs stream in, and potential candidates take the station tour. In an effort to clear up some of the confusion and anxiety around the process, I thought it might be helpful to take a look at a standard TV news job opening from start to finish.

1. An employee gives notice. Usually someone will land a new job, or come to an end of a contract, or occasionally get the ax. In an ideal case, there will be a few weeks between when the person gives notice to when the person leaves, which gives the station some time to track down a new hire. If you have connections at the station, you might find out about the opening before the position gets posted. I’m not sure if this gives you any advantage unless the station is looking to move very quickly, but it’s always good to be able to get your material ready to send.

2. The job gets posted. The job will usually get posted online. In most cases, the station will publish the position on its web page and various other media websites. Most ads specifically ask no phone calls. Calling the station will probably not help you get the job, and could knock you out of the running completely. A brief email to the department head (chief meteorologist, sports director) might be your best bet, but be polite and gracious. Get the demo out as soon as possible.

Most postings will also ask a for minimum amount of experience. If you are just starting out, this could be tough. If the job is asking for one to two years on-air, it probably wouldn’t hurt to send a demo. With anything higher than two years, you are probably not ready yet. At that point you’ll be competing with better qualified canidates anyway. If the posting asks to send a link to your demo, make sure you are hosting your reel on a reliable site. You might also consider following up with a DVD in the mail with a resume and cover letter. Make sure you know the name of the person you are sending it out to.

3. Demo reels are looked at, and finalists are picked. A station looking to promptly fill a vacancy will usually start calling for interviews a week to ten days after the job has been posted. In most medium and small markets, it will be the news director who does the hiring for the entire news department. Keep that in mind when you are putting together your tape. You need to know your meteorology (or sports, etc..), but they are often even more interested in how you look and how you connect with the viewer. The average job opening will usually pull in three dozen tapes, of which two or three candidates are selected. The news director will give each prospect a call and usually invite them to the station for an interview. If you are halfway across the country, you might have to settle for an extended phone interview or a Skype chat. If you were not in the top two or three, you probably not be told you didn’t get the job. If two weeks go by and you don’t hear anything, you’re demo wasn’t good enough for that position.

image by flickr user hartboy

4. Candidates get interviewed and offers are made. The demo reel will land you the interview, but it will be the interview that lands you the job. Your interview starts the minute you pull into the parking lot, so be nice to everyone you bump in to. You’ll likely have sit-down talks with the news director and the department head (chief meteorologist, sports director) and perhaps the general manager of the station. They are getting a sense of who you are, but you should do the same with them. Ask good questions but save the salary and contract talk until after they offer you the job. Also plan to be on camera. If you are a meteorologist, you might want to look at some forecast data before you arrive. A reporter or sportscaster might be asked to read some copy on the set instead. It doesn’t have to be perfect but if you are expecting it, it will be easier to keep the nerves in check.

You can expect a call from the news director in a few days, whether they offer you the gig or not. You’ll want to take a close look at any contract they expect you to sign, but they’ll likely only give you a few days to decide. If it is your first job, you’ll likely have little leverage to negotiate salary and benefit terms anyway. Talk to family and people in the industry you trust, then pull the trigger if you feel like the job is right for you.

5. New hires get trained and begin on-air. You might need to give notice at your current job, and at the very least you’ll need to move. You’ll likely get a few days to train off-air, then then plan to jump right in. The less experience you have in editing, shooting or weather graphics, the more training you’ll need before you really get started. The staff who have covered that vacancy since the last person left will be anxious to get you going.

From the date the former employee gives notice to the first day of the new hire makes it on-air, a month or two could go by. Every job is different. Some stations may have someone already in mind the moment the job goes up and other stations take months to figure out what to do. Most of the time, these things are pretty routine. If a news department is a person short, the other employees have to pick up the slack. That means overtime or at the very least, over-worked employees. Stations usually like to move through these things quickly and smoothly. While it might seem routine for them, a new job is a big deal for you, especially if it’s your first job. Stay positive and upbeat, and know that there will always be other jobs. If you education was solid, your demo kicks butt and you are a reasonably nice person, there is probably a job out there for you. Best of luck and happy hunting.

If you are a broadcast meteorologist and are looking for openings in local news, you should check out the jobs page here.

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