By Forrest Carr, RTDNA Contributor
Over the course of many years as a TV news director, I have given out loads of advice on how to successfully apply for a job in the business. Because applicants are fellow human beings who are deserving of compassion, if not always professional respect, I’ve resisted the temptation to make fun of anyone. However, it’s occurred to me of late that such reticence has deprived job hopefuls of the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others. Here, then, is my list of Job Applicant Darwin Awards—candidates who, over the years, through their missteps have done me the greatest service in removing themselves from the applicant pool.
The examples below are quoted exactly as received. Only the names have been changed. First up: cover letters—for which, as you know, absolute perfection is the standard.
Justine, associate producer applicant: “I just currently moved down to Texas in June from Florida, where from time to time I worked for NBC, ABC, and ESPN from time to time in a freelance capacity from time to time.”
My reaction: Thank you for this, which I will keep on file and quote from time to time as a learning experience for others from time to time.
Darla, reporter applicant: “I believe graduating from a prestigious journalism school with a minor in English certifies me for that position.”
My reaction: Congratulations on your TV reporter certificate. So few of my job applicants can say they have one of those.
Darla: “I completely understand every aspect of Broadcasting, and can execute the position advertised.”
My reaction: Impressive. I may take that certification program myself.
Darla: “Thank you for your time , look forward to speaking with you at a mutual time.”
My reaction: I’m glad you realize that if we are to speak, it must be at a mutual time. A good grounding in physics, while not essential for journalism, certainly is a plus.
Paul, reporter applicant: “Thanks for taking time to review my resume and demo.”
My reaction: It was nothing, Paul. Really. You included no attachments.
Fred, reporter applicant: “I am a 26 year old experienced reporter out of the state of Georgia.”
My reaction: How nice for you that they let you out.
Fred: “I am here today applying for the reporting job.”
My reaction: No, you are not here today. You’re sending me an email. The way it’s going you won’t be here tomorrow, either.
Fred: “I feel the experience I have acquired proves sufficient enough for the position available.”
My reaction: May I be so lucky as to have all my hires be “sufficient enough.” I try to set a high standard.
Fred: “If you have anymore questions of myself, please do not hesitate to call me at anytime, both provided on my resume.”
My reaction: Both what? Combined with your use of the reflexive pronoun, now I’m beginning to suspect that your resume will have two numbers, one for you and one for yourself. Let’s check.
Fred: “Attachments: FRED’S LEGIT RESUME.doc
“FRED’S LEGIT COVER.doc”
“FRED’S LEGIT COVER.doc”
My reaction: The careful steps you took to clearly and precisely label your résumé and cover letter when saving them to your drive, so as to preclude any possibility of error in selecting the attachments appropriate for each job application you submit, is commendable. Sweating those small details is so important.
Gene, anchor applicant: “I see you have an anchor position available, so I thought I'd send a not of interest.”
My reaction: Thank you for your “not of interest.” I’m happy to say that we are on the same page.
Stephen, reporter applicant: “I believe this position for which I applied for definitely suits me.”
My reaction: I agree. I think you’re exactly the type of candidate for which I’ve been searching for.
Allison, reporter candidate: “My primary goal is to become an Entertainment Reporter for an internet blog or television news program such as E! Or Access Hollywood.”
My reaction: And I’m honored to have you apply for my little reporter opening. “TV news—stepping stone to what’s really important: interesting, take-no-prisoners, aggressive gossip reporting,” I always say, and with pride.
Jed, anchor applicant: “I know you mentioned that a degree and previous experience would be preferred however I wanted to inquire as to whether or not you would accept applications without either one?”
My reaction: The word in the job posting was “required,” not “preferred.” But for you, Jed, anything. Let’s get you in here. Bring your banjo.
Andre, reporter applicant: “I tried to get the TV bug out of my system, but find that I just can't shake the desire to use my broadcast degree in a low-paying industry. I know I meet very few of the qualifications you're probably seeking in a reporter, but please take a moment to view my video link before you toss my resume into the ‘discard’pile.”
My reaction: The sheer poetry of this passage was so moving, I found I could not refuse this man’s simple request, and I did exactly as instructed. But I really hate to call it a “discard pile.” “Nonfinalists folder” sounds so much less brutal.
Let us now turn our attention to the post-interview follow up. By this point, the applicant has survived several steps of the process, but opportunities for self-immolation still abound. The best example I have of that comes from reporter applicant "George," whom I and another hiring manager had interviewed together by phone. In his follow-up email, George wrote, “I am disappointed but not surprised that having taken a half-hour out of my work day to interview for your position 3-weeks ago that you couldn't even send me a quick note saying thanks, but no thanks. Did it make you feel imporatant and in-charge to make me jump through this additional hoop?” George told me to share his email with “the other idiot,” whose name he said he’d forgotten “as soon as we hung up,” and then concluded, “You are lacking in courtesy and basic professionalism. I certainly pee on your limp microphones from considerable heights.”
Well. I wrote George back and apologized that he had not heard from us. I told him the search was ongoing, but pointed out, “This job will go to the candidate with the best combination of on-air ability, news judgment, personality and people skills. At this point, based your email I would say that you are not shaping up as a particularly competitive candidate.” I added that, as directed, I had happily shared his email with what’s-his-name.
Finally, application strategy. Some candidates like to get creative, with such energies usually varying inversely with experience. In a burst of self-confidence, “Marcie,” who’d been working as a model since graduating high school, applied for our main anchor position. For her presentation. she chose an Alice in Wonderland theme. Tucked into a pocket of her elaborate 3-ring binder was an ivory envelope with the words “Open Me” drawn with impressive hand-lettered calligraphy; inside was her cover letter. An ivory sleeve tied with a pink ribbon bore the cursive words, “Watch Me,” and contained her DVD. Inside another pocket was a nicely wrapped ribbon-tied cookie, a large glossy glamour photo of a very attractive Marcie, and a loose card that I’m just guessing had been intended to go with the cookie but which now lay atop the photo. In the same lovingly crafted calligraphy, it read, “Eat Me.”
I will say that this did conjure a vision, but it was not one that included two hands clasped over an offer of employment.
Present and future job seekers, hopefully you have learned something here. And if, in doing so, you extracted a measure of mirth and merriment, there is no need to feel guilty. We laugh at the mistakes of others not because we’re cruel—or at least not exclusively for that reason—but because it’s the only reasonable response to the absurdity of the human condition. It takes all kinds to staff a planet. Each of us must find a place in our species’ social and economic matrix. The journey is not always easy. But such quests are as old as humanity itself. May God speed you in yours.
Forrest Carr is a former TV news director who writes novels, does talk radio, and blogs. You can find his musings on The Bashful Bloviator.