by Craig Jackman
Throughout my career in my role as either Production Director for the small company, or Production Supervisor for the big company, I’ve had the pleasure of managing and overseeing some very fine Producers. Guys you could count on to know what’s important, what to fight for creatively, and to always put forth their best efforts. And when they would need some redirection, they accept criticism with grace and in the spirit it was intended. They’ve also been loyal employees of either company. They are discrete in doing outside projects, and when they do leave for other employment, it’s always been for the right reasons in moving their careers forward or pursuing a dream. They leave to head up their own departments, to take up an adventure in programming, or just to have a normal life with normal hours. While they inevitably get more money, it’s not the main reason why they leave.
For the first time in almost five years, one of my guys decided to move on. It wasn’t much of a surprise as it was something we had talked about for a while. I’ve always been told that a good manager encourages his employees to grow; even if that means that they may wind up leaving the company. Mike was certainly welcome to stay, the PD of the station he was imaging loved his work and team ethic, clients and reps loved his commercial work, and his work habits were great. But, he was always going to be stuck in his spot on the ladder unless someone in front of him decided to leave, which was frankly quite unlikely. He left to go to the main competitor, to concentrate on their imaging, but more importantly to get far away from his 5am to noon shifts. I certainly wish him well, and to quote the PD, look forward to kicking his station’s butt. Ironically, the position he’s taking was vacated by the first producer I had the pleasure of hiring. That meant that I had to hire someone else, and as we were coming into Christmas rush, hire someone quickly.
As with any production job, the tasks that our hire was going to be responsible for were widely split. First, he would be solely responsible for imaging CHEZ 106, our 28-year heritage Classic Rock station, and in our cluster the current goose that lays golden eggs. Equally first, he would be responsible for a share of the commercial production demands for the cluster. That’s all. Everything else such as writing, voicing, or air shifts would be a bonus. Compound those demands with this: in those 28 years, there have only been four other image producers, including me for 13 of those years. I still have a soft spot for that station, and the question becomes, am I a distraction or a resource? The new PD (4th in station history) is very much a hands-on/collaborative guy, so teamwork was certainly going to be an important part of evaluating candidates.
The placement was advertised on a couple of sites in Canada, including MilkmanUnlimited.com, and in a condensed version on the Radio And Production web site. Over the two weeks the posting was open, I received 45 applications. What I need to talk about here is how I weeded through the applications. Frankly, some of you should take notice, as this will help you then next time you apply for a new job. Note that some companies, including mine, have a policy that you have to inform your supervisor when applying for another job in the same company. If that’s your company too, make sure that is done and noted in your cover letter.
The first thing I asked for was a minimum of two years experience in a commercial radio environment. That means if you work in a recording studio or for an advertising agency, don’t apply. If you are still in school, don’t apply. This wasn’t going to be an entry level job, and even if you had HUGE potential, and there were lots that did, it wasn’t going to be the job I was going to put someone who had never been in that situation into the deep end of the pool to see if they could swim. I listed experience with Adobe Audition or Cool Edit Pro as a preference. Even if you really strongly prefer Pro Tools, but have spent some time with Audition, make sure that’s on your resume, or at very least in your cover letter. Read between the lines, and if you can’t work without Pro Tools or Vegas or any other software program; don’t apply as we’re not going to switch a workstation just for you, no matter how impressive you are.
In the ad, I didn’t give a mail address, just to send tape and resume to my email address. That means that I expected to see your resume and demo in electronic form. The defacto standard in word processing software is MS Word. I don’t really care if you think Bill Gates is the anti-Christ and refuse to use MS software on principle; if you can’t send a .doc file resume, you better have a backup plan. Note that I’m writing this on my antique laptop on WordPerfect 7, and my main home computer has WordPerfect 12, so I’m not hard and fast that it has to be MS either. Still, if you can’t send a .doc, include a generic .txt version, or copy and paste the text into the body of an email. Sure it won’t look as pretty, but at this point I’m still more interested in content, and text in an email is a lot better in my eyes than me having to chase after you for a version of your resume I can actually read. If you have the software, send it as a PDF file. Everyone has Acrobat reader, and that would be fine too. A couple of people did show some initiative and creative thinking to actually go and find my mailing address to send a hard copy of the resume and demo. I didn’t ask for it, and it didn’t make a difference in my decision making, but that could potentially be a hidden bonus point the next time you apply for something.
About your demo, a demo should be a single file, mixed, of your best work. Do not send 18 little files, some MP3 some WMA of single spots, promos, or splitters. “Some Assembly required” should not be in the discussion when it comes to your demo. Maybe you want to keep your commercial and image skills separate. That’s fine -- with me anyway -- but please keep them short, 2 to 2.5 minutes max each if you go that way. If you send a single demo, also keep the time down. Five minutes is way too long. Nobody needs five minutes to showcase themselves, and the best demo I’ve ever heard was exactly 90 seconds. You should aim for 3.5 minutes or less. Be entertaining. Be concise. If the best part of your best promo is the last 15 seconds, don’t send the first 45 seconds of blah-blah client and sales info too! Keep an eye on file size when you send it electronically too. Some email systems will reject attachments bigger than 5Mb. Sending an 8Mb or 10Mb demo just bogs down my email system, which at certain points of the day is frustrating. If you think that compressing your demo down with a small bit-rate compromises the demo and the detail, and I respect that, then send the compressed MP3 as a reference. Then use your creative thinking skills to find a mailing address and send me a CD, or find an FTP site that will host your demo so I can download it. However, as much as I respect that, I also believe that the average listener won’t notice the difference. If who we’re trying to reach isn’t going to notice, why should I? So I weigh my impression a little bit more on the electronic version. If you don’t have a demo because you only do studio work, or are just a computer geek who likes playing with audio, don’t apply (see above re: experience). In saying all that on demo’s, my PD dislikes demos that are compilations of best bits. He likes having full spots or promos in a demo, so to each his own. Maybe have a demo in each style.
If you are applying for a job from another country, you have to do your homework first to see if you are eligible to work in that country. You have my sympathy, as I’ve had to decline job opportunities in the US as I don’t have a green card, and the offering companies didn’t want to go through the process on my behalf. You should find out what’s going to be expected of the hiring company, and I would say go so far as to get the forms they are going to need for them. Be realistic though, in that you are going to have to be unbelievably better than anyone else who applied for a company to go through the extra time and expense it’s going to take. I’m not saying it can’t be done; just that it’s going to be more difficult. The upside is that a company that is going to jump through government hoops to get you in the country really wants to hire you!
If you are applying with the potential of getting my company to hire your company on a 3rd party basis, outsourcing the work, don’t apply to me. Why should I be interested in something that’s going to be out of my control and ultimately just increase my workload? If you want to cut a business deal, you would be best in contacting those that do business deals, the local GM and/or the Regional VP. Heck, take it all the way upstairs and deal with the National VP/Programming or the President/Radio of the company. Finding out who those people are, should be relatively easy if you know what you are doing and would again highlight those creative thinking skills.
The last thing I asked for in the ad was “no calls.” Yes, I realize that you are interested in the job, it’s a great opportunity, and you want to know where you stand. However, with one guy leaving, I have planning to do to replace him, and taking my share of his existing workload when he leaves, and my regular workload for my cluster and my specific station, plus another Producer having arranged a couple of days off in there somewhere. I’ll be involved in more meetings as VP, GM, and PD get to have their input on who becomes the next member of the team. Simply, I do not have time to sit and talk to everyone who decides to follow up by phone. If you decide to send a follow up email to ensure that I received what you sent, that’s fine, but don’t expect a long answer. I will contact only those we are interested in, so no news should be considered as “Thanks for applying, but unfortunately you are not who we are looking for.”
Given all the above, it was surprisingly easy to cut the original 45 applicants down to a first cut of ten. From that ten the PD and I interviewed six, five by phone and one in person. Given the distances involved, it was too much to ask to get everyone in to talk face to face. That said, the last time I went through this, one applicant was more than willing to drive five hours each way for a 15 minute interview. That scored bonus points with me, but we ended up hiring him on merit, and he’s actually the guy who just left.
Of the six interviews, our leading candidate going in did not have a great interview, and was dropped from consideration. A couple of younger guys were talked to just to see how impressive they could be, and to watch for future needs.
Some tips on answering interview questions: Keep your answers like your demo, concise, to the point, and entertaining if you can be. Scattered does not inspire confidence, and your self confidence should inspire confidence from us. When asked about your organization skills, don’t say that your co-workers find your studio a mess even though you know exactly where everything is on the desk or in the computer. Someone is going to be looking for something in the studio or computer when you are out or off, and you can’t be the only one to be able to find something. When asked about how you plan your day, it’s better to answer that you spend the time it takes, stopping as needed to re-evaluate through the day, rather than saying you leave every day at 4:35. Mention if you use a day planner. Being proud of being an “Aussie Rules” producer, where if you’re not doing 18 hour days you aren’t doing anything is also the wrong answer. What kind of employee are you going to be if you don’t have an outside life away from the station to experience life? Saying you prefer to come in later to work later into the evening as you get fewer interruptions, and that’s when you do your best work, could be seen either as a positive or negative depending on the situation. When asked by the PD of the Classic Rock station about what you listen to, it’s OK to say you listen to anything and everything from bluegrass to opera, or that there are only two types of music (good and bad). It’s not OK to say that you may have heard Led Zeppelin once or twice at a party. Implying you don’t listen to the station you currently work at would also be bad. Saying you listen to your station, but do spend the time to check out everyone else in the market would be good. Lastly and most important, be honest. If something has popped up and you can’t talk at the scheduled time, we’ll understand and reschedule. Be honest but realistic when asked about salary requirements. If you want (or need) double what we want to pay, that will affect how we look at you. If you want $10,000 more than what we’re thinking, then that’s something we could look at if you are bringing more than expected to the position. Don’t use the word “Dude” unless someone else does first. If you have a question of the hiring company, please wait until the end of the interview to ask.
Given all that, the application, the resume, the demo, and the interview, you have to realize that ultimately you may not get the job even if you are the best candidate. Budgets may dictate that even if what you are asking is exactly right for what you are bringing in experience and qualifications, you may still be too expensive. It may come down to something as you are on the other side of the country and your moving expenses would be too high. Maybe one of the station management doesn’t want to deal with a “senior” Producer, and wants a more “junior” guy who either has more upside, or is less firm on his convictions. Just because you’re the best, doesn’t mean that you win.
If you applied for the job, thanks for taking the time. There were some really great applicants, and any one of the top ten were certainly qualified for the job. What separated who we hired from the others was the interview, where it was obvious he had the right answers to the PD’s questions. He alone made the decision a simple one. Hopefully with your next application, you’ll be the answer to the next PD’s questions.