By Trent Rentsch
You’d think I’d have learned by now. No matter how “right” I am, it turns out that my wife is. Example… I was kicking around ideas for this column, and she suggested that I write about hunting for a job. “Nah, been there, did that… last month, remember?” She shook her head. “No, talk about all the things you need to go through, getting everything prepared, where to look, all of that.” Again, I disagreed. “I don’t want to come off like a whiner, just because I haven’t found a job in a month!” She gave me that smile. “You wouldn’t. You might help someone else in your situation. Isn’t that why you write the column anyway?”
It still took me a few hours to admit she was right… I am man, hear me give in.
So what advice can I provide? The same I have in the past, with some perspective. Because, despite my on and off preaching about always having your parachute packed and handy, when they pushed me out of the plane, my own chute was something like Wile E. Coyote would’ve bought from Acme in a Roadrunner cartoon… filled with weight to speed my descent rather than much to cushion the fall.
So, which of my own rules did I break? Let’s go through the checklist… resume, check. Audio demo, check. Cover letter, check. Yep… all there. Nothing wrong there. Except, there was…
First of all, the resume was hopelessly out of date. There were several accomplishments from my last job that really needed to be included, as well as assorted freelance gigs that might well be important for a potential client to know about. Plus the layout really needed a facelift. It was too wordy, too confusing to wade through. And for that matter, as I began my job search, it became obvious that I needed two versions: one that focused on my audio production work, and another that focused on my copywriting. Naively, I had assumed that the more over-all experience you could provide, the more valuable you would seem. That’s not often the case. Potential employers are looking for people who specialize, especially outside of radio. So, despite the years of multi-tasking, I ended up with a couple of extra versions of my resume that didn’t eliminate all my skills, but de-emphasized the ones the potential client wasn’t interested in.
There was a similar issue with my audio demo. Some openings were looking for an imaging producer, others for a commercial producer, still others wanted a versatile voice talent. My audio demo had a sprinkling of all of those abilities… fine if a radio station was looking for an all-over producer, but again, so many places are looking for someone to specialize these days. I needed to put together 3 different audio demos, each focusing on a different skill set. This was harder than it sounds. It wasn’t that I didn’t have enough material to do it; the problem was digging it up. The last demo I had produced was 2 computers and 2 jobs ago, and the original audio was hidden away in oddly named files in those computers, as well as a handful of thumb drives and a couple of external drives. I was not organized, not even a little, and there are some really nice pieces I would’ve liked to include that are still unaccounted for. Yes, I could pull things from my demo, but as tight as I produced it, I would lose enough of the audio to make it unusable.
While I’m on the subject of demos, I ran into the same problems with samples of my copywriting. I had 4 scripts in my “demo file,” all radio, despite the fact that I’ve written television, long form video and even some print in the last few years. Again, everybody wants something different out of their Copywriter, so I was on another scavenger hunt to find examples of everything I have written. Luckily, as I was laid off at my last job and left on good terms, I was able to ask for copies of some of the scripts I had left behind, or I would’ve been forced to use the pitiful supply of scripts I had saved in my home computers.
Now all I needed, other than jobs to apply for, was a cover letter… or, you guessed it, cover letters, depending on the position I was applying for. There is a real art to a good cover letter, and I still feel like I’m trying to get it right. I do know that the old form cover letters are not going to open doors. You know the ones I mean, “Dear Sir… perusing (insert trade magazine), I noticed your opening for a (insert open position), and would like to express my interest.” Snore. What does the potential employer know about you after that line? You MIGHT be able to read, and you’re interested in their job… you don’t necessarily WANT it, but you’re interested. I’ve found that the cover letters that have gotten a response begin with what you can bring to the table, what your passion is and how you want to bring your skills and experience to their company. From there, you can get into specifics about your skills and how they will make you right for the opening. My favorite cover letter opened the door to my favorite job ever, at KidStar in Seattle. Because I knew that I would be producing and voicing work aimed at kids, I had “testimonials” from 3 kids about my silly voices… real ones, I might add, which came from MY kids. Not only did I get the job, but it was the first time anyone had mentioned my cover letter in an interview… and several did. Obviously, that’s a gambit you can’t play very often, but you see where I’m coming from: lead with what you can do for them, tell them you want the job, give them specifics, and keep the tone enthusiastic.
That’s what I’ve learned, so far. Even if you’re not looking, keep your material organized, modular and ready to go; 4 gig thumb drives are dirt cheap now, buy one and keep everything in it, adding when you do something you really feel is worth it. And work on your cover letter(s). Think of it as the first commercial anyone will “hear” about you… would YOU hire this person?