Every Program Director has a different approach when it comes to hiring people so take that into account as you read through this column. I can only speak to my own philosophy and experiences but for what they’re worth, I’m happy to share how I do things. As you pursue future opportunities in the industry, don’t assume that my way is going to work for you in other markets because chances are it won’t. None the less here’s a few things I consider important in the hiring process.
1. Build Relationships First: If you’re looking to be considered for a position at any radio station, don’t wait until you see a job posting for an open position. This is a business that is very much built on who you know and what you’ve done. You can go into Walmart and apply for a job and they’ll call you if they have an opening, Radio works differently. Chances are, I’ve got a number of people in mind for an opportunity before I even post the position for my radio station. Why? Because any solid PD is thinking about the change in his or her building before anyone else is. During the posting process I’ll receive a few applications which stand out and catch my eye but usually I’ve already got an idea for a few different roads to pursue before I turn to the unknown. All the more reason why getting to know the PD prior to a job posting can be important.
2. Follow Instructions: If a job is posted and gives specific instructions of how to proceed and you don’t have a relationship already with the PD, follow them precisely. For example, if it says “no calls please” don’t be the one person who thinks they’re going to stand out because they did what the posting said not to do. While you may think that type of aggressiveness is going to stand out, it will but in a very negative way. If I’ve taken the time to tell you how to approach me and the company for a possible opportunity, following instructions is important. If your first move is to show me that you can’t follow instructions then how can I trust you if I were to hire you? In the past I’ve had people follow me into elevators, approach me in the urinals at ballgames, show up at radio station events when I was with my family and even track me down at a train stop after I posted that I was heading home on Twitter and in every situation, the candidate was not hired. I recognize you’re hungry for an opportunity but so are others who follow instructions and trust in their body of work being good enough to generate attention and a response.
3. Are You Qualified For The Opening: If you’re applying for an on-air position and have never done a radio show, why exactly are you applying? I realize it’s a cool job and we all think we can do it but just because you make your friends laugh or you know every sports stat known to mankind doesn’t mean you’re qualified to entertain an audience for 45 minutes an hour. I may think I can do a better job than the president but that doesn’t make me qualified to run the country and occupy the white house.
4. Are You a Proven Difference Maker: If you’re an on-air talent and haven’t had ratings success, PD’s will find out. If you’re in a weekend or night-time position and looking to take the next step, PD’s will ask you why those in your own building don’t think you’re good enough to crack their daytime lineup yet you expect someone else to see you differently who hasn’t even worked with you. I’m not saying that to be a hard ass or to crush your dreams, I’m sharing it because when you’re hired as a weekday talk show host in a prime daypart, there’s an expectation that comes with it. The PD is saying to his/her bosses that you’re good enough to generate ratings, experienced enough to deliver results for advertisers and the type of individual who will be a great teammate, a strong representative for the brand in the community and someone who will foster relationships with teams and local players which will be beneficial to the product. I’m not saying you can’t go from weekends/evenings in a market to prime time in another because it has happened but I’m telling you that it’s not easy and doing it in a top 5 market or on a national network is going to be extremely tough.
5. Show Your Unedited Work: When you submit a demo, don’t send something that makes you look good for 2-3 minutes but can’t be duplicated when you get in front of a microphone. Numerous times I’ve received a good MP3 or CD and I’ll follow up with a candidate and when I have them come to the studio to hear how they sound, I find out that they had 2 good minutes courtesy of a good Adobe Audition editing job. The reality is this, unedited tape doesn’t lie. Chances are you’ll send me an hour of tape and I won’t listen to all of it. That said, something interesting or funny right away will get my attention and keep me intrigued. It’s no different than what I tell my on-air hosts and what other PD’s tell theirs. If you don’t grab a listener’s attention quickly, they’ll tune you out. Come to the table with something that showcases your style, originality and unfiltered opinion and you have a shot at keeping my ear. If you can do that, I’m likely to at least touch base to have a discussion. Also understand that if a PD doesn’t like your work right now, that doesn’t mean they won’t in the future. If they tell you to work on some things, apply the feedback and make sure the next time you submit something that it reflects progress. That attention to detail tells a PD you’ll accept coaching and that’s something PD’s seek out of the people they hire.
6. Network, Network, Network: Between the radio station’s website where you can obtain the email to the PD and social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram where many of these same PD’s have accounts, are you connected to them on any platform? Furthermore, have you gotten to know others who work inside the radio station? The more people you know and the more relationships you build, the more likely you are to attract people’s attention. I remember being at 590 The Fan in St. Louis and a guy came in the door wanting to pick the brains of some of our personalities just to find out how they approach their jobs. His research stood out and he was a young guy looking to break into the business. About 2 years later I was launching 101 ESPN in St. Louis and the same guy applied for a Board Operator job just to get his foot in the door and I wound up hiring him. It was that initial visit to my previous building and a few notes in between that caught my attention and impressed me. His name was Aaron Goldsmith and he was the first board operator to put 101 ESPN on the air and now he’s the play-by-play announcer for the Seattle Mariners. He understood the value of networking and so should you.
7. Set Realistic Goals: PD’s talk to one another much like NFL Head Coaches talk to each other. We may not discuss strategies or company secrets but we do provide feedback when asked for it. If you’re an individual sending resumes and airchecks to 20 PD’s in 20 different markets, chances are everyone knows you as the “I’ll work anywhere” candidate. If you’re applying for the board operator, producer and on-air host position then you’re the “jack of all trades, master of none” candidate. I mention these two specifically because any dynamic and entertaining on-air personality who can move the needle for a radio station would never apply for a Board Operator or Producer position. Be smart when you apply and remember, PD’s have long memories. We know when you’ve applied 6 months earlier, 2 years earlier and in some cases even 5-10 years earlier. Know what it is you want to pursue, give good evidence to support why you believe you’re qualified and then follow up when appropriate. If you’ve got the talent to attract a PD’s attention, trust me they’ll be in touch. If they’re not then either you’re not a fit for that specific PD or market or your talent for the position may not be as strong as you may think it is. I will also tell you that if two people are equally qualified for a position and one is local and one isn’t, almost 99% of the time the call is going to go to the person who is already in the market and knows the local scene. If you want to work in a specific market and you’re not there, you may want to think abut relocating first and then continuing to chase opportunities at the radio station.
8. Understand The Job Description: Too many times candidates interview for a specific job and then proceed to explain why the radio station should adapt to fit them as opposed to the individual explaining how they can help fit the position. You may eventually land a bigger opportunity in the company if you’re good but it’s not going to come without doing the current job in front of you first. If a baseball team needs a lead-off hitter who can take pitches, draw walks, get on base and steal bases, do you think they’re going to put someone in that spot who hits for low average and swings at every pitch they see? It’s no different here. If I need a producer who can book guests, produce promos and rejoins, screen calls and make quality cuts, that’s what I expect to be done. If your true ambition is to be on the air that’s fine but you’re not going to get that opportunity at the expense of a prime time talk show. Do the job you were hired to do, request to earn more opportunities and be truthful about your goals and if you’ve built a good relationship with your PD, they’ll give you a chance to go into a production room and put some material on tape, critique it and if it’s good enough, throw you a weekend or overnight shift to see how you do. It’s all about going through the process and having the talent to do the job but you’ve got to touch first base before you proceed to second.
9. The Actual Interview: When you get called to come in for an interview, be on time. You should also show up looking professional. You don’t need to be in a 3-piece suit but you may want to save the running pants and short sleeve t-shirt for another day. Andre Agassi once said “image is everything” and whether it’s fair or not, PD’s want to know that they’re bringing in people who understand that they’re working in a place of business and can present themselves well. In addition to being punctual and presenting yourself well, let the PD guide the conversation. You’re walking in and trying to sell yourself and why you can help the brand but for the PD they can only find out about you by asking questions and seeing how you respond. If you’re confident in yourself they’ll see it and those who can adapt and stay loose, conversational and engaged in discussion will stand out. If you’re shy, quiet, nervous or breaking out in a sweat, chances are the PD’s made mental notes and they’re not going to be favorable.
10. Follow Up: If you interview for an opportunity and don’t get the nod, your career isn’t over. The right thing to do, is follow up and thank the PD for their consideration and let them know you’d like to be kept in consideration for future opportunities. In many situations there are a lot of qualified candidates for an opening and only 1 person gets hired. Those who act professionally when they don’t get the call stand a better chance of being thought of favorably in the future, especially if they remain employed in the business and continue working at their craft. I have a number of people in this business who I keep on a short-list and if situations pop up and I need help, I’m very likely to call on them. What doesn’t work is when someone follows up and proceeds to blast the candidate I hired or fires personal insults my way because they weren’t hired (it’s happened before). Before I got my opportunity with ESPN in 2004, I had reached out a year earlier to Bruce Gilbert and what I was pitching wasn’t needed by the network at that time. I thanked him for considering me, asked him to hold on to my materials and reminded him that if a need came up in the future, I was ready, willing and able to get to work. As luck would have it, one year later he had an opening and because I connected well during the previous process, I was given a chance to interview and ultimately landed the job. While the call may not always come the first time, it certainly won’t come a second time if you don’t conduct yourself the right way.
As I finalize this column, I’d like to share a personal story that applies to this subject. When I entered this business I hoped to one day be good enough to work at WFAN in NY. For years I reached out to Mark Chernoff seeking his feedback and because I didn’t bombard him regularly, he’d provide me with some of it. I gained a solid understanding of what I’d need to do in the future to earn consideration for a job there and I’d keep working on things he told me were weak.
After 8 years, I finally received an offer to work for WFAN as a FT Producer and as crazy as it sounds, I rejected it. ESPN presented a great opportunity at the same time and I couldn’t say no. If I had given up after my first or second attempt, I’d never have been in that position. Because I had a little bit of talent, was accepting of feedback and didn’t overwhelm Mark with my approach, it allowed me to stay on the radar of one of the industry’s best PD’s.
Many times in this industry, being hired for a position comes down to relationships, fit, financials and subjective opinions. If you don’t get the call today, don’t be discouraged. It’s amazing how a perceived setback on your end can actually be a blessing in disguise and an opening into something even more amazing. Sometimes a great NFL or MLB player has to wait a few turns to get a call to the Hall of Fame and the same type of things happen in radio. If you have talent and want it bad enough, people will eventually find you. You’ll just never know who, when or why they’re watching so always present yourself well, don’t be overbearing and let your body of work do the talking.