Tue. Nov 13th, 2018

How Not To Land a Job in Sports Radio

It’s happening right now. In fact, it happens every day. But nobody is there to stop you from hitting the send button before damage is done.

In some US city every day, a radio professional or aspiring broadcaster flocks to the internet searching for their dream job or next career opportunity. They’ll browse listings on Indeed, All Access, BSM or the careers sections on various radio company corporate sites, and once they see something that captures their interest, they begin their pursuit. They’ll spellcheck their resume, look for the contact person involved with the station, if pursuing an on-air role include a sample of their hosting style, and write an introduction note they hope will help them stand out from the rest.

Once they’ve produced their email, double checked it, and attached their materials, they press send. They then anxiously await a response, hoping it will open the door to further conversations about filling the opening. If after a few days an email or phone call hasn’t been received, they might follow up with a second note, or in some cases, even pick up the phone to call. It doesn’t matter if the instructions said not to, the lack of response calls for a new plan of attack because no way is it possible that they didn’t fit what the hiring executive was searching for.

In each situation, the hiring manager has different tastes and rules. Some want an hour worth of unedited material, some want less than 5 minutes. Some will say not to call, others don’t mind if you pick up the phone to initiate a chat. Competition for these openings is intense, and those who possess the skills to fill the position, while clicking best with the hiring manager stand the best chance of getting the call.

What you don’t know entering the process is whether or not you’re going to check the boxes of the hiring manager. You have no idea who else is competing for the opening, and whether the position is a real call for help or a mandatory requirement from HR even though the job has already been promised to an internal candidate. Regardless, it’s important to make a favorable impression because it could lead to a future opportunity either with the station you’ve applied to work at or for someone else in the industry who has a need at a later time.

Speaking for myself, I rarely relied on HR to help fill an opening. I always worked ahead and listened, met, observed, and asked industry folks about certain people who may or may not be worth consideration should I one day have a vacancy. My philosophy was ‘if you want the best talent, you go out and find them, not wait for them to appear in your inbox’.

During my hiring experiences as a programmer, I saw a lot of bad decisions made by job seekers. My awareness for these situations has increased even more during the past three years while running BSM. Sports radio may be a big business but it has a small community feel. If you make a bad impression on one executive, it could affect your standing with others. Stand out in a positive way and you may be recommended to someone else when they have a future need.

I was having a discussion recently with an industry friend about some of the blunders people make when openings come up, and I thought I’d pass along eight examples of bad ideas to help you avoid putting yourself in a situation where you’re frozen out in the future.

  • It’s never a good idea to tell a programmer that they’ll be the dumbest f**k on the planet if they pass over your resume. I don’t care how good you are, most people aren’t going to want to bring someone into their operation who they consider to be a dick before they even have a conversation. You can have an ego, and believe you’re better than anyone else who speaks into a microphone, but if you can’t work with others, it’s going to be hard to convince people to trust you with an important role.
  • Suggesting a programmer ‘can’t live without you’ and should pony up whatever it takes to get you probably won’t help you land the role you desire either. A good programmer wants talented people on their airwaves, and they’ll battle for their people to earn a healthy wage, but they won’t fight for someone who doesn’t respect and value them too. An old quote I used to love sharing was ‘graveyards are full of irreplaceable men.’ Secondly, if you come across the wrong programmer, they’ll take your arrogance as a challenge to prove they can do it without you, and more times than not, they will. As a former host who learned from a poor initial approach once said to me, ‘even Michael Jordan needed Phil Jackson’. If you produce like MJ, Phil will find a way to make sure you get what you need. You’ll also discover you’re better off together than apart.
  • Applying for a job you don’t want just to get yourself in the door doesn’t always end well. If you’re a host with no desire to produce but apply for a producer opening, eventually it’s going to become a problem for the PD and Host you’re working with. That leads to people not being in your corner to push your development. Eventually you’ll exit the station once the issues reach the point of no return. It’s better to be up front about your short-term and long-term goals, and tackle the opportunity in front of you while making it clear you have other things you’d like to accomplish professionally. Most broadcast executives will give you opportunities to grow if you’re determined and have skill, but they won’t champion your cause if you don’t execute the role you were initially hired to do.
  • Copying a programmer’s CEO, corporate executive, and market manager on the email you sent in expressing interest in an opening creates immediate tension. Would you give 110% support to someone who was forced on you? Do you think a programmer who’s trusted to lead a brand is going to go with the flow and take a deeper liking to you when the perception is you’re trying to override them before even establishing contact? Most corporate people give their PD’s the ability to make hiring decisions in tandem with their market manager. If the room is divided on you, you’re usually going to be voted out.
  • Pretending to know the ins and outs of a company based on media reports is another foolish idea. For example, if you applied to work for a company which just underwent layoffs, it’s not a wise move to say something like ‘I’m glad you survived the cut….your company clearly recognizes talent and made a wise move dumping the others.’ Do you know if the individual you’ve applied with is thrilled to remain on the job? What if their best friend was let go? Better yet, what credibility have you gained with the hiring manager to earn that conversation? Unless you’ve worked there and have firsthand knowledge of the inner workings, and a relationship with the individual you’re communicating with, it’s better to avoid that discussion before sticking your foot in your mouth.
  • Be real, not a phony. For example, if you’re from Texas, and applying for a job in Philadelphia, don’t put in your introductory email how much you love cheese steaks, Rocky Balboa and the Eagles since the days of Reggie White, especially if you’ve never set foot in the city. Nothing is worse than the applicant who pretends to know local landmarks, sports history, and a city’s way of life based on reading Wikipedia and stuff they see on TV or social media. It’s the same crap when the east coast guy applies for a gig on the west coast or the west coast guy reaches out for the east coast opening claiming they’re in the wrong location and better suited for that particular market’s style. In some cases, candidates have applied to multiple markets, modifying their letters for each city, and PD’s have chatted and discovered it. Guess what that does? It guarantees not landing either opening.
  • Admitting to someone in a cover letter that you were an internal problem for your previous employer or you didn’t work hard at your last job is going to send up an immediate red flag to anyone reading your note. You may think you’re being honest and trying to get out in front of any blemishes on your resume but some stuff is better left to face to face conversation. If you’re putting those type of remarks in an email and the hiring manager is looking at 100 people for one opening, why would they hold on to yours versus the others with less baggage? It’s OK to go thru the interview process and admit you’ve made mistakes and want to learn from them and give an employer an opportunity to reap the rewards for giving you a chance but save it for later in the process. Telling someone you don’t know that you gave less than your best or created an issue that resulted in problems inside of an office isn’t likely to earn you a call.
  • Conduct yourself on social media in a way that doesn’t make a hiring manager think twice about hiring you. If you approach the space the way you do the airwaves, you’ll have less to worry about. If though this is where you bombard folks with your political views, instigate fights with trolls, share content that is offensive, and swear like a sailor, it may make someone who’s a fan of your work think twice. They have to consider how your social identity is going to affect listeners, advertisers, and fellow employees, and if there are too many risks, they may choose a safer path. The other thing I’d recommend not doing, buying followers. If you’re an aspiring host or producer with limited experience carrying 50,000 followers, it doesn’t take much work to scroll thru your posts and see what type of engagement you create. If nobody ever responds, chances are you don’t produce impact, just a false image.
  • BONUS: As a consultant who works with brands and PD’s, it’s smart to introduce yourself, provide audio, share your goals, and develop a relationship. If you only reach out when jobs are listed, it doesn’t keep you top of mind when gigs aren’t publicly displayed. Furthermore, if the only time you initiate contact is when something is posted, that’s a case of asking for a favor, not building a relationship. Why would a consultant do you a favor if they have no history with you?
  • BONUS CONT’D: Its also important to remember, a consultant’s job is to help the station and hiring manager strengthen their department to have the best chance at future success. We direct people to folks who we feel fit what they’ve said they’re looking for. If you don’t get a gig, it isn’t personal, nor is it because we’re determined to make sure you never work in the industry. On the other hand, blaming the consultant for your inability to find work is a convenient way of ignoring the truth that you may be doing a few things to make yourself unattractive to hiring managers.

If you possess talent, a good work ethic, conduct yourself in a professional manner, have solid industry references, and bring something to the table that’s unique, compelling, and entertaining, chances are you’ll earn a chance to discuss an opportunity. Then it comes down to whether or not you and the hiring manager connect, and if you and the brand mutually benefit one another. It’s easy for broadcasters to get blinded by the opportunity, and look past whether or not the situation is right for them too. So much of developing a prosperous career comes down to both sides being fully invested in one another, which is why it’s OK if certain things don’t work sometimes.

I’m sure if I scoured the nation and asked more folks in programming departments, I’d find plenty of other bad approaches. The goal of this piece though is to arm you with information to avoid making mistakes so you don’t become that example the next program director refers to when explaining how not to pursue a job. Instead, use it to your benefit to make sure you place yourself in a good position to land a great opportunity that helps both you and your next employer.

Good luck!