In Depth

Sign Off: Job Applicants vs. Fifth Graders

By Tom Petner

I need to take a Manhattan lunch and pitch meeting with Mark Burnett. He’s the British producer and TV guru who introduced the competition-based reality programming genre to the U.S.

So here’s my reality show idea for Burnett: a spinoff of his “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader” program.

I’d call it “Are You Smarter Than a Broadcast News Applicant?”

Here’s what I can deliver:

• A television anchor who submitted a resume tape – supposedly bulk erased – showing the candidate having sex with someone at the end of the tape.

• The “produced” resume tape of a candidate drinking beer, cussing and smoking between takes.

• A job applicant who made the news director wait until he finished a workout.

• A candidate who set his after-dinner brandy on fire with a cigarette lighter.

• A “news job” applicant who listed, under “awards and achievements,” a link to bikini.com – where she was featured as girl-of-the-month.

Cool, huh? What do you think of my show idea so far?

These may sound phony, but they’re not. These are sadly some of the true – and truly bizarre – experiences Sandra Connell, president of Dallas-based Talent Dynamics, has had with broadcast news job applicants over the years.

Connell is one of three top television news recruiters who passed along their advice, “best of” stories and view of today’s crop of broadcast news candidates. The others are Barbara Frye, VP of talent placement services at Frank Magid Associates; and Tom Dolan, president of Dolan Media Management.

This trio has collectively been in the game for decades and has seen thousands of resumes, tapes and, in the process, placed hundreds of job candidates in newsrooms throughout the country.

So if you’re ready to tell your boss to “shove it” and move to that next big newsroom job, you first should consider some of these stories.

All three recruiters say that something as simple as spelling can kill your new job deal. One of Connell’s all-time favorites: The job candidate listed a reference on a resume as a “Pullet Surprise Nominee.”

Then there are the “wrong names, spelling mistakes, wrong titles for news directors or the name for a competing news director on the letter,” she said.

“You might ask Barbara Frye how many cover letters she gets addressed to me. We get them for her,” Connell added.

Yep, says Frye. “I’m always just flabbergasted when it happens. I automatically wonder if they can’t get the place or name right, how can they possibly be a good reporter?”

One of the more bizarre things Frye sees several times a year: People who take a job, and either change their minds or simply never show up.

“It tends to happen more with big jobs involving a lot of money and a lot of recruitment time,” she said. Case in point: One candidate interviewed for an EP news job, accepted it, but never reported for work. A concerned news director called the guy’s wife, who didn’t know where he was. Police in California and other Western states searched for the man, but never found him. He finally called in and said he wasn’t going to take the job after all. No kidding!

Adding insult to recruitment injury, the person called Frye the same day and asked, “Can you help me find a job?”

Frye said technology has changed the search process, and news directors have switched to asking for DVDs instead of VHS tapes. “But I’m always surprised at how many people send us blank DVDs,” Frye said. “It’s clear that they didn’t bother to quality check. We get five or six DVDs a week that are blank, broken or unwatchable.”

More people, especially younger people, won’t even bother putting together a DVD, instead referring news directors and recruiters to their Web sites or videos posted on “YouTube.” Frye says a link-only approach to a resume reel is wrong. “News directors still want a DVD. They don’t want a bunch of emails with links.”

What’s Frye’s advice to applicants? “Check, double-check and triple-check everything,” she said.
Tom Dolan, who prequalifies job candidates for his clients, echoed Connell’s and Frye’s focus on sweating the details in a job search. “I’ve definitely seen bad misspellings kill someone’s chances at a job,” he said. Dolan’s advice on cover letters: “Always have someone proofread it. And overloading your resume with personal references, sending cameo videos and leaving off a reference from someone you reported to is a flag and dead giveaway.”

OK, Mark Burnett, where do I sign? This is definitely the stuff of reality TV.