The Success Series is a collection of the best career advice from some of our favourite writers, thinkers, and leaders. This week, we asked what advice they would give to someone starting his or her first job, and to share the lessons they learned from their own first gigs. See other articles in the series here.
The moral of the story: Say “Yes” to the unfamiliar — and figure everything out as you go.
It’s December 2007. Fresh out of graduate school, I had a fancy master’s degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Maryland-College Park — and zero job prospects as a news reporter.
A week after graduation, I was thrilled to land an “informational interview” at a TV news station in my hometown. Actually, I shouldn’t use the word “interview.” It was more like a guilt trip.
My dad knew a guy at the station who convinced the news director, Shane, to meet me for a few minutes and offer pointers about how to start out in the business.
So there I was at 23 years old, nervous and clammy in a suit and tie and fully expecting a 10-minute “nice to meet ya and off you go” conversation.
I sat down in front of Shane’s desk. He had demo reels (work samples) from other hopeful reporters piled high on his desk. He looked over my own reel (stories I did in college) and told me the many ways I needed to improve.
I knew I was raw, but the criticism still hurt. I composed myself and told him, “Great tips. I’ll work on those things. Thanks.”
Just as I felt our chit chat had come to an end, Shane looked up at me, smiled wryly and said, “Do you have ice in your veins?”
I took a gulp and felt a knot in my stomach at the same time. But without hesitation, I shot back, “Yes, I do.”
“Good,” he said. “One of my reporters is sick today, and we need to cover a submarine deployment at the naval base. Why don’t you handle the story, and if I like your work we’ll consider using it on the air tonight?”
My response on the outside: “Sure. Thanks for the opportunity!”
My response on the inside: “Holy #%@! Is this happening?!?!”
Right away, a cameraman and I drove to the naval base, captured the video and interviews, raced back to the station and put together a 90-second news “package,” as it’s called.
I used all the lessons from grad school and gave the story everything I had. Then Shane popped into our editing booth, watched the package one time, scratched his head and said:
“Nice work. Let’s use the piece tonight in the 5 p.m. newscast.”
And that is how an informational interview landed me on the local news.
After the story aired, Shane asked me to stick around as a freelance reporter for about three weeks. Then, he agreed to sign me to a two-year contract. While I don’t work at the station anymore, the crazy day in December 2007 jump-started my career and, in many ways, impacts the work I do now as a blogger.
The lesson? Well, I have two lessons.
1. Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting. Why did I cover the submarine deployment rather than the professionals who sent in demo reels? I was physically there to do the job.
2. Say “Yes, absolutely” even though you have no idea what lies ahead and maybe this is the right decision or maybe it’s not but who knows and who cares.
Just. Dive. In.
When you’re out in the “real world,” grab hold of opportunities and never let go.
And you ever find yourself in front of the camera, stand up straight, speak clearly and don’t forget to smile.
Danny Rubin is the creator and writer of News To Live By, a blog for Millennials that highlights career and leadership lessons hidden in the day’s top stories.
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