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Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Stepping Up in TV

I am often asked 'how do I step up'? Ultimately - you are in control of that. In delivering and exceeding expectation (but doing so without fuss), you are sure to be noticed and given an opportunity in your chosen path.

It isn't always that simple though - and sometimes there just isn't a vacancy for that elusive next credit in the team you are working within/ have done previously.

Firstly – before you decide to look elsewhere for opportunity – ask yourself this (and answer with absolutely honesty): am I looking to step up because a. I think I deserve to and am capable of doing so, b. because I have been here much longer than other people who are now more senior than me or c. because my manager/senior/someone with appropriate position has advised that I am?

Largely – not always (you may not have a great bond with your manager, etc – or you might not have had the opportunity to prove yourself in a particular role) – but largely, you should only be considering ‘the next step’ if the answer is C.

If, C has occurred then you may find yourself in one of two scenarios: that person/company have a role at the next level for you and voila, you are an XXX; or, that person/company does not have such an opportunity due to lack of current need/production/etc – however, they are prepared to recommend you to their peers OR provide a reference supporting your belief that you can deliver somewhere new.

Now, if you find yourself in situation A or B then my personal advice, as your first step, would be to find out the answer to C!

Why does this matter? It matters, as unless you are a jammy dodger who is going to be offered a role through an amazing contact/old firm/member of family/etc etc, then you are only going to get said role if your previous employer provides a reference. If that new post you have applied for is at a more senior level to your last credit, not only does that person in scenario C have to provide a reference of your ability in said former role, but also of capability match in potential new role.

Simple, right?!

So, if the answer to C is ‘yes’ – then off you go, get applying for the next role! My personal recommendation would be to kick start your cover letter with a brief synopsis (post the intro as to which role you are applying for etc) as to why you are applying – even though you are yet to work at that credit level. Keep it clear and simple – and focus on the feedback you have received. ‘I think I’m ready’ ‘I know I am better than other XXXs I have met’ probably won’t cut it.

Even if your immediate team/department doesn’t have a more senior vacancy, ask further around the company. Have you got a talent manager/Head of Production/etc who is across all shows? Drop them a line – cc’ing your manager – and explaining that you are nearing the end of your current role, and with your manager’s support, would like to put yourself forward for any possible career development opportunities.

If you find yourself in situation C and the answer is ‘no’, then proceed with caution. As I said, largely, your seniors will be in a strong position to advise – and ultimately it will be their feedback that helps (or otherwise) you land that next goal.

If you have answered ‘yes’ to A or B and no to ‘C’ then why should you proceed with caution? Generally, as the answer to your application will often be a ‘no’.

A chap I know once asked me why that should be off-putting – I told him this: I knew a great AP who worked really hard, and often did a fab job. She had some areas of weakness – but overall delivered. Two of her peers were promoted at the end of a series – and she was invited back at AP level. She took this a little personally and was really hurt (if truth be told she was also a bit embarrassed as she had been there a few months longer than her peers). Instead of asking for advice on how she could ensure she was promoted at the next opportunity, she declined the AP role and set off to find a ‘better’ Producer job elsewhere. She didn’t worry about her references for a second – after all, she had been invited back. She managed – through utilisation of contacts and a few minor fibs - to secure some interviews for Producer roles elsewhere. One of the interviews went well – and they offered her the job, subject to her former employer feedback. Essentially it became apparent to the new potential that she was a good AP – not a great one but a good one, who with a full run doing another series as an AP would have made it to Producer level. She wasn’t however ready yet. Her offer was retracted due to her non suitability to that post. Incidentally they had an AP vacancy too – however they decided not to offer her it as an alternative, as she had made it clear she no longer thought of herself as an AP – and thus, would probably not be too committed to the role.

The trouble is - if you apply to too many roles outside of your reach - your CV won't be considered, and if you manage to blag it and you are considered, and then your reputation/feedback doesn't match the level you have sold yourself at, you will find yourself getting a reputation for being a 'nuisance'. What do I mean by this? Well, the constant stream of 'Director's' and 'Producer's' (self titled) I get applying for entry roles frustrates me - those people are just not being realistic about what they are. Equally, the 'Runner' or 'Prod Sec' applying to be a Junior PM is again, not realistic.

At various events, meets, etc I often hear people saying ‘but I am far too qualified to be doing XXX’ [A]; the reality is, more often than not, if you are doing it, it is because that is the level the industry has deemed you to be at. The most common complaint that I hear of personally is the plight of the graduate not wishing to be a runner – because they ‘Directed’ (for example) their own production as part of their degree. I went to law school – I won the Post Grad mooting competition with the highest score of the decade – I didn’t expect to instantly become a Barrister in the High Courts! The reality is that whatever the industry, you have to put in your slog from grass roots and learn the trade. Building apprentices can spend months learning how to make the perfect consistency of cement (get this wrong and the quality of your tiling/bricklaying/etc will be impacted); artists spend years perfecting stroke technique; and administrators have to know the latest IT bumph inside out. You have to put in the time to reap the rewards. It really is that simple. That isn’t to say there won't be exceptions – but that is for another post...

Lastly, if you find yourself driven to step up largely by situation ‘B’ then focus on this: if your peers are getting promoted (whether it be internally or elsewhere) than you should never allow yourself to believe that the opportunity isn’t there. If around you others are flourishing and you are still trying to a. get that first foot in the door or b. take the next step, then there is a strong chance that the reason you are not is due to one of two things: firstly, you may not be promoting yourself to the best of your abilities. Do you do your job, get what’s asked of you ticked off the list and then surf the net? STEP IT UP!!! Those that thrive utilise every minute of their working time to evidence that they are capable. Never assume that what you are being asked is all that could be done. Now don’t go getting carried away – note role boundaries, etc – but do think creatively. Your (for example) PM asks you the Prod. Sec. to chase some missing invoices. You can choose to put in the calls and then get back to Facebook or, you can put in the calls, action the feedback (i.e. ‘we sent this to your finance team last week’ = ring finance and ask if they have received it, then if they have, go and get it!) and update your PM in writing. Ask if he/she would like you to do anything else to help – i.e. raise a PO, get it signed off by PE, etc. Essentially, take action. Don’t just do the minimum. Are you an AP making multiple contacts to contribs and recording it all in your head? What use is that to your Producer or SP? Make a log – fill it in – and circle it to the team, cc’ing the senior, suggesting it might be a useful central document for all staff to refer to.

Secondly, if you feel that you are in situation ‘B’, you are trying your bloody hardest and still you are a. not getting any jobs or b. never being offered the opportunity to step up, it may (and I know I am going to potentially cause upset here) but it may well be that you are not actually the right person for that job.

I always advise people to persevere, aim for the stars and never give up. Realistically however, the (for example) Coordinator who has been doing so for ten years, has tried applying for PM roles but always gets passed by, and is invited back to PC but never to PM, may – just may – not be cut out to be a PM. This applies across all roles. I know this gent – his CV is phenomenal. He has travelled the world directing some top class television formats. He is out of this world talented ‘on the floor’ and a disaster in the office. He tried his hand at PD’ing for a long time – with the expectation that he would finally get the next step (in his mind at that time) the Series Producer job. Producing however was not his forte – and due to his exceptional Directing abilities he kept getting offered PD roles (with a jolly good AP to help in the office!), but that was as far as it went. Sometimes we just aren’t suited to something – and you must be willing to explore this avenue.

I genuinely feel with all my heart for entry (and in fact any) level staff desperately willing to land their ‘dream TV job’. I will always encourage and provide support where I can, and try my hardest to enable people an opportunity to prove themselves. Sometimes though you have to be cruel to be kind – and if someone has had a lot of those ‘chances’ and has never been invited back, there is usually a reason. Ask for feedback – and if you didn’t deliver and know you did all you could to do so, see where else your talents lie.

 ©July 2012 – Lou Gallagher

1 comment:

  1. How did you manage to 'step up'? Share your advice here please!