There are no hard and fast rules on how to 'make it'. Persistence, dedication, initiative, flexibility to respond to and meet the demands of change are essential qualities - but competition is fierce and, realistically, only the most able, creative and enthusiastic are likely to succeed. Always be realistic about your own abilities.
- Anybody can say they want to work in television or radio, so think carefully about what you want to do and focus on that goal. Appropriate qualifications are important, of course, but you should try to develop skills in related areas to demonstrate your enthusiasm to a potential employer; for example, write for a local newspaper or your school or college magazine, or join an amateur theatre group.
- Sample as wide a range of television and radio output as you possibly can, and analyze it critically. Ask yourself why a program works or why it doesn't, and what you would do to improve it.
- Read as much as you can, not just about your own area of interest, but also on general questions on the current state of the broadcasting industry. Subscribe to a trade paper if you can afford it. If not, enquire about trade papers at your local library and read the media pages of the national press so you become familiar with the names of the major figures.
- Books on television and radio pour off the presses. Many are on the pricey side, so, again, it could be well worth a visit to your local library. A few words of warning, though: always check for the year of publication. Many of the books which inhabit library shelves have been there collecting dust for years and will not necessarily offer an accurate picture of the industry. See Chapter 5 for some recommended reading suggestions.
- If possible, visit a studio to get a feel for the environment. You could apply for audience tickets or go on an organized tour.
- It is always a good idea to learn transferable skills that could be used in other industries; typing and word processing skills and computer literacy will enhance any CV.
A work experience placement provides a great opportunity to glimpse the industry from the inside, to make contacts and to demonstrate your skills.
Channel 4 offers neither work experience nor vacation employment, while the BBC's polity varies from region to region. Most ITV companies do offer work experience, although they usually insist that applicants are students following a recognized course of study (such as a degree) at a college or university and that the student is either resident or attending a course in the transmission area of the company offering the attachment. Some companies will also ask applicants to undergo a written test or an interview before making an offer, but even if applicants are successful at this stage, a placement is still not guaranteed. David, who runs a small independent television production company, believes that it is up to the individual to make the most of any work experience placement.
Every year I receive dozens of requests for work experience. But because we are a small company, it is very difficult to deal with these cold calling letters saying, 'I want to work in television'. Everybody wants to work in television. After all, it's better than working in a factory or on a building site. Inevitably, not everybody can.
It helps to have a target, to know what kind of job you want. Everybody wants to be a cameraman or a director, but there are lots of other jobs in television. It helps to learn particular skills, and then broaden those skills into other things.
You have to show a Willingness to fit into the team. The key qualities are probably personality, a sense of humor and a willingness to work twice as hard as the next person. We have had people in here on work experience who showed no interest or enthusiasm for what we were doing; I got the impression they were just looking for somewhere to hide for a week.
On the other hand, we have had some very good experiences. A couple of years ago, we were working on a documentary series and we brought in a guy from a training scheme as an extra pair of hands. He was very keen, he worked very hard, he fitted in well, and at the end of his six-month placement we gave him a job.
Whether you go after an advertised post or simply send in an unsolicited letter of application (see below), you are going to have to write a letter and draw up a Curriculum Vitae (CV). It is very important that these make a good impression because television and radio stations receive hundreds of them every month. If you decide to write in, then make sure you find out all you can about the organization you are applying to or, if you are writing to a particular producer, make sure you are thoroughly familiar with their work.
Make your own area of interest clear: for example, if it is music, say what kind; if it is technical, state your qualifications and experience. It is not enough simply to say you would like to work in radio or television. Keep your letter short and make your CV as comprehensive as possible.
Do your research. If you don't know the name of the person you should be writing to, then phone the company and find out. In general, you should address your letter to the Head of Appointments, the Chief Personnel Officer or the Head of Recruitment. Your letter is much more likely to receive attention if it is addressed to a specific individual. Enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope with your letter will also greatly enhance your chances of a reply.