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As I prepare for the job market...

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David Sikes
As I prepare for the job market...
on Jul 27, 2010 at 9:36:37 pm

Hello! I hope this is the correct forum for this sort of post.

I'm a student at the University of Alabama in media production. As I continue my education and further my work experience, I'm a couple of years away from hitting the door and trying to get a job.

For those of you who are more experienced, far wiser and can see the "big picture", how would you recommend I prepare myself for the production world? Should I risk more and aim high while I'm younger, or stick to where it's comfortable? Are there any trends in the production job world I need to be aware of?

Through a great job I've held on campus, learning from a very talented editor, I've gained strong post skills, but not quite as much in shooting, lighting, and sound. Should I focus on my weaker areas or focus on my strengths?

Any feedback is appreciated. I am grateful for the Cow and all those who continue to lend a hand!

- David Sikes

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Steve Martin
Re: As I prepare for the job market...
on Jul 28, 2010 at 1:33:49 am

Hi David,

First of all, how refreshing to hear from a college student who actually admits that he has a lot to learn. When I was in college I was one of those idiots who though he knew it all :)

You are likely to get a lot of feedback from different folks coming from different perspectives. Soak it all in and figure out what applies to you. In no particular order, here are few thoughts from a guy who does corporate production:

1) Get as much real world experience as possible. Class projects are great, but if you want to separate yourself from every other graduate, try to be different. As someone who hires people from time to time, I look for the ability to tell a compelling story. Weather that story is told with camera or in post, just make sure the it tracks well. Keep 2 things in mind: Who is the audience and what do you want them to think, feel or do upon watching your work.

2) Get out of your comfort zone. The typical college graduate reels that I see often revolve around topics, situations and issues that are popular with 20-something college students. You know, things like music videos, campus issues, dating, etc... Create things that the typical college student wouldn't think of. Something that might matter to whoever you're being interviewed by. One idea is to find a charity or cause that you care about and help them tell their story. They'll be thrilled for the free help and you'll get fantastic experience in telling someone else's story. And let's face it, when you work for someone else (weather it's your client or your boss) you're telling their story - not yours.

3) You asked, "...I've gained strong post skills, but not quite as much in shooting, lighting, and sound. Should I focus on my weaker areas or focus on my strengths?"

Certainly get a well rounded education and have as good a grasp as you can on the entire production process. But figure out what you love to do and really focus on that. If you love post. Dive deep into it. Look as every menu and sub menu of as many applications as possible. Play. Tinker. See what everything does. You'll eventually come across a project that you can use it on. Edit as many different type of things you can. Learn the entire group of apps - editing, graphics, motion, sound mixing. The more you know the better. Back in the day when I was coming up - people used to specialize. that's still true, but many editors have to wear multiple hats.

If you like production, same thing. Really understand how the camera makes images. Study the relationship between aperture, length of the lens and image sensor size affect depth of field. How different lighting techniques can completely change the meaning of a shot. Experiment. Get your hands on as many different cameras as you can. Same with lighting. Find out who the best gaffer in your area is. Offer to grip or a pa a project with him for free. Do the grunt work with a smile, but try to keep a close eye on what the director, dp and gaffer are discussing for each set-up. The see how the scene gets put together. If it's appropriate (and you're not slowing them down), ask them why they choose the instruments they did and learn from it.

For everything you do, keep the footage and edited sequences with notes of what you did to create it. It'll be a valuable resource for you later.

Do all of that and many of the other suggestions you'll get here in the coming days and by the time you graduate, you'll be able to pick from multiple offers. Perhaps even one from me!

Best of luck to you,

Production is fun - but lets not forget: Nobody ever died on the video table!

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David Sikes
Re: As I prepare for the job market...
on Jul 28, 2010 at 2:05:25 am

Wow. I'm floored and humbled by such a helpful response! Thank you so much!

Responses like this are ones I hold on to. I really can't wait to see what other answers I get.

Again, thank you. Every bit of that was incredibly helpful and will be held on to!

- David Sikes

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Mark Suszko
Re: As I prepare for the job market...
on Jul 28, 2010 at 4:34:54 am

Steve really laid it out very well, leaving me very few crumbs to add. Those are: you don;t need to wait for from school or anyone to start making shows or other projects. You should be working on this right now, this week, and every week. And if you do, each following week gets a little easier to do and before you know it, I will be sending you my resume and job application.

Young bachelorhood is the optimal time to swing for the fences and risk making some wrong turns, as far as careers go. You only have to keep you yourself alive, nobody else is counting on you, you have the fewest strings attached to you of your entire life. And the bachelor man can live on Ramen and tap water for remarkably long periods. If you go broke, you might even still have friends and family to fall back on while you regroup, even if it is only co-signing a loan or letting you couch -surf for a week or two. This is your time to head out into that world and see what you can wrestle out of it. BUT, this does not necessarily mean you should be getting yourself in massive debts that will take you decades to pay off. Finding the balance there is crucial. As is being thrifty with the spending and creative with the borrowing.

And finally, the end of school is not the end of learning. Set your own postgrad curriculum, go to a physical library, get yourself lost in the stacks, start pulling out random things and give them a taste. Find out what you don't yet know you love.

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Tim Wilson
Re: As I prepare for the job market...
on Jul 28, 2010 at 10:03:12 am

[Mark Suszko] "Find out what you don't yet know you love."

Following up on both Mark and Steve's advice, keep your head clear. The biggest job I ever got - producing a TV show that ran for several years, over 100 episodes - came down to three things.

1) My willingness to work in "nature" - ie, mosquitos, heat, swamps. I beat out a lot of people who were more experienced, and frankly, better, than I was because I was willing to get dirty.

2) My deep knowledge of biology, geology and history. It probably won't be those for you, but in general, the stuff that I have used most is EXACTLY the stuff I said I'd "never need."

Think big, but also think WIDE.

Along those lines, you'll be shocked at how often you work with word problems. Pretty much every day.

3) My ability to smile, shake hands, and look somebody in the eye AT THE SAME TIME. Watch your peers. I can almost guarantee that they don't do this. People with money expect this.

Now, of course I had to have the goods to back my play, but that was the easy part. If I didn't have those first three, it wouldn't have mattered how shiny my reel was.

You can learn what you need to learn about production quickly enough...if you learn how to learn. Yes, spend your free time sharpening your skills beyond what you are taught, but also spend it expanding your mind in areas that have nothing to do with lights, cameras or action. You'll have a longer, happier career, and give yourself more ways to succeed.

Learn to WRITE. I'm not talking about screenplays. I'm talking about words in a sensible order. It's a mental and physical discipline that will sharpen you in unexpected ways.

Consider learning Spanish. There's a ton of Spanish-language production all over the US, and bunches of bilingual folks on crews. Your job options will EXPLODE.

One thing about college that many students miss - this is the time to meet people. Dig deep with classmates who seem to have a clue, including those outside your primary discipline. Spend time with professors outside of class. Don't pass up the opportunity for internships. Make sure that guest lecturers know who you are.

Ditto school administrators. You'll be dealing with people like this as bosses and bankers, in rental houses, and in government offices and hospitals, and every place there's somebody whose job includes filling out a lot of forms, for the rest of your life. Learn how to make them your allies instead of your obstacles.

Hopefully you won't need this any time before you start having kids, but ESPECIALLY hospitals. And bankers. That is, the people who will loan you money, the people who will make your job easier, and the people who can make a difference in your loved ones lives when they need it most.

You get the idea. You'll never have a better opportunity to meet more, different kinds of people, and learn how to relate to them. You'll never have a better opportunity to start building a business network. As those people move on, your network will automatically expand across the country, maybe even around the world. You'll have more places to look for a matter what kind of job it is, as your career meanders and morphs into patterns and shapes that you never imagined.

The fact that you're asking these questions a couple of years before you hit the streets tells me you'll land running. No need to limit the places you can run just yet.

Just a few observations from a lifelong liberal arts nerd, 30 years later...

Yr pal,

Tim Wilson
Associate Publisher, Editor-in-Chief
Creative COW Magazine

My Blog: "Is this thing on? Oh it's on!"

Don't forget to rate your favorite posts!

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Emre Tufekci S.O.A.
Re: As I prepare for the job market...
on Jul 28, 2010 at 3:10:23 pm

And read this article:

Emre Tufekci

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Mike Cohen
Re: As I prepare for the job market...
on Jul 28, 2010 at 11:44:33 pm

You have now gotten some great advice from some of the great minds of Creative COW. I will add the following:

1. Think of the big picture. Sure, knowledge of Final Cut or After Effects is great, but how can you apply these skills to actual business?

2. Don't sell yourself short and likewise, learn to sell yourself.

3. Find something you are good at and immediately look for something else to also be good at - don't rest on your laurels.

4. If you are not already engaged in a sport or leisure activity that you are passionate about, find something. Once you get into the working world, you will need an outlet for relaxation, stress reduction and in terms of athletics (even walking or casual biking) ensuring your longevity.

5. Find mentors - one of my mentors in college was the tv studio engineer. He did not teach classes and generally did not teach anyone anything unless asked. But I took an interest in learning some of the technical stuff and he helped. At the time, you needed some rudimentary technical knowledge to run an edit bay, such as setting up a waveform and vectorscope and timing decks. This knowledge was instrumental in my getting the job I have now.

6. You never know what you will one day need to know.

7. Knowledge is power, but so is knowing what to do with knowledge once you get it.

8. Take some business classes - accounting, marketing, statistics - I wish I had.

9. Become well-rounded. Art, music, lit, philosophy may seem like they have little to do with post-production or shooting HD video, but if you want to be counted as a business person rather than just a technician, you need to be able to relate to people you meet. My clients generally don't want to talk about Adobe Premiere during down time - they talk about sports, movies, politics and non-video geek subjects.

You came to the COW for advice, so this tells me you are on the right track. Best of luck and don't be a stranger.

Mike Cohen

Medical Education / Multimedia Producer

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David Sikes
Re: As I prepare for the job market...
on Jul 29, 2010 at 2:37:50 pm

I've waited a little while to let a few more posts roll in before I reply. Thank you all for your incredibly helpful responses - I'm very grateful for the wisdom shared, and have already forwarded this thread to a couple of colleagues of mine here at UA!

Mark - thank you for the encouragement, particularly what you said about bachelorhood - with family as an absolute goal of my life, singleness really is the only time I can act boldly and "swing for the fences" as you said - and risk making bad career choices. When I am my only dependent, life is a lot more open!

Tim - That response definitely brought forth some conviction to take my non-production courses more seriously and recognize that the stuff I think I'll never use might be the stuff I end up using most! I'll look into opportunities to get a firmer hold on spanish asap! The willingness to take the rough and less pleasant jobs is something I take very seriously - but your story about how you landed that job is fantastic!
I take opportunities for internships very seriously - I'm saving money now under the assumption that paid production internships are rare, and I certainly hope to find some good opportunities! I don't have a CLUE where to begin looking for internships - if you have any advice on that front (what kind to pursue, how to identify better internships than others, etc.), I would greatly appreciate it!

Emre - that article is fantastic! Thanks for that share! I'm printing it out (along with the replied to this thread) to keep and re-read!

Mike - thank you for all those tips! You mentioned becoming well-rounded and learning lots of different skills - that seems to be a theme among the replies to this thread! You said to not sell myself short, and likewise to learn to sell myself. Selling myself confidently is a developing (but still uncomfortable) faculty, but what do you mean by "don't sell yourself short"?

To all, thank you again for all the wisdom and all the encouragement! The Cow rocks, and y'all really have helped me out - I anticipate that the insight shared will only exponentially become more and more helpful! I hope some others in my position find this thread successfully!

- David Sikes

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Tim Wilson
Re: As I prepare for the job market...
on Jul 29, 2010 at 8:33:16 pm

[David Sikes] "singleness really is the only time I can act boldly and "swing for the fences" as you said - and risk making bad career choices."

Consider a more moderate position on that.

Let me tell you a story. A ridiculously LONG story, but a good one.

One of the things I admire most about my father - aside from the stunning good looks that he has passed along to me - is that he has swung for the fences from one career to another. We moved quite a bit growing up as he followed those dreams, some of which worked out pretty well, and some of which flamed out.

It happens that his absolutely biggest flameout opened the door to one of his biggest adventures. He left a successful job at the pinnacle of the lifelong dream he'd had since he was driving a delivery truck -- publishing a newspaper -- to follow ANOTHER dream. I'll spare you the details, but it was a wonderful idea that COULD have made him big money, in a field where multi-billion deals were the norm.

But boy oh boy, did it not work out for him! Rotten timing, among other things. In the meantime, he burned through everything. He was completely broke and unemployed, with two kids and a homemaker wife to support.

The job market for formerly self-employed, now unemployed, guys in their 40s wasn't any better then than it is now, so he did the same thing you would - send out a BUNCH of resumes.

One of them was to Apple Computer, in 1979. In the job interview, Steve Jobs told my father that the only thing that caught his eye on my father's resume, and the reason why he was talking to my father at all, was the good idea behind his business, but also, specifically, the spectacularity of his failure.

As far as Steve was concerned, that failure was the most interesting thing about my father, and told him so in more or less those very words. Turns out that young Steve had a fondness for swinging for fences himself. Steve hired him with the unofficial title of "Graybeard." At 43, my old man was the second-oldest guy in the company.

I'm 50 now, with a genuinely gray beard, and find this story more hilarious with every passing year.

When Steve left in 1985, Dad's whole part of Apple imploded. He wound up a major consulting company whose stock-in-trade was getting businesses back on the rails. Turns out that a couple of exceptionally bad experiences can be profitable for somebody smart who's paying attention.

Two of the big success stories while he was there were Wrangler and FedEx. At his next job, he spent 18 months with HP as his only account, creating their workstation division. Ironically, he also consulted with Apple, just before Steve returned.

Lots of detail to make the point. One job blew up in his face, the very next job turned into one of the most famous business debacles of all time -- and lo and behold, a few years later, he was in a place he never expected, doing things unrelated to his previous success, in a field that has continued to satisfy him 35 years later. The longest run of his career path started with not just one bad outcome, but two really REALLY bad ones in a row.

Have a dream? Follow it. FOLLOW IT, and bring the family with you.

The fact is that we moved a LOT growing up, starting when I was a toddler and my sister was a baby. We moved across the country 3 times, sometimes in the middle of a school year, to places with no family or anything else to fall back on. Transitions could be tough, but I loved the life. We figured it out as we went along.

(The kids don't need to know EVERYTHING, but include them in the process. Once when we were at a crossroad, he assigned me to research Seattle and my sister to research Chicago, then share the results with the rest of the family. I was in junior high, my sister in elementary school, and we LOVED it.)

I don't mean to oversell this. He didn't dream of being a carny or anything. These were actual jobs. We lived in houses. But we sometimes lived without a net, and started over from scratch more than once.

Just a month or so ago, my father apologized for that last move we made before I left home. Yeah, he connected with Apple there, but by and large, he said, it was "a lost decade." Fortunately, he said, the next decade was a really good one. (The couple after that have been good too.)

I thought it was an awesome apology, but I had never sweated it in the first place. All part of the adventure. In fact, the problem with that last move is that we stayed too long. Should have left years earlier. His apology was for NOT moving.

Since then, I have aspired to live as boldly as he has, and to make mistakes as spectacular as his. I've done better on the mistakes part than the boldness part, but the lesson I've carried with me more than any other: yeah, maybe you can be a little more daring when you're single, and you have responsibilities as a dad, but one of those responsibilities is to set a good example about the importance of taking chances to follow dreams. Never, ever EVER let your kids be the excuse for not swinging for the fences.

There are NO excuses. Swing.

More unasked-for advice from your aging Uncle Timmy, given in typically massive doses.

Tim Wilson
Associate Publisher, Editor-in-Chief
Creative COW Magazine

My Blog: "Is this thing on? Oh it's on!"

Don't forget to rate your favorite posts!

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Mike Cohen
Re: As I prepare for the job market...
on Jul 29, 2010 at 9:22:43 pm

Tim - you made me recall my upbringing - similar but different.

My dad was working in his cousin's camera store in the late 70's when he decided to advance his career. This required getting out of Mayberry. We left school mid-year and moved to Des Moines. Then at the end of the school year we moved to a new school district in the same town. 5 years later we moved back east, then again the next year and again the next year - each move was to allow Dad to advance his career, first in retail buying then in consumer product sales. Each move was exciting in that we changed towns and states, but difficult in that I was the new kid in school 4 years in a row. But once we got settled in each place things got better and I credit these experiences with my ability to adapt to new situations and to deal with people of all backgrounds. Once my brother and I flew the coop, my parents continued their moves a few more times, this time around to allow Mom to advance her career. Finally, we all hit the road together in matching Wagon Queen Family Trucksters to move Mom and Dad to their long-awaited McMansion in the Sunshine State.

So to reiterate what Tim has explained - learn from all experiences both good and bad, because every experience you have makes you into the person you will be in the future.

Cheers Tim.

Mike Cohen

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Nick Griffin
Re: As I prepare for the job market...
on Jul 31, 2010 at 3:37:10 pm

[Emre Tufekci] "And read this article:

"Just when I think I'm out... they PULL me back in."

-Michael Corleone, Godfather III

Aw shucks, Emre. Thanks for the plug.

[Tim Wilson] "Learn to WRITE. I'm not talking about screenplays. I'm talking about words in a sensible order. It's a mental and physical discipline that will sharpen you in unexpected ways."

IMHO this is one of the best pieces of advice in a thread jammed back with good advice. When I was in high school we had an English teacher who said "People who can write can think, and people who can think can write." (Just try to avoid stupid typos whenever possible, ie.- "loose" when you meant "lose.")

In addition to writing, and also as mentioned in other threads, people skills are critical to both early and long term success. Learn how to read people and then mirror them in attitude, pacing and patterns. Cultivate these abilities and they will take you far.

And yes, for your own sake, cultivate interests and abilities way outside of your primary focus. Delve into ancient history. Take a class in sculpture. And, as discussed in these forums many times, learn and get good at a musical instrument -- it will truly make you a better editor.

Best of luck, David. I may have a wonderful family, a big house and a BMW, but I'm still envious of the future you have ahead of you. Make the most of it!

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