Working in TV : An Insiders Guide
Securing a role in a competitive industry is difficult, particularly if you’re a graduate or don’t have years and years of relevant experience. Employers often want candidates who can hit the ground running, but how do you make that first step up the career ladder?
There are few industries as competitive as television, so I met with Meridith Goodman from UKTV’s HR team to learn more about their recruitment process and what candidates can do to put their best foot forward.
T: How did you first get into HR?
M: I started as a PA to the HR Director at Capital Radio (now known as Global Radio). That’s where I learnt the basics of HR and got a really good insight into how the department runs within a media company. Capital was growing at the time; they had six or seven other radio stations. I was lucky enough to be quickly promoted to HR Assistant and then on to HR Executive. Getting to work with such talented and creative people is what gives me my energy. That’s what made me realise I’d found the right career path for me. I have been working at UKTV for 10 years now as HR Manager and get a buzz out of the talented people I work with in television.
T: How do you find the TV industry is different to radio or other industries?
M: It’s incredibly energetic. People are so passionate about what they do. I don’t think you could get your foot in the door if you weren’t passionate about television! What I love is the fact you can be making your breakfast in the morning, chatting to work colleagues about what you watched on TV last night and it is work!
T: From a recruitment perspective, what are the tricky skills to find at the moment?
M: It’s difficult because we have so many varied roles here, which require different skillsets. But it’s about finding exceptional people and looking at how we attract those people. Digital skills are becoming more and more important. Obviously VOD (Video on Demand) didn’t exist like it does now even five years ago, so people with the skills and knowledge in that specific area aren’t plentiful.
T: What makes a candidate more successful than others at UKTV?
M: We have a unique recruitment process here at UKTV. Firstly, candidates have a short phone interview with the recruiting manager to make sure they have the appropriate skills and experience for the role. If they’re successful in that, they are invited in to meet a few people from across the business. They will spend one hour in a traditional skills interview with a couple of managers, going through their CV and making sure they have the required expertise. After that, they’ll have a short values-based interview, which helps us assess how well the candidate fits in with our company values. Then we have a peer interview, which is a really informal meeting with another member of their prospective team, to chat about what their hobbies and passions are, which gives us an idea of how they will fit into the UKTV culture. Afterwards, the interviewing team sits down and discusses all of the candidates and that’s how we’ll make our decision. That decision then goes on to a member of the Executive Leadership team, who’ll then meet them for a coffee. So, by their first day at UKTV, the new team member will have met at least six people, including one of our Directors. It’s a unique approach which works brilliantly. The interview is not a quick process, but if you’re passionate, prepared and are demonstrating the qualities we are looking for then you are in a great position!
T: Where do candidates usually come unstuck in an interview?
M: At UKTV we strive to look for people who have that edge. Most people can answer interview questions but it’s not so easy to demonstrate passion if you are not truly feeling it. Preparation is key for interviews and my advice would be to do some background reading on the company, its values and channels.
T: Are there any specific skills or education that is useful for a career in TV?
M: It really depends on what sort of area you want to get into. It goes back to the fact that everyone here has a passion for TV. What other place can you hang around by the watercooler talking about what you watched last night and it’s part of your job? Yes, you’ve got to have the right skills, but that passion has to come through. We do ask people in an interview what they watch and what shows they like on our channels. If in their covering letter, for example they write “I love Crackanory on Dave”, they are much more likely to be interesting to us than someone who’s written a generic cover letter.
T: What questions are you likely to get asked in an interview?
M: Various – predominately we ask about your skills, previous experience and key achievements. We are interested in why you want to apply for a role and what you can bring to UKTV. Sometimes there are role-specific tasks we like candidates to do in addition to an interview. For a role in the Communications team, for example, you may have to write or edit a press release.
T: What do you think of video interviews as part of the process?
M: We do use Skype if someone is overseas, but I don’t think you can beat meeting someone face to face for an interview. The benefit of using Skype is it has allowed us to globalise our candidate search a little more.
T: What advice / tips would you give to someone who has that passion for television but has no industry experience and wants to get into the industry?
M: I always advise people to get out and gain any experience they possibly can, even if it’s just spending a single day in a media company. At least when you’re called for an interview you can really big that up or at least something to mention on your cover letter to show your passion for television. I totally appreciate it can be hard to secure work experience, but there are places out there that do offer these opportunities so my advice would be to try not to be afraid to put yourself out there. We participate in some of these access schemes at UKTV. We recently had fifty students between 16-24 come into UKTV for an ‘Open Doors’ event, in partnership with Creative Skillset. Our CEO kicked off the event with a talk about how he got into TV himself, and then we held masterclasses with the Commissioning and Creative teams. Following this, we had a ‘speed networking’ session where forty members of UKTV staff sat for a few minutes with students, on rotation, to give the guests a chance to find out about the wide range of departments that make the business run. It introduced people to ideas and career paths they hadn’t previously thought about or perhaps even knew existed. We also offered the chance to win two weeks paid work experience for two students who put in applications to let us know what department they would like to work in and why. If you want to get into the television industry, you need to go the extra mile and be proactive. It was that quality that really shone through in the competition applications; people really showcased their ambition and drive.
T: How has the industry changed in the last few years?
Candidates have more access to information about businesses. You now have platforms like LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter. Company websites now often include videos about what it’s like working in the office too, to help attract fresh new talent. People have greater access to the information they need to grow their industry knowledge, which they can use to tailor their CV.