Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How to get a job where you meet people like Jay-Z & Lenny Kravitz

This summer I connected with some amazing professionals who were willing to share their wisdom. Each profile will feature how their first job out of college led to their amazing careers today (that they love, by the way), as well as their advice to help you do the same. 

First Job Profile: Chris McDonald, Senior Producer of The Tavis Smiley Show

 1) What was your first job out of college and how did you get it? 

My first job out of college was a production assistant for the CNN nightly news series "The World Today." I had interned with CNN and after I graduated I just went in and asked for a job. Luckily we had built such rapport during my internship they were gracious enough to employ me as a Production Assistant. 

2) What was the most important thing you learned from your first job? 

I took a lot away from my first job, but one bit of experience remains, and it's a doctrine I continue to live by.

CNN is a big company, so if you work there you deal with a great number of people. I worked out of the Los Angeles Bureau, so the big anchors were always coming through town. Since I was always eager to learn, I pretty much became the designated P.A. for all the big anchors, including Wolf Blitzer, Connie Chung, Lou Dobbs, Soledad O'Brien and more. 

Some anchors their producers have egos, and these people tend to make their power known by stepping on the people below them. In my case, it was me. 

Like many large organizations, the hierarchy was very evident and I found myself getting stepped on. I bottled up how awful it felt and vowed to never be that way to anyone working under me.

Yet for every egomaniac, there's a producer who remembers where they came from and is always open to offer help and advice. 

The funny thing is when I left CNN and got a job with some leverage and power, I was in a position to help an old producer at CNN with a huge favor. She was one of the 'good' producers, so I stuck my neck out for her and gave her her solid.  

I learned to be gracious to everyone you work with in business, and treat them equally no matter the position, because your paths will cross again someday and the tables will be turned. 

Chris with Lenny Kravitz
3) What did you do to leverage your first job to help you get where you are today?

When you come out of college, there is an edge you have above the older working crowd - you're used to burning the midnight oil with term papers and reading hordes of books.

Thus, you have bounds of energy that the average adult no longer possesses. If you're ambitious, take advantage of that! It is a skill that has legs for miles!

I realized that very early on in the beginnings of my work years, and I applied myself in any way I could. Fortunately for me, I worked for a company with my facets to it - CNN had an entertainment unit, a news unit, a sports unit, a business unit and CNN Espanol. 

I went out of my way to work overtime and offer my production assistance to all those departments, and they complied. In doing so, I learned a lot! 

More importantly, I developed trustworthy working relationships with the Los Angeles CNN bureau across the board. Moreover, they started noticing my tenacity and allowed me to work beyond my title. 

Although I eventually earned the title of researcher, my job tasks extended beyond that by writing news reels, associate producing, producing and even conducting interviews on the red carpet and backstage at movie premieres and award shows. 

This enabled me to color my resume so much more than I could have if I simply stuck to the parameters of my job title. 

4) What advice do you have for a recent graduate who is struggling to find their first job after college? 

I always give the same advice that was given to me: you're young and you have the whole world ahead of you! Life is indeed short, but it's the most abused statement about our mortality. You actually have time! You're new to the job force, so your canvas is very large and blank!

You may begin painting a pretty portrait over here, but if you splotch it up, scribble it away and move further down your large blank canvas and start fresh. A lot of people, including myself, expect to come out of college and get that dream job right away. There is a TINY percentage of people that happens to. The rest of us have to work extra hard for several years to get there. 

And that's a rough notion to stomach, because even the most humble of students come out of college with a sense of entitlement - why wouldn't you? You just paid so much for good schooling; your newly acquired knowledge is fresh; you're up-to-date with the latest technology and the person you'll be working for has never heard of it. Frustrating, right? 

But let me tell you... in any industry there is absolutely no knowledge like years of experience and hard work. Take your time, work hard, and your time will eventually come.

Don't get discouraged either when it doesn't happen in three years when you're 25. That's called a quarter-life crises. You still have lots of time ahead of you. You'll get there. I promise. 

Thank you Chris for some of the BEST advice in this series so far! You can check out the Tavis Smiley show on PBS! :)

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