After graduating college with a degree in broadcasting, in the early 1990s, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. Months of driving around Texas to various television stations left me with an empty tank of gas, little money in the bank, and a lot of rejection from news directors. Ethnic reporters were “in”, and I was just too white with too little experience and nobody willing to give me a chance.
So, one afternoon, I wrote down a list of all the companies I wanted to work for as well as listed of all the people I knew that worked in the same city as those companies, whom I could use to network and see if they had any contacts I could, well, contact.
Viacom, the parent company of both MTV networks and VH-1, was at the top of my list. If I wasn’t going to work as a news reporter, I could darn well work as an entertainment reporter, producer, or coffee maker in New York. The details of how I was going to afford to live there, or even where I was going to live, hadn’t entered the picture yet. I just knew I needed to move and would regret not trying!
I wrote a letter to the chairman of Viacom, Sumner Redstone, who in turn passed my inquiry to Tom Freston, who in turn passed my letter to a Dwight Tierney, a VP of Marketing. His administrative assistant was a real piece of work, not the nicest person on the phone. But, in reflection, I suppose she was just protecting her boss. Or maybe she really was a real dragon. After several months of back-and-forth phone calls (I don’t think there was email back then), as well as a video audition tape, and many clever in-the-mail gifts, I decided it was better if I flew to New York to try and score an interview with Mr. Tierney. Of course, I didn’t have one when I flew to New York with my friend Suzanne, but ingenuity sometimes leads to great results.
While Suzanne was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art one afternoon, I went to Dean and Deluca, dressed in a suit, borrowed one of their aprons, bought a large glass of iced tea and a brownie, which I put into a box with my resume, cover letter, and hotel information and the bottom, and proceeded to take them to the delivery entrance of the Viacom building.
This was before September 11, so security proceeded to assume I was a delivery man and took me to Dwight Tierney’s office, where I presented my box of goodies to his very surprised secretary. Unfortunately, he was out of the office, but a week after I returned home to Texas, I was invited to return to New York to meet with Mr. Tierney, which I did, as he was impressed by my efforts. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a job for me, despite all of my suggestions of what I could do for the company and his department, but in the end, I felt the satisfaction of knowing I tried my best, pursued every avenue, made all the necessary calls, and never gave up. You might not always get the job, but you will definitely have expanded your career network!
A few years later, and having built up my career network, I decided to see if I could get an informational interview with the Director of Marketing for VH-1. As it turned out, my wonderful friend Kimberly, who was working as a corporate concierge in Manhattan, kindly sent me his contact information, along with the contact information for many other people she had met while at various cocktail parties and work functions. Cold calling is never easy, but I did manage get him on the phone (and not hang up). It’s always a good idea to have some sort of reason to be calling a person, and luckily he remembered Kimberly and was happy to set up a time for us to meet for half an hour to discuss his career and VH-1.
I flew to New York, with my updated resume (just in case he wanted to see it). Our conversation was informative and professional, but despite his high position, he did take the time to discuss what it took to get a job at VH-1, and other interesting facets of his career. Remember, an informational interview is always about the person you are speaking to, unless at some point they do ask to see your resume.
After our chat, he told me to please keep in touch (there wasn’t an opening in his department), which I did for several years, until we eventually we lost touch. Did I regret going to New York twice in search of a job with Viacom? Absolutely not! Was I a bit disappointed that I didn’t get a job? Certainly, but because I did what I wanted to do, and TRIED, it gave me the courage to ask for other informational interviews, be bolder on the phone, learn better interview techniques, and allowed me to have more confidence than I’d ever had before.
Remember, keep on keeping on!