Proceed with Caution: Approaching vs. Ambushing

Intern w/ Coffee

FindSpark recently received a message from a member of the community who is in search of advice regarding how to obtain an internship at their favorite television show. This individual definitely possesses a strong willingness to earn this opportunity, and we couldn’t help but feel like his or her proposed method of approaching someone in real life, although bold, probably crosses the mind of many people who want something bad enough.

Good Evening Emily,
I am trying to transition into the entertainment industry and would love to volunteer/intern at Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen. I love Bravo TV and find the shows hilarious to watch!  There is no official WWHL Intern application so I found the production company “Embassy Row” and just wanted your opinion on my plan to go in person, introduce myself, hand in my application and get an email for the Executive Producer, and then link up on LinkedIn?

First of all, it’s imperative to possess a go-getter attitude like this person if you want to work in the television industry. But you have to be careful about coming off too pushy when it comes to making a connection that you hope turns into a job.

Before you contact anybody, do your research

If you’re thinking about making a connection of any sort, make sure you know what you’re going to talk about. Whether you’re about to walk into a job interview, cold-email a potential employer, or meet a friend of a friend, your new contact will be much more willing to work with and help you if you have a solid understanding about who they are and what they do.

In the letter above, you can see that this person recognized that they would like to work for a program that they enjoy. Through their research, they found that “Watch What Happens Live” does not have an internship program, but the production company in charge of the program does. And now, they are continuing their research by reaching out to us to ask for advice. It’s crucial to arm yourself with knowledge about the company and person you wish to work for; have a plan of attack on how to execute your way from cold initiation to an interview handshake.

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Make a connection first

Once you have done your research, you should know not only how to apply to be an intern at Embassy Row, but who to get in touch with. Does their human resources department get involved with recruitment, or do they have an internship coordinator who hires and supervises interns? Can you apply online? Try to think of any kind of connection you possibly have with the program. Start small and expand. Do you have a friend who works on the program who can pass along your resume? If not, do you know anyone at Embassy Row? How about Bravo? How about NBCUniversal? If you researched well, you’d know that NBCU owns Bravo, which works with Embassy Row. If you have no personal connections at Bravo but you have a friend at NBCU, your friend may know someone at Bravo and can establish a connection for you. In television, interviews and jobs are typically achieved through mutual connections and dare I say, nepotism. Don’t miss out on an opportunity just because someone else had a friend on the inside and you didn’t. Be the guy to have a friend on the inside!

Don’t come off too strong

Be careful when approaching someone in person – it can be off-putting if your presence is strong and they aren’t in the mood to be ambushed. I know this personally. When I interned at NBCU in college, I wanted to work for the NBC Page Program after I graduated. I was a bit too proactive – three years away from graduation and already planning my career moves before I even entered my capstone courses. I found out the name of the manager of the Page Program, printed out my resume, and marched up to the 14th floor to introduce myself. To the first Page I saw, I shook their hand and asked to speak with the manager. Surprisingly, the manager came out and politely spoke with me, but I left the very brief conversation with my resume still in tow and an indescribable feeling that I just messed something up.

During my senior year of college, I applied to the Page Program online and hadn’t heard anything. I reached out to a friend of mine who I met during my old internship from a few years before who became a Page – she was my insider. I asked her to forward my resume along to the manager, and she did. I got a call to interview the next week.

The lesson here is that it always helps to have a mutual friend or coworker introduce you to an individual who has the power to grant you the opportunity you desire. Approaching someone out of the blue CAN work, but it’s risky. Approach with caution.

Use an elevator pitch

The idea of the elevator pitch comes from scenarios in which you enter an elevator and standing beside you is a real life career changer. This person has the power to give you a job, promote you, or bestow upon you a creative opportunity that no one else can offer. What will you say to that person in the time you are in the elevator with them that will make them want to work with you, before the doors open to their floor?

When approaching someone who may be able to hire you as an intern, make sure you have a brief but effective way to introduce yourself and express your interest in working for them. You may want to practice in front of your mirror a few times before you go up to anyone!

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Fandom is creepy

Enthusiasm for the program is one thing, but being obsessed with it is a major red flag. I used to work at Saturday Night Live. We had a lot of intern applicants express how much they absolutely LOVE the show and how they’ve been watching it since they were born. As a result, if an applicant in an interview ever mentioned that they aspire to write for the show one day, we didn’t hire them. It seems strange, but time and time again we had problems with college kids soliciting their comedic ideas to writers and cast members, which put our creative team at risk of unintentionally using someone else’s idea.

When approaching someone in real life for the chance at an internship opportunity, it’s crucial that you make sure to come off as professional as possible, regardless of how much you’re a fan of the company or show. Employers want to work with mature adults, not giddy fanatics.

 

As you go from finding internships to jobs, you develop experience in career strategy. Your confidence grows when you remember what worked and what didn’t. To sum up my advice, there are two ways to handle this scenario. Some people may encourage you to go right up to someone and start talking. If you approach someone in real life, make sure you’re not ambushing them. Try to get a read on their posture – are they frazzled and busy or are they walking casually swinging a Subway sandwich bag and whistling? Do you have a resume or business card to hand them? Do you have an elevator pitch? Some people may discourage the approach and suggest you try to make the connection another way. If you decide not to go straight up to somebody, try your best to connect with them virtually or through a friend. Reaching out via social media, email, or through a contact will permit the person you are trying to get a hold of to write you back on their own time, which is much more important than your own.

At the end of the day, you have to do what you think is best for you. This is your life, your career, and your decision. Go get ’em tiger!

Have you ever approached someone for a job in person? Did it work out? Leave a comment and let us know!

One comment on “Proceed with Caution: Approaching vs. Ambushing

  1. It depends.. If you are by far qualified and have a list of mind blowing things that you when.. then there is no problem with going up to the president of a company and telling them what you think will increase there revenue. If they like it they will connect you with the appropriate people to help make the changes and you will have a job. People who are extremely qualified don’t waste time.. that’s how they became extremely qualified. They just start at the top and if it doesn’t work then they don’t care because they were just giving free advice.

    However.. if you are only averagely qualified for the position your chasing then you need to do a lot of research on the company.. what news events happen at the same time that their stock price changes (Google finance is a great tool for this), who are their competitors, what do they do? Then just start at the bottom or with connections and the knowledge about the company will give you an edge in the rat race.

    So to avoid the rat race you need to step back and spend your own time on opportunities (when you see one) that could possibly result in something amazing. Just know that you will likely fail so your going to have to do this a few time to get it right as everyone is a learning experience… and your peers will think your crazy in the mean time..but once you get it right you can walk up to the president/ ceo of a company and you will not have any problems… if you still even want the job.

    Best of luck.
    -don

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