Monday, February 05, 2007

Life is a beauty pageant--and Mike Perlow has the hair and makeup team

(published Jan 3, 2007)

This piece really helped me as I prepared to get my first job. It has kept me motivated, tough and realistic (for the most part, when I'm not burying my head in the couch cushions or bemoaning my lack of health insurance). It's a little long, but it contains good advice from a guy who's been through the worst job-search wringer of all: broadcast journalism.


Want a job in TV? Get ready for a real-life beauty pageant.

Mike Perlow, a former sportscaster for NESN, knows the industry all too well: he believes it's the greatest one to be in, but TV can taketh away as easily as it gives, hiring and firing employees based on ratings and "TV looks" over journalism know-how. That's why Perlow has made the art of landing a job on-air into a science with his employment consultancy, The Web-based business is part finishing-school, part agency, offering everything from $200 "aggressive" job-search planning sessions to $2,000 sessions with full film crews for shooting demos (audition tapes for on-air positions). And soon, Perlow plans to add a hair and makeup team--if only to have someone else on staff to take on the painful task of telling his female clients that they might consider updating their shoulder-pad suit or losing a few pounds (he says he hates to hurt anyone's feelings).

Creating a sideline for himself, even as his popularity as a TV personality grew, turned out to be a smart move for Perlow. After freelancing around the United States, Perlow landed a spot on the New England Sports Network (NESN), where he went on to write, report, produce, and anchor a variety of shows; he later received several Associated Press (AP) awards and even an Emmy.

And then the station replaced him. With a woman.

Now Perlow has found himself in the job search trenches with his clients, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing, he said. It only means that he takes his own advice more seriously. Throughout our conversation, he emphasizes the importance of the inner pep talk and in not taking television too personally.

If you can't handle what comes with this field, you shouldn't work in it. People are hired and fired for random reasons, and for every job that I haven't gotten for weird reasons, there are jobs where I have gotten it for weird reasons, he said. There's a lot of timing and luck and persistence that comes with these situations. I know something good is going to come along.

Perlow said that this attitude is the only thing an on-air reporter really requires--even in an industry that seems too often to value superficial things (perfectly coiffed hair, for example) over substance (solid reporting and writing).

I've worked with hundreds of people at this point [as their consultant], and I'm amazed at how many people want to get into television, but lack so much of that drive that you need, he said. People want to sit down, they want to wave a magic wand and have a job appear. You have to show some persistence.

Much of Perlow's advice is applicable to almost any job search: stay positive, disciplined and professional. After all, television work is, in many ways, a microcosm of the working world, where many people are hired or dismissed for arbitrary reasons--but where a secret talent or two can help differentiate you from the other 'contestants. Or as Olive�s big brother fumes in Little Miss Sunshine: "Life is just one f---ing beauty pageant after another."

So, below, we've included a rundown of Perlow's most successful $200 job tips to help you in your search.

--Approach your job search like it's your job. "I have very few days where I am sitting around wondering, What am I going to do today?" said Perlow. "The biggest challenges for [recent college graduates] are that when you leave college, every school wants to give you their 'You're our alumni, we want to take care of you,' but you're really on your own," Perlow said. "You come from a structured environment [in college], and when you're on your own, you really have to have the discipline to stay on your job search. No matter how much work they do with me [at], the people that don't succeed with me are those that go at it really hard for a couple weeks and then give up."

--Remember that the best jobs are never posted. "Web sites should be the last layer of your job search. [Employers] are required to post jobs for [equal opportunity] purposes, but by the time they�re posted, they�ve either hired somebody or they know who they�re going to hire," Perlow said. Instead, build your own network by calling potential employers and asking for a few moments of their time to conduct an informational interview. Perlow has his clients working the phones constantly as part of their "aggressive" job search; even if only 30 percent agree to see the client, he said, it's an excellent way to find out about opportunities. "Then when a job does come up, they say, 'Hey, remember that guy who came in a few months ago? I liked his tape, and we do have a sportscaster leaving now...maybe we should call him,'" Perlow said.

--Don't be dissuaded by long-distance job searches. Set up a road trip to visit potential employers, one by one. This tactic was what landed Perlow his first job at a Vermont station: he arranged a tour of several states in New England, dropping his demo tapes at each one. The scheduled trip made his job search affordable by eliminating the need for several plane tickets, and gave him the perfect excuse to see many employers. Said Perlow: "You can give them a call and say "Hi, my name is Mike, and I'm actually going to be in Bangor next week--I was wondering if you might have time to meet with me?"

--Don't believe that your good looks, charm or killer wardrobe will carry you once you land a job--even in television. While that might get you in the front door, they'll be rushing you out the back door soon enough if you can't deliver the goods. The only thing with any sticking power, as Perlow knows, is talent. "I've had clients who had a great TV look and had lots of opportunities, but fell flat on their faces because they didn't know what to do when they got there. They couldn't deal with the deadline pressure," Perlow said. "Even though they looked really good, they came across horribly."
(I also considered an alternate tagline for this item: "Don't depend on your beautiful 'TV eyes'--or you'll just come across as a Stooge." Luckily, I tossed that out.)

--Make sure your application materials highlight real-life experience: in many industries, especially Perlow's, this comes even before education on a resume. (And unless you're applying for The Man Show, leave out 'captain of the cheerleading squad.') "I am appalled at what resumes look like coming out of college. I could wallpaper my condo with the bad resumes I've seen. And a lot of them have been worked on by the college's Career Services," Perlow said. "The most important thing on your resume was where you worked and what you did: they know they're going to have to teach you some things, but they don�t want to have to teach you everything. Somebody can be a member of 20 million clubs, but if they're coming to me for a job without any hands-on experience, they have to really wow me as a person."

--Be realistic about what you're willing to do for a job. "If you don't want to move to the middle of nowhere, be honest with yourself. I had friends who studied broadcasting all through school, and the day after graduation, they realized they wanted to live in Boston, or New York. They made a career change before they started their career," said Perlow. "I think coming out of college, most people can't afford to be picky [but] that doesn't mean that everybody should jump at the first job offer they get."

--However, DO consider as many job offers as possible. "Job offers can be few and far between. Most people if they get a job offer, they have to consider it unless it's a horrible choice," said Perlow. "If you�re looking for that first opportunity, be ready to jump on it when it comes. Sometimes it's two weeks later, sometimes it's six months later. I tell people "What's the worst that could happen? Unless you're under contract, if it doesn't work out, you leave."

--When it doesn't work out, take the high road away from a bad situation. Even employment consultants have their own horror stories about getting fired--but they're smart enough to keep quiet about them. "Unfortunately in television, you have not-so-pleasant departures from situations. I had a really bad experience when I left my station down in Fort Worth, but I never talk about it," Perlow said. "I left there with my head held high, and I think people respected me for that."

--No matter what you studied in college, there is no substitute for real-life experience in the field. "Basically, this first job is your first foray into professional work. As much as you know, there�s so much more you can learn," Perlow said. He also recommends that it's better to get some work experience than to return to graduate school. "I would never discourage someone from being more educated, but if you want to work as a reporter, go get a job as a reporter. I always walk the line with that, but if they�re asking me for career advice, to me it's an easy call," he said.

--However, DO get some experience in college if you can. It doesn't bode well for employers if you had the opportunity and passed it up. "I'm always amazed at people who come to me after college and say they want to be a sportscaster but didn't work at their college radio station or television station. Things got too busy with their fraternity, et cetera," said Perlow. "I say to myself, 'This is all you want to do in life and you didn't do it for four years? If you wanted to be a professional athlete, would you just not play for four years in college and then just hope to become a pro? Of course not.'"

--Once you've made a contact, keep in contact. "If you make a connection with somebody, don't let it disappear. That's a mistake I made, where I made some good contacts but then let them fade into the sunset. Then when you call them two years later, it's obvious about why you're calling. I've received calls like that too. It doesn't mean that you won't help, but it's less appealing," said Perlow. Today, Perlow said, one of the most valuable assets that he offers his clients is his own network--he frequently places clients with his own contacts in the industry, who often call him with job openings.

And one day, Perlow says, that job opening is going to be his.

For more information (or for tactful advice on your wardrobe), contact Mike at or at 781-640-1912.


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