Work in Television? Under Contract? When To Begin Your Job Search…10 Tips:

I interview thousands of candidates in the media industry for a living. Contracts are prevalent within our industry, but not for every group and every position. If you are under contract or currently employed and looking for your next opportunity for career growth, there is a strategy and decorum you need to consider. One of my first questions to a prospective content/news management/etc. candidate is “are you under contract?” It should be your first question if you interview media candidates as well. And, I consistently receive this answer: “I am six-nine months out from my contract expiring and I am aggressively seeking my next position.” Wait, what?! Why? Current job openings are just that…Current. Any hiring manager posting a job and actively interviewing prospective candidates expects/hopes/prays said position will be filled within thirty to sixty days, tops.

So what do you do if you are a candidate under contract and want to ensure a smooth transition into your next position? Ten tips for you to consider:

  1. Do not panic. You have time. Well, until you do not. Take deep breaths, and stay away from doing or saying anything rash. Regardless if you are in a one-year or three-year contract, this is a marathon and not a sprint.
  2. Read, review, and fully understand your contract. Perhaps have an attorney review and discuss the document with you. Do you have any “outs” or are you locked-in? Liquidated damages? Etc.? If you are locked-in, the only way out is by obtaining a written release from your employer. There could be serious consequences if you break a contract. Fully understand if you have a non-compete clause in your current market and/or other markets where your group owns a station. If you are in a bad situation and/or if you have a great relationship with your manager and find a great new opportunity sooner than expected, consider requesting a written release. Beware though, doing this definitely tips your hand.
  3. Sit down and really think about your next move. Consider your career as a game of chess and think a move or two down the board, strategically. Where do you want to work next as far as market location? Are you ready for the next step in your career title-wise or will you be looking for a larger market and the same title? Strategically plan, and then put a plan in place to execute. You know the media industry game. Typically you go up in title and down in market size. Or, same title and larger market. Plan accordingly, or swing for the fences. Or, both.
  4. Timeline: Nine to twelve months out, I recommend you simply sit tight. In my opinion, you are too far out to make a move unless you have outs, a liquidated damage clause, or obtain a written release. Six to nine months out, I would recommend you begin to network (see tip below). Three to six months out, you should begin to have an idea if your current contract will be extended or not and your plan of action. Ramp-up your networking, but remain discreet…Especially if you do not yet know if your contract will be extended. You are still not in the “Goldilocks zone” of current job openings timeline-wise and should not be actively applying to open positions. One month to three months out, now you are entering/have entered the Goldilocks zone. Again, hiring managers with active openings hope to fill their need within thirty to sixty days…ninety tops! Begin applying, especially within that thirty to sixty day timeline. In a perfect world, your contract expires on a Friday and you begin a new job on a Monday. Think strategically!
  5. Consider having an open and honest conversation with your immediate supervisor. IF you have the right relationship to do so. However, sitting down with your manager to discuss your future and career goals is never a bad thing. Again, tread lightly. You do not want to necessarily show your hand yet. But try to get your employer to show theirs.
  6. Be open and honest immediately with hiring managers during an interview regarding your contract and timing as it pertains to your availability to start a new job.
  7. Remember, you do not have a new job until you have received and accepted a contract extension or job offer and have the signed paperwork. Anything you do or say until then must be carefully considered. Beware of “the check is in the mail” type of opportunities. I have seen so many “promises” fall apart within our industry due to unexpected acquisitions, the hiring manager leaving, etc.
  8. Network. Network. Network. But, quietly. And, smartly. In other words, searching for a job while employed requires you to tread lightly, be patient, and stay discreet. Research (Google, etc.) who the appropriate hiring managers are within the market and group you want to work for next. Seriously, you can literally Google “who is the News Director or General Manager for “ABCD” station” and the information should pop-up. Connect with them on LinkedIn and/or other social media platforms. Do not stalk them, but put yourself out there. When/if they accept your invitation to connect, send them an introductory message and try to schedule a “networking” conversation. If you want to take an aggressive stance, find the station phone number and call them. Trust me, hiring managers are desperately looking for top talented passive/active candidates right now. If you come to them, they will listen. There is a line though. Find that line, perhaps even lean over a bit to put yourself ahead of your competition, but do not cross it.
  9. Update your resume and LinkedIn profile. The key to looking for a job while employed is to plan ahead and get organized. Update your online profiles and resume and create a great cover letter layout, so that you are not starting from scratch when the search begins.
  10. References. Use common sense. Do not list your manager and/or co-workers as professional references unless you are absolutely certain they will be confidential and discreet. Even then, tread lightly. Trust me, people talk.
  11. And, a bonus tip for number eleven: If you are a media corporate executive or work in television/radio station management, contact Carver Talent at [email protected] for an informal, brief, and confidential conversation. Discuss your perfect next opportunity…title, location, compensation, and timing. This will put you on our radar and we may help place you when you are ready. (#shamelessplug)

Remember, timing is everything. Plan, think strategically, and be careful. A burned bridge in our very small industry will most likely lead to greatly damaging (if not ending) your media industry career. This damage could follow you for years, if not forever. People talk in our industry, confidentially. You have been warned!

About the Author: Ty Carver has over 30+ years of recruiting, HR management, sales, and leadership experience‚Ķincluding the last 10 specific to the broadcast media industry. He is the Founder/CEO of Carver Talent, a local broadcast media management recruiting firm. As the former Director of Recruiting for Raycom Media, he has deep industry relationships. Have a media corporate executive or television station management recruiting need? Contact [email protected] for more information.