Hiring a New Cameraman, Part II - TvTechnology

Hiring a New Cameraman, Part II

In my last column I talked about screening applicants for television field photographer positions, using their resume tapes to create a first impression. My point was that because you're hiring them to shoot visuals, the quality of the visuals they shot for their previous and present employers is a good indicator of the quality they're going to shoot for you.
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In my last column I talked about screening applicants for television field photographer positions, using their resume tapes to create a first impression. My point was that because you're hiring them to shoot visuals, the quality of the visuals they shot for their previous and present employers is a good indicator of the quality they're going to shoot for you.

I believe that before you let anything else influence your opinion of the field photographer candidate (personality, educational background, impressive prior employers), you should look at the quality of his or her work, so I've always liked to look at the tapes before looking at the resume or even talking more than simple pleasantries over the phone.

What if the resume tape doesn't stand up to your scrutiny, but you get reports that say this guy really is a good shooter? There's also pressure to give a second look when the candidate is from in-house, or from another station in the group. Or there's the case when you're forced to give the candidate a second look because he or she is the spouse of an irreplaceable employee at your station.

The best path I've found in this situation is to give that individual an opportunity to create an instant resume tape by doing an assignment for you. If it's a make-work assignment, I think it can be on their own time (unless they work for your company). If you're sending them out on a story that's actually going to air, my sense is that you have to hire them on a free-lance basis to do the work. (But I am not a labor attorney; consult yours.)

IT'S A LOCK

I remember a chief cameraman in our newsroom once who sent job candidates down to the government locks to shoot a ship coming through. It was a great assignment because the process is completed several times an hour. The candidate could watch it happen once to get an idea what was going to happen. It would happen again right away so they could shoot the process. And if they needed some additional cutaways, they could do so the third time the process happened.

The assignment also required the candidate to come back to the station and edit the piece. There wasn't any narration to go with it, so the strength of the storytelling was all in the visuals.

The best part of this was that it yielded something concrete on which to make a judgment. A senior vice president comes down to ask why his nephew didn't get hired? Pull out the piece he shot and view it with the exec. Then show him the tape from the candidate you did hire.

In fact, these "ship-through-the-locks" assignments once potentially saved the company a lot of money. One candidate who took the test charged he was discriminated against. His lawsuit specifically mentioned the shooting-and-editing test he had to take, which he felt was discriminatory. When the Chief Cameraman produced similar assignments for other candidates for the job, including one from the successful applicant, the case stopped as quickly as it had started.

So by using resume tapes and other means, you can determine whether the field cameraman candidate can deliver the visuals or not. Now you've got to find out if you want this individual working for you.

GO TO THE PROS

There are shelves of books at the library and bookstore about interviewing and checking references, and you must get about 25 pounds of invitations to "Selection Interviewing" seminars every year. The authors and lecturers are much more qualified to talk about that aspect of hiring than I am, so listen to them and heed their advice.

There's another asset available to you: your company's personnel director. He or she likely has a lot more formal training and more experience than you do in selection interviewing. I wouldn't drop the candidate off for the interview without spending some time first letting the personnel director know what you're looking for in a field photographer. This is not a bad discussion to have before you even begin the hiring process; you might find that the questions the personnel director asks you about the position will help clarify what you're after in your own mind.

Chances are pretty good that the field photographer isn't going to be working on assignments directly with you. The producers and talent that the photographer will work with can be helpful in determining whether it's the right hire.But I'm going to suggest two caveats:

First, don't term these sessions "interviews." Let your staffers know that you want them to talk with the candidate and let you know what they think. Show them the resume tape and remind them to let the candidate do most of the talking. Also remind them not to talk about the candidate's chances for getting the job, or saying anything that could be taken as a job offer.

And second, don't have your staffers spend time with a candidate you know you're not going to want to hire. You may be fishing for someone to back you up, but you take the chance that the opposite will happen. Then you'll have an unhappy employee on your hands because you didn't hire the candidate he or she thought was terrific.

When you've decided you do want to hire a candidate, I'm going to suggest you do one more thing before giving the job to that individual. Sit down with the person and go over his or her resume tape, letting the person know what in particular impressed you. Talk about how those elements of the person's work fit with what he or she will be asked to do in your shop. And then ask the person if he or she is going to be able to deliver that quality of work every day.

Someone did that when they hired me once, and it stuck with me every time I was out in the field. I knew exactly what was expected, and didn't want to disappoint him.