In a new series of columns, USC Annenberg alumni have shared stories from their time at the school, discussed their careers, and offered advice to students. In this special edition, some columnists offer words of wisdom to the class of 2015.
From Vivien Lou Chen, Class of 1992
My words of advice come from Madonna, who said “Believe in yourself and don’t take anything personally.”
From Mike Huckman, Class of 1983
“Do you want a job?” And with those five words my broadcast journalism career began.
Even all these years later, I vividly remember the painstaking and nerve-wracking process of trying to land my first on-air job in TV as if it all happened only yesterday. At the time, I was interning at what was then KNXT-TV (now KCBS) in Los Angeles for no pay and no credit. Graduation had come and gone, but I still had not found a journalism position where I actually made money. The Investigative Unit team at Channel 2 was gracious enough to keep me on board for several weeks after my internship had formally ended, but I knew I would soon overstay my welcome. Not to mention, my parents were applying not-so-subtle pressure to get out of the house and on my way.
A USC classmate heard through the grapevine about a job opening in Great Falls, Montana and kindly passed along the intel to me. I quickly fired off my resume tape, written resume and a cover letter to the news director at KRTV. And then began the fun part.
Do I call the day I believe my FedEx package would arrive? Or do I wait a day or two more to ensure delivery and give the news director time to read and view my submission? If it has arrived, but he has not gotten around to it yet, do I call back the next day or the day after that? It seemed like a fine line. When will I go from persistent to pest? I forged ahead with no clear answer.
I made several cuts as the news director winnowed down the field of finalists. And every other day for three straight weeks I would call him and ask for an update. “We’re down to four.” “We’re down to two, but we haven’t made a decision, yet.” I was dying. Did I mention that, when I was not calling him, I was sitting by the phone, hoping he would call me or nervously guesstimating the best time for me to call him again?
And then, I got lucky. One afternoon I called him and he asked if he could put me on hold. After what seemed like an eternity, he got back on the line and spoke those five life-transforming and career-changing words. My answer, of course, was “Yes!” I was so thrilled; I didn’t even ask him how much I’d make. I got that unimportant information the following day when I called him to learn what my starting salary would be and whether I should buy long underwear in Southern California or wait until I moved, sight unseen, to Montana.
It was 70-below with a wind chill my first winter in Great Falls. But it didn’t matter. I was the first person in my class of several now well-known TV journalists to get an on-air job. I was freezing, but I was working. After giving me my first break, that news director, Ed Coghlan, became a mentor and a lifelong friend.
I have asked Ed if my frequent calls had ever become a nuisance. After all, I couldn’t have been the only kid right out of college calling him up, hoping to launch their careers in Great Falls, Montana. Did I call him more often than the next candidate? Or did I call him less?
He jokingly told me that I had worn him down and caught him at a moment of weakness. OK, so that sounds like I had become a pest, but he also told me the other candidate had not followed up with the same frequency that I had. And since I got the job, I am going to say it was my persistence.
From Dina Gomez, Class of 1994
Dear Class of 2015: If I could offer you only one piece of advice, I’d say take chances. Don’t habitualize making only “safe” decisions when it comes to your career. Choose adventure. Go into any job as you would a new class — eyes open, listening more than talking, ready to use what you learn to achieve your goals. I graduated USC and went to work for Mattel Toys. I traded in toys for aerospace when I was hired to work at what is now Northrop Grumman. From there I worked for a 30,000 member teacher’s association and consulted for the 2.6 million member national arm out of Washington D.C. Then I went on to Campbell Soup Company and its international subsidiaries. Then a stint as Chief Marketing Officer for a hospitality company. Then Edison and the world of energy. Then branding for a London-based start-up. Then to Silicon Valley and micro-chips and cloud computing. Now bio-tech.
Looking back, I never would have guessed that my 20+ year career would span just about every industry imaginable (and some that weren’t even thought of yet when I graduated). My secret to happiness? Commit to your spouse and your children, but have an affair with your career. Love what you do and learn something every day. When that stops happening, open yourself up to other possibilities, even if it scares you. Follow your interests. Chase the opportunities. Stay curious and ask questions. Pour yourself and your experience into every new title, even if you’re on a steep learning curve. Say thank you to everyone who teaches you — from the CEO to the intern. Have fun. Life is too short to settle for a straight line to your end goal.
From Alexandra Gurley, Class of 2014
Expect the unexpected! Your after college plans may not always turn out exactly how you planned, but USC Annenberg has prepared you to take on whatever challenges you face. Be open to new adventures and opportunities and you could end up someplace unexpected that you truly love.
If you’re not heading straight into the workforce or have some time before you do, take advantage of that time! Travel, try something new or work on a creative project.