I want to work in New Media, but I'm not sure how to jump-start a new career in
this field. How do I get started?
Insider Advice from
This article was written for those who are
trying to break into a career in New Media and are looking for some guidelines to help
them miss the speed bumps (or at least to keep them from hitting the bumps at 70 mph).
This is free advice, and as such it bears consumption with a degree of circumspection.
I dont have a background in human resources
or personnel and dont purport to have expertise in that area. Rather, these
guidelines are based on having been involved in numerous hiring decisions over a 13-year
career in multimedia and having taught at various two- and four-year colleges. My advice
is based on what Ive done, what I wish I had done and what Ive seen others do
to create a career in this field.
Although careers in New Media are really quite varied, for purposes of this article
Im going to categorize them as:
- project managers
- graphic artists
- instructional designers
- quality assurance/testers
- video and audio editors and audio editors
- as well as sales and marketing staff.
Depending upon your interests, talents and drive,
theres quite possibly a slot into which you can comfortably wiggle as you start to
turn a series of jobs into a journey that will define your career.
From my perspective, roles on a multimedia project
frequently tend to overlap. Its not uncommon for many positions on a project team to
be "hyphenates," such as lead designer-writer or project manager-webmaster.
Successful people in this business tend to wear many hats. If there are recurring themes
in this field, two of them come to mind: youd better be comfortable with change, and
youd better be excited about constantly re-learning your core skills. In New Media,
the bar is raised weekly.
So what do you do to get your foot in the door?
First, the bad news: theres a process to follow and its going to take some
time. This means that its highly unlikely that after reading this article,
youll have a job drop into your lap tomorrow. Theres an old Irish saying,
"A man must wait for a long, long time for a cooked pheasant to fly through the
Now for the good news: theres a process to
follow and its going to take some time. This means that there really are jobs
out there for you and, after following a procedure, its highly likely youll
get one. Again an old Irish saying, "Trust in the universe but tether your
So, enough with the sayings. How do
I get a job?
Get out your Dayrunner, circle a date somewhere about 12 months from now, and pick one of
the job titles that we listed earlier. When youre through reading this article,
start making a to-do list that will take you to the date you circled. Then do the
to-dos. Believe me: this field is expanding, companies are hiring, and you can make
this happen, but some heavy lifting is involved before you get asked to suit up.
The following is a list of things that I have
either done, seen done or wish I had done, but by and large, its what seems to get
people hired into multimedia companies. These things also seem to get people promoted
within multimedia companies. Read the list, prioritize according to where you are in your
career path, and watch out for some pointed opinions. Some of these are going to be as
popular as a sharp stick in the eye.
Buy a computer.
Let me state the obvious: if youre just starting out and your
car is worth more than your computer, you need a priority adjustment. Buy a computer. Buy
the software. Buy the manuals, but dont pay retail. Student discounts abound, so
find a class where you can take advantage of this student perk. (If youre not a
student, see the next tip.)
Own that computer, physically and metaphorically.
If you want to be taken seriously in this business, you have to know how your tools work.
Start thinking about which sets of software tools you want to become proficient with. If
youre a student and have access to a computer lab, turn yourself into a lab rat.
(Hey, in this line of work its okay to be a little geeky! Guys: overcome your
genetic inability to read the documentation and the tutorials.)
Take a class, take a bunch
Okay, everybody says that, but which classes to take? Well, if
youre heading for a Webmaster slot, youre probably looking at a mix of HTML,
Java, a high-level tool such as Page Mill, an understanding of streaming media, and an
appreciation of databases.
If youre set on becoming a 3D artist (and by the way, theyre currently commanding
very decent salaries), you can expect Photoshop, Strata 3D, or other high-level packages
to be in your future. The idea here is to get in some classes that are going to give you
hands-on skills that an employer is going to need for a multimedia team.
before you hand over your money for any of these classes. Its amazing how costs for
classes and access to instructors and computer equipment can vary between university
extension centers, art schools, seminars and weekend classes. I have seen unbelievably
expensive classes that are nothing more than a one-day walk through a tutorial, and others
take more than three months to complete, but at a fraction of the cost. Try asking some
people in the business to recommend classes in your specific locale. Youll probably
go down a few dead ends here, but thats part of the process, so dont lose too
much sleep over it.
Join a professional group,
pay your dues, work for free.
Just paying your student or associate membership fees and showing up once a month
isnt going to cut it. You really need to participate in some of their projects. That
way you get to see if this is really what you want to do, while simultaneously getting
your name in circulation. The professionals you meet may know who you need to see to get
hired or, better yet, they may be the ones with the hiring authority. Frequently
theyll have the inside track on hiring possibilities within the company before this
information is made public. Seek out opportunities to work on special projects that the
group may be sponsoring or is involved with.
By the way, these are activities where youre
expected to volunteer your time, but in return you get to start building your network of
professional contacts while also gathering material for your demo and portfolio.
Naturally, while youre working on these projects, you want to be the one they refer
to as "that person with the most awesome, positive, can-do attitude." In the
future thats going to be money in the bank.
Show me the web site.
As a hiring manager I like to look at resumes and usually expect to
see an undergraduate degree, but my hiring decisions are really based more on demo
materials, work experience on relevant multimedia projects and a subjective judgment of a
candidates attitude and work ethic. When I make hiring decisions, Im looking
to hire somebody to fit into a very specific slot to do a very specific job. I also know
that the sharp people are going to figure out how to get out of the box or at least make
their boxes a lot bigger. These people turn into my project mangers, lead designers or
senior technical people.
I feel very strongly that you absolutely must have
some demo material to show off your past work. It doesnt have to be incredibly
complex, but it should show that you know how to start and finish a project and that you
have some experience working on a multimedia team.
If you dont have a demo of some sort,
youre toast. Your competition will have it! (I did say that other people are also
applying for these jobs, didnt I?)
Another way to stand out from the crowd is to
create your own web site. America Online makes this a no-brainer. Just dial them up, take
that hit for 20 bucks a month, and about 10 hours later youre set with a basic
version of your resume, online. Were not necessarily looking for a technical tour
de force here, just something that shows youve taken a bit more initiative than
those other folks.
The Classifieds... You gotta
For the most part I think theyre the hardest way to find a job
in this business. Although I do happen to know people who continually defy the odds and
get hired through the ads, from personal experience the better jobs seem to get filled
through word of mouth. Building that network of people to say good things about you is
going to take some time, but in the long run it will be extremely beneficial.
As for targeting companies, I think it makes a lot
more sense for you to target five or six companies that
you want to work for, rather than responding to whatever is showing up in the Sunday
classifieds. Select the five or six companies that you think you would like to work with,
check out their web sites, get a feel for what they do, and make it a point to meet somebody who works for that company. The
objective here is to find out who is the most likely person to hire you, and then lock in
on that individual.
This is where HR departments come unglued, and I
know that this is probably counter to what most of us have been taught about getting work,
but Im a firm believer that you must physically meet and "get registered"
with the people who will do the actual hiring. Do whatever it takes to meet them. You will
be ready for this two-minute meeting when your demo is prepared, your resume is online,
and youve actually worked on a couple of projects.
If youre like many people, its easy to
underestimate your capability, so when you think youre about 50 or 60% prepared,
youre probably ready to hit the road. Youll find out soon enough how
youre going to be received. Thats why I think its important to take the
classes, join the organizations and work as a volunteer. These activities can help give
you practice and serve as a barometer.
Job hunting with serious
When I first started out in the business, I remember sitting in the
lobby of well known production facility for nearly eight hours before I finally got to see
the producer who was hiring production assistants for a new game show. I just
wouldnt hand over my resume until I had met that person face to face. Although I
ultimately didnt take a job with that company, I was called in for two interviews
and received a job offer. Now, this certainly isnt the most subtle way to go about
getting an interview, but I know the reason I was called back was because I exhibited a
very serious intent on accomplishing my objective. Interestingly, I did end up working for
them some years later as a producer, so I guess they hadnt branded a big red X on my
permanent file for all transgressions, real or imagined, committed against this company.
If somebody did that today, would I jump for joy
because someone is camped in the lobby to see me? No, probably not. But after talking with
the personwhich I would doand if that person seemed to be a serious
contender for any openings, in my mind that individual would now have set the bar for
ambition and attitude. HR would probably be seriously miffed, but in my pile of resumes, I
know who would go to the top for showing initiative.
Now, Im not suggesting that this is the only
way to go about getting noticed, but I am saying that you definitely need to show up for
Three years ago, IVID Communications was staffing a large multimedia
project and I needed to hire more than 50 people within a 60-day period. Two of the slots
we needed to fill were for editors with Adobe Premiere experience. On a rather frantic
Friday, we interviewed more than a dozen candidates, and needed to pick two to start the
following week. On Monday morning, a package was delivered to me via Fed-Ex from one of
the candidates. In it was a SyQuest cartridge. Being a sucker for anything coming in a
Fed-Ex box, I had a look.
I was totally blown away to see a Premiere movie
of a video tour of IVID Communications offices, complete with a music background and
a simple voice-over. This guy had managed to get into the building over the weekend. He
videotaped the courtyard, the lobby and a couple of people at work, and edited it all
together as his custom demo for us. Was I impressed? You bet. That was a no-brainer. And
although at the time his resume didnt indicate that he was the most technically
qualified for the job, he ended up leading a team of nine full-time editors and is now one
of our most respected senior project managers.
Closing thoughts and helpful
I hope that Ive given you some ideas that will help you get your
career into gear. By the way, once you have your foot in the door, these techniques are
also useful for keeping it in and even stepping up a notch or two. Ive listed some
web sites that might be of use to you. Best wishes, and may you have an exciting,
profitable journey in the land of convergence.
Interactive Communications Society (IICS)
National Association of Broadcasters (NAB)
American Society for Training and Development
National Association of Television Arts and Sciences
Interactive Digital Media Association (IDMA)
presented this article as a speech before the National Association of Broadcasters in
1999. Barry is an award-winning producer for San Diego-based IVID Communications, 7220
Trade Street, Suite 201, San Diego, CA, 92121. IVID is an international developer of
multimedia training and communications products. Barry's broadcast background includes six
regional EMMYs for television production, projects for PBS and Showtime, numerous
commercials, and an internationally recognized documentary on Inner Mongolia for the
Peoples Republic of China. His multimedia background includes eight CINDYs for
interactive projects, a series of college football CD-ROMs for ABC Sports, and projects
for Time Warner, SAIC, NCR, Ford, Nissan and IBM. Barry has been a president of the San
Diego Chapter of the International Interactive Communications Society.
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