Go to Industry Insider

New Media
A hiring manager explains what he looks for when evaluating job candidates for positions in multimedia.

Other Topics:
Programming Basics
Airline Pilot
Computer Animation
Consulting Jobs Primer
Environmental Health
Getting Into Dell
Graphic Design
Legal Career
New Media
Software Development
TV Production
Back to Industry Insider

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
Barry Mowat
Executive Producer
IVID Communications

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 don’t have a background in human resources or personnel and don’t 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 I’ve done, what I wish I had done and what I’ve seen others do to create a career in this field.

Although careers in New Media are really quite varied, for purposes of this article I’m going to categorize them as:

  • project managers
  • producers
  • programmers
  • graphic artists
  • designers
  • instructional designers
  • writers
  • webmasters
  • quality assurance/testers
  • video and audio editors and audio editors
  • as well as sales and marketing staff.

Depending upon your interests, talents and drive, there’s 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. It’s 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: you’d better be comfortable with change, and you’d 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: there’s a process to follow and it’s going to take some time. This means that it’s highly unlikely that after reading this article, you’ll have a job drop into your lap tomorrow. There’s an old Irish saying, "A man must wait for a long, long time for a cooked pheasant to fly through the window."

Now for the good news: there’s a process to follow and it’s going to take some time. This means that there really are jobs out there for you and, after following a procedure, it’s highly likely you’ll get one. Again an old Irish saying, "Trust in the universe but tether your horse."

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 you’re through reading this article, start making a to-do list that will take you to the date you circled. Then do the to-do’s. 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, it’s 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 you’re 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 don’t pay retail. Student discounts abound, so find a class where you can take advantage of this student perk. (If you’re 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 you’re a student and have access to a computer lab, turn yourself into a lab rat. (Hey, in this line of work it’s okay to be a little geeky! Guys: overcome your genetic inability to read the documentation and the tutorials.)

Take a class, take a bunch of classes.
Okay, everybody says that, but which classes to take? Well, if you’re heading for a Webmaster slot, you’re 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 you’re set on becoming a 3D artist (and by the way, they’re 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.

Shop around before you hand over your money for any of these classes. It’s 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. You’ll probably go down a few dead ends here, but that’s part of the process, so don’t 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 isn’t 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 they’ll 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 you’re 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 you’re 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 that’s 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 candidate’s attitude and work ethic. When I make hiring decisions, I’m 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 doesn’t 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 don’t have a demo of some sort, you’re toast. Your competition will have it! (I did say that other people are also applying for these jobs, didn’t 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 you’re set with a basic version of your resume, online. We’re not necessarily looking for a technical tour de force here, just something that shows you’ve taken a bit more initiative than those other folks.

The Classifieds... You gotta be kidding.
For the most part I think they’re 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 I’m 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 you’ve actually worked on a couple of projects.

If you’re like many people, it’s easy to underestimate your capability, so when you think you’re about 50 or 60% prepared, you’re probably ready to hit the road. You’ll find out soon enough how you’re going to be received. That’s 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 intentions.
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 wouldn’t hand over my resume until I had met that person face to face. Although I ultimately didn’t take a job with that company, I was called in for two interviews and received a job offer. Now, this certainly isn’t 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 hadn’t 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 person—which I would do—and 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, I’m 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 the dance.

Real life.
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 didn’t 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 web sites.
I hope that I’ve 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. I’ve 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.

Professional Organizations

International Interactive Communications Society (IICS)
National Association of Broadcasters (NAB)
American Society for Training and Development (ASTD)
National Association of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS)
Interactive Digital Media Association (IDMA)

Barry Mowat 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 People’s 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.

NOTE: The advice provided above is an opinion, not a professional service. Ask The Headhunter and the author of the advice are not responsible for its accuracy, use or mis-use.


The contents of this site are Copyright (c) 1995-2015 North Bridge Group LLC.
All rights reserved. This material is for personal use only. Republication and redissemination, including posting to news groups, is expressly prohibited without prior written consent. Ask The Headhunter, Fearless Job Hunting, the ATH logo and other ATH titles are trademarks or registered trademarks of North Bridge Group LLC and Nick A. Corcodilos.

User agreement, legal information and disclaimer.

Visit the Ask The Headhunter Blog and sign up for your free subscription to the weekly Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.

We welcome comments and
suggestions. Please email to
Ask The Headhunter.



Learn to say NO when employers demand your salary history!

Job Hunting

Overcome the
daunting obstacles
that stop other
job hunters dead
in their tracks!

Nick's newest!

Parting Company
How to leave your job

Don't miss these

Answer Kits!

How to Work
With Headhunters

..and how to
make headhunters
work for you!

How Can I
Change Careers?
It's not just for
career changers!
It's for any job
applicant who
wants to
stand out!

Keep Your Salary
Under Wraps

How to say NO
when employers
demand your
salary history,
to make them
say YES to
higher job offers!