Sunday, May 15, 2011

A rotten time awaits you job hunting - give up now, or......

In 1999 The Evening Standard lined up a group of us  for a photoshoot under tha banner London's Young Gifted and Black. It included the writer Zadie Smith with her breakthrough book, WhiteTeeth.
Did the photoshoot help? No not really, but the lesson was clear. Forget fame and popularity, get down to the brass tacks of slogging away for that job.

I can without humour or irony say I had the most awful time trying to find a job.

In fact so awful that in my career, which I admit looks rather plush now, came by the most unconventional routes.

Here's the context: I'm a chemistry grad, I'm black male and did not have a network or heritage of broadcasting. Worse by British standards, I had spent my youth growing up in Ghana so had no heuristic knowledge of the UK and spoke with, what is it.... a "funny accent" (Ghanaian/English/German).

The racial qualification will either make you balk, question what I'm on about, or sigh with a "here goes..". I'm self-deprecating enough to take that now. But in 1980s Britain was a different place.
So much so that the then Polytechnic of Central London had a course in one year, I think 1988 when it took on only ethnic minorities, to get them into the broadcast structure.

The point of all this, is evident to you, in ways of your background. We might perceive there to be the perfect template for working in the media, but in reality we all carry a conscious which gets louder and attacks us as we begin the job hunt and nothing materialises.

A week, a month, a year, even two years. Give up!

Or think like the actor, the un new mediast, because in the numbers game, just like that marathon, only those that are mentally strong survive. For all those who spent time at the net, playing tennis; at the crease learning cricket, or training for combat in special units; there have been a spate of articles on Navy Seals recently, it's not all about brains and brawl...

Like the media, they may help but then there are many people like you if you consider the bell curve.
No the point is it's about sheer "bloody staying power", the numbers game, wanting it badly, and how much you're willing to sacrifice.

How much are you willing to give?
Danfung Dennis, an award winning film maker is a story that touches me, for also what I and many others have done or did. Danfung spent what must have been an eternity embedded with a US outfit in Afghanistan. His film has won both critical acclaim and high profile awards. But six years ago, he was not a film maker. That he would self teach himself photography and become good at it, is one thing, but here now is the other quality.

Would you be prepared to stay embedded with an outfit in Afghanistan risking your life on a daily basis (whilst filming someone next to him got shot). Also knowing you did not have a straight commission, and even when you get back and you're showing your film, some senior people are dismissive.  WHAT IS YOUR AFGHANISTAN?

In 1992 mine was South Africa. I'd had two big breaks, working on national TV for the BBC's young persons programme Reportage ( see below) and Newsnight, yet couldn't find work again and so flew out to South Africa which was in the bloody grip of a transition and multiple murders in the townships.

BBC Reportage from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

This post is not long enough for me to talk about risks, and I didn't see it that way, but I'd come to realise an important dictum: "No one owed me anything" Even my great lecturers at Falmouth were not responsible for making my career.

The person responsible for you, is YOU. And that's where the long game comes in. It will get tough, and many will fall; it will get tiring and many will opt for a different path; it will get to a point where you have no money, and the sales job will come to your rescue.  BUT.

But, if you firmly believe you have something to offer you and others, then do not give up.  You need not seek anyone's validation, if you want to strike out getting the big one. You should already be doing that now, and as you accumulate rejections letters bear this in mind, it is not just about your ability, but a myriad of factors ( see last post).

It got to a stage, when if I couldn't get that job I convinced myself it was their loss. Job seeking is a communion of sorts, where both parties need to fill they're in it for the right reasons. Our Masters students will remember one of our recent speakers who turned down a huge job, because it wasn't right for him. Good for him!

And know this too, they say in the media, the difficult job isn't the first one, which often happens because someone you know helps out, but the second where you're competing as you might have the first time when you didn't know anyone.

It's tough the second time too, because your conscious tells you, you deserve this. You know. .. " I have done this already..". Knowing this then how do you up your chances? If you've spent the best part of a year responding to work - that's saying something. If you had access to film gear and you never made a film, that's saying something. If you wanted to write for a newspaper but you couldn't be bothered to either set up or maintain a regular blog. THAT'S SAYING SOMETHING!

Question is what you should be saying first. There's a reason why largely people that work had are rewarded and when they are, we largely share in their success. Impossibility is nothing!

And one last thing... it will come to pass. You're only feeling this way now because you're in that way. Three years on hopefully you'll forget you ever felt anxious.

David Dunkley Gyimah, a senior lecturer and knowledge transfer supervisor is nuts about films, documentary, online and videojournalist, spending way too much time on it. He'll be a panelist at the Sheffield Doc festival. His film Tahrir Memento, will feature on his site soon.