July 6, 2011
Career lessons from Larry King's senior executive producer
Wendy Walker began her career late in the television industry -- at an old age, as she puts it. She was 25. The only way she knew how to enter the business at the time was to get a job as a secretary.
The day she filled out her employment application at ABC, she was sitting next to a young woman named Katie Couric. "We would have laughed if you had told us, 'Katie, you're going to make history being on prime-time CBS television,' and 'Wendy, you're going to produce the famous "Larry King Live" from beginning to end for CNN,' " Wendy says.
Both women had a dream. Any opportunity where they could stay late and learn something new was exciting. During the Iranian hostage situation, for example, ABC told its team that they had to stay on the air until the crisis ended. Wendy remembers carrying her heavy IBM typewriter down two flights of stairs, working with the technology that was available back then.
Yet she never asked "Am I going to get overtime for this?" or muttered "I'm not getting paid enough for this," she says. That show turned into "Nightline," and Wendy says she learned a lot from the experience -- one she wouldn't have had if she'd had a different attitude.
Another time, when President Reagan was shot, Wendy had the day off. She saw how closely people were watching the networks for updates, so she drove to the office to see what she would be doing as a producer and how the process was being managed. She went home three days later.
I asked Wendy about some of the lessons in her book "Producer: Lessons Shared from 30 Years in Television." Here are some takeaways:
Freaking out is not an option. Wendy recalls one episode of "Larry King Live" when he ended by saying, "Tomorrow, we're doing a debate with Ann Coulter and her thoughts on Brazil." The next morning, however, the producers heard rumors that Farrah Fawcett had died.
Once it was confirmed, they switched gears, canceled the original show and started looking for guests who knew the actress. But just four hours before the show, they heard a rumor that Michael Jackson had died. Wendy made some calls, and when the news was confirmed, the Farrah show was canceled and the producers coached Larry on the new findings.
During such times of chaos, Wendy says, "Freaking out is not an option. You have to leave yourself and your emotions behind and focus on the job." In other words, if your boss or colleague says, "This report isn't correct" or "We're not going to Ohio, we're going to Illinois instead," you need to regroup and calmly address the situation.
Details matter. Part of relationship building and career development is going the extra mile and adding the little details others usually miss. Whereas most assistants might dread preparing a document or an itinerary for their boss, a career-minded person would take the initiative to instead compile an entire folder of supporting documents or a list of local attractions. This goes a long way in building relationships.
Mentor yourself. If you don't have a mentor, you have to be a good observer and learn from people around you. For example, Wendy says, "Look at Mario Lopez. If you want to be fit, you can emulate his eating patterns and workout regimens. Make lists of items you need to accomplish and ask yourself: 'If I was motivated and had all the energy to do it the right way, what would I do?' "
Wendy's advice to working professionals is to get to the office early, stay late, work harder than everyone else and tell your boss: "I have an idea or two that can improve things around here; on top of that, I'm going to make you look good." That's a boss's dream.
For job seekers, Wendy says that if you want to join a particular company, pick any job -- even if it's entry-level -- and tell the company you'll work harder than everyone else. Don't wait for your dream job; create it. The combination of hard work, good work, a great personality and an amazing attitude all rolled up together makes a big difference.
Speaking of attitude: Be the person others want to be around, Wendy says. This is especially important during a job search. It's easy for your motivation to get crushed when you're unemployed, but you have to find ways to pull yourself together and surround yourself with other positive people who can support you and lift your spirits.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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