Job Hunting Tips for Engineers - Radio World

Job Hunting Tips for Engineers

Whether you're a seasoned engineer looking for a fresh gig or a new grad looking for your first job in engineering, we can help.
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Whether you're a seasoned engineer looking for a fresh gig or a new grad looking for your first job in engineering, we can help.

We've done the homework for you - chatting with some of the top pros in the industry to put together a series of practical and relevant tips to ensure you show up on a potential employer's radar screen.

"Networking is key," said Jeff Littlejohn, senior vice president of engineering at Clear Channel Radio (rookies, he's a good guy to know!). "You've got to get your name out there and let everyone know you're looking for a job."

Littlejohn recommends sending a résumé to the vice presidents of engineering of all of the top groups. He also says broadcast equipment reps are a great way to get your name out when you are looking to find a job.

The late Scott Beeler, director of worldwide sales for ERI, once told Littlejohn, "A list of qualified engineering leads is the best value-added service that I can offer a customer."

Networking helps, Littlejohn says. "Pick up the phone and call the chief engineer of the biggest station in town. Offer to buy him lunch if he'll give you a tour of his facility. Most jump at the chance to show off their work, and very few engineers walk away from a free meal."

Michigan engineer Kevin Larke has been in the business for 20 years. His career started at a small AM/FM combo in the thumb area of eastern Michigan. The interview for his first job is the only official interview he's ever had.

Since then, the story goes something like this: "Mike knew Greg ... Greg had bought some stations in Lansing ... he took me to lunch, we talked a while over a couple of burgers, and he hired me. I never did do a résumé."

Larke serves as the chief engineer (the only engineer, he clarifies) at Mid Michigan Radio Group, made up of four FM stations in Michigan's capital city. He says he never really actively looked for a job after his initial hire, depending instead on word-of-mouth.

"There are so few radio engineers now," Larke said. "Radio managers say, 'I know so-and-so, maybe he would do it.'"

Do your homework

Gary Kline, director of engineering for Cumulus, takes a more formal approach to searching for a potential part of his team.

"I like to interview a candidate who knows a little about our company and where our markets are located," he said. "Do not give me the intention that you've not specifically targeted our company and done research on us."

Research is important to Jeff Schroeder when he's interviewing candidates for a job. Schroeder, corporate director of digital technology at Citadel, says a common mistake he sees applicants making is not researching the position they are applying for.

"If the position requires certain skill sets, then the applicant should adjust their presentation to that particular position. Highlight past experience directly related to the skill set being looked for," he said.

No foolin'

Schroeder said one essential in the job hunt is honesty.

"There's nothing worse than hiring someone who looked great on paper, interviewed well and was the perfect fit until he walked in the door," said Schroeder. "Then you find out that he went to a seminar on transmitters five years ago, has a brother who is a computer geek and really does know the ITC Delta cart deck upside down and backwards."

Art Rose, assistant chief engineer for Bonneville, Washington, agreed.

"Don't try to pull the wool over our eyes," he said. "If you don't have experience in a certain area, don't pretend that you do."

Rose cites a perfect recent example.

"We were talking to someone who was going to help us in remote transmitter sites. He said he felt perfectly comfortable taking field readings. When I questioned him further about what he had done in the way of field readings and what types of values he got, he gave me a reading with four decimal points. Obviously that didn't make sense."

Dave Garner, Bonneville Washington's chief engineer, says you should definitely reveal your strengths during an interview, but don't be afraid to say "I don't know."

"Generally we are looking for an employee with special skill sets," he said. "Then we can use on-the-job-training to build up the areas that aren't so strong."

If you are new to the business and are looking to get in the door of a broadcast operation, Garner said experience in the field is essential.

"College radio, high school multi-media ... amateur radio experience, your own Web site, anything close to broadcast is beneficial."

How important is that college degree?

Garner, who holds a degree in economics, says most employers expect a college degree in some discipline, but that piece of paper is not absolutely essential in his eyes.

Roll out the résumé

Do you need a traditional résumé when embarking on your job search?

"More often than not, the first contact I have with an applicant will include a résumé," said David Remund, vice president of engineering for Regent Communications. "The best ones I see will have a brief introductory cover page with the résumé. The cover page should be brief and specific to the position being applied for. The résumé can be more general, but should only be one to two pages."

Remund says he's more interested in breadth of an applicant's experience in broadcast engineering rather than expertise in one specialty.

"IT seems to be over-emphasized in many résumés," he said. "And while IT experience is desirable, it shouldn't be to the exclusion of experience with high-power FM transmitters or AM DAs, for example."

Clear Channel's Littlejohn recommended you stay away from employment and educational information that's more than 20 years old or goes back more than three or four jobs.

"Remember: The only goal of a résumé is to make sure you get an interview," he said.

John Bisset, Radio World Workbench columnist and Northeast regional radio rep for Dielectric Communications, also recommends a formal résumé, but suggests including a bit more.

"Highlight any SBE certifications and FCC licenses," he said. "Did you attend any classes or special training on specific equipment like transmitters? Include a sample of your writing. You will need to write clear, easy-to-understand instructions for your air staff. If you prepared an operating handbook at your last job, make a copy and bring it along to show the manager."

And after the interview, send a thank you note.

"You will stand out from the others as a class act," said Bisset.

Slacks vs. suits

"No flip-flops for a first interview is a good rule of thumb," joked Bonneville's Garner. "Khakis and a nice pressed shirt are completely appropriate. White socks and a pocket protector not necessary."

Others said it all depends on the impression you want to make and the position you are applying for.

"If it is more of a desk job, a suit and tie is mandatory," said Regent's Remund. "But for a hands-on, get-dirty position, it is not. For that type of position I would rather see an applicant in clean and neat business-casual attire than in a brand-new suit and tie that he will never wear again."

Most engineers interviewed for this article highly recommended contacting the Society of Broadcast Engineers for networking opportunities and job leads.

"The SBE offers a placement service that will give you information about some jobs," said Clear Channel's Littlejohn.

Regent's Remund pushed attendance at local SBE meetings.

"Engineers seem to be introverts by nature," he said. "Break out of that shell and get to know more people."

The SBE provides its members résumé tools, mentor groups, engineering certifications and an online jobs service. A list of broadcast engineering jobs are posted at www.sbe.org

"Using a candidate's résumé, SBE develops an individual profile that is available for prospective employers to review," said John Poray, executive director of the SBE. "When an employer sees a profile they like, they receive a copy of the résumé for that person and make contact directly with the candidate."

Poray suggests making your job search a commitment.

"Work at it every day," he said. "Be sure you have clearly defined career objectives that include the responsibilities you are seeking, the minimum pay and benefits level you require and whether or not you are willing to relocate."

"If you are a skilled engineer with a desire to work and a good attitude, there is a job for you," said Littlejohn. "There are always openings available, especially if you are willing to move."

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