In the spirit of the New Year and of making the most out of the potential of another circle around the sun, I wanted to take a closer look at the ethics and attitudes of those people in our business who work and seem to work all the time. Some employees just have a sense about not only doing their work well, but also integrating with the team and understanding how to stay out of the way yet also being available to assist at any given moment.
The nature of our business is essentially freelance employment. As owner of Allied Post Audio in Santa Monica, I consider even myself to be a “freelancer with a roof.” Over the years I’ve hired many mixers, editors, engineers, assistants, receptionists and interns among other positions. I’m approached by individuals of all skill and age levels for employment. (DISCLAIMER: No - I am not currently hiring.) Its an amazing and unfortunately often amusing thing to receive emails, resumes and cover letters from a hungry and/or aspiring workforce. The casualness and informality of the approaches, the typos and grammatical errors would be bad enough if some of the ultimate work ethic didn’t fare even worse.
From an employer's perspective I'd like to offer a few ideas on how to maintain your relevance and your value to your employer. Never forget that there is a long line of motivated individuals who desperately want to be doing what you’re doing.
Most of these will sound like simple common sense but these are glaring blind spots that I’ve dealt with and deal with personally. The issues discussed here have come up from a diversity of highly experienced pros to interns and assistants. Hopefully you already excel at your chosen skill, be it editor, assistant, engineer or client services. These bullet points are suggested in addition to being great at your hired position.
Learn Your Craft and Keep Learning
Its never too late to learn. Software and hardware changes constantly and relearning or better understanding the new features is a huge plus for any employer. Learn new things that complement your main gig. Take classes, use online teaching like Lynda or the literally millions of how-tos on YouTube.
Work your craft - high, low or no compensation. Writers write, actors act, editors edit, mixers mix. Keep working it every day. My first projects when I opened my first facility were freebies to get on the map and use my shiny new gear. In 10,000 short hours you too will become an expert in your field.
Define Your Expertise
Highlight your current experience and skill set always moving into the direction you’d like your career to take. Have different resumes for different positions, highlighting particular skills or knowledge appropriate for the position.
For instance if I am hiring a dialog editor I want to see dialog editing experience. Putting a list of skills that have no relevance to dialog editing won’t help get you into an interview. Its OK to be a jack of all trades but no one short of an assistant is typically hired that way. Employers are looking to fill a particular position that has a particular skill set.
Stay attuned to the industry and the changes as they come. New workflows, new gear, new software are always hitting the market. Their use will be in demand. Gain your expertise in these things and market yourself with those skills. Stay current as the upgrades and feature sets change.
This one is a no-brainer yet tardiness is a constant problem with every skill level employee. A casual attitude about time is not going to serve anyone well. Typically only a select few have any idea about the minute to minute operation of a business. Particularly a business as mercurial as production and post. Never assume that it's OK to be a few minutes late because “there’s nothing much going on today” or “its been a slow week” - you will never know exactly what’s happening at any given moment. It is never OK to not let anyone know that you are running late.
The best credo to live by if you like your job and want it to continue is - “arrive early, stay late.” It's very easy to do and pushes you to the top 5% of all employees. If you add to that showing initiative and anticipating the needs of your supervisors and your fellow workers you’ve just jumped into the top 2%. That will be the simplest way to job security in a business with almost none.
Watch and Listen
Don’t offer unsolicited suggestions to clients. In private you may have a small discussion with your fellow co-workers discretely if there is some issue glaring that is not being addressed. Often clients are already insecure about what they are trying to accomplish. An off-handed remark about the talent, the edit or just about anything about a clients work can create a tailspin heading for a crash. Unless you are the authority that the client needs to hear from, refrain from unnecessary commenting.
Never critique a client's work. Never. Even when they ask. When they say “be tough I can take it.” No - they can’t. And they don’t really want it. Go back to the prior mentioned insecurity. Find the good things to compliment, and if you are the right person to offer comments on the projects always do so from a positive, “this is fixable” standpoint.
Never critique an employers work. I don’t care what skill level you are at. “Well I’d never do it that way...” “Really, that’s what you came up with...” “I once worked for a guy who was a real whiz at this stuff...” Ask, listen and learn. If there is something glaring take it up privately. Sounds like simple common sense doesn’t it? Don’t get me started...I can tell you stories....
Respect the Gear
Equipment is a costly investment. There may be outstanding bank loans or at a minimum a large chunk of personal assets that were required to purchase it. This equipment is needed to complete the work that you and others were hired to do. Without it working no one is working. Don’t put liquids near computers, monitors and consoles. Always properly wrap cables. Don’t toss microphones to one another. The list can go on and on. Simple equation - what would you do if it was your gear paid for with your hard earned dollars? Would you treat it the same?
Computers, cameras, recorders and decks are fragile. Be light fingered not heavy handed. Treat it all with the utmost respect, it is how you will earn your living. This gear cannot fail. If it does all work will stop and no one will get paid, even you. But mainly respect the gear for one simple reason - it's not yours.
We’ve all done it - nodded our heads knowingly when tasked with something and then tried to figure it out after the boss has left. Better idea - ask questions until you understand. What happens is that eventually other workers are pulled into your sphere trying to help solve your problem. So rather than getting to the task and getting it completed, others are pulled away from what they are doing to help a problem that you said you had in control. Ask if you don’t know.
This sort of activity on a daily or weekly basis wastes valuable time and possibly also money and materials. It is not improper to say these words - “I don’t know.” The turnaround in production and post can be very fast and bosses rely on things getting done in a timely manner. If something is beyond your experience or expertise let it be known. There is absolutely no shame in it.
Networking can bring opportunities not only to you but also to your coworkers and your bosses. If you have a lead to someone that can add value to the work or to the company you’ve just become a hero. “You know that guy!”
Networking also opens doors and opportunities for yourself. It can provide new contacts and also give an edge to “inside information.” What if you’ve befriended someone who works with a competitor and they tell you a little information that might just help the company that you work for? The cliche “it's a small town” is a reality and eventually everyone does know everyone.
Keep networking for yourself, for your friends and for your work and employers. Shameless plug - I am Co-Founder of the Los Angeles Post Production Group and we hold monthly networking events. Similar meetings are held all over the country and are a great excuse to get out of a dark room and rub elbows with others in your field. Find a group near you, meet new people and stay current with what's going on in your part of the world.
Be a Solution
Step up - lend a hand. Employment is an “all hands on deck” situation. Prove why you are valuable to your supervisors and your coworkers. Don’t ever harbor the illusion that “it's someone else's job.” Be supportive and most importantly be proactive. Sometimes a small insight can change the course of a day, of a week or the course of a job. Take the approach at all times that you need to go “above and beyond.”
Stay on Task
There is no one thing that we do in our daily work. There are many small steps to take to achieve any goal. If someone rattles off a list of things that need to get done - write it down. Carry a small pad everywhere, make lists, prioritize those lists and cross things off as they get done.
Do one thing at a time. Sometimes you can multitask but often things require intense concentration. If you are doing too many things at once its easy to be distracted and not finish anything in a timely manner. Along with that idea is an even more important one - dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Don’t mistake speed for thoroughness. Do the job and do it right and double check the work before you hand it off.
Finish what you start. Don’t begin a number of projects and leave them hanging over time. No one can take the ball and run with it if it is still in the air. Do things well, do things properly, complete them and move on.
Need I say more?
All of these seeming logical and common sense things fall to the wayside by even the most experienced pro at times. I’m sure many of you can add to this short list. If you find that you are not getting called back to jobs, or if the hours have suddenly disappeared take a long hard look at your work and work ethic. No one is a rock star except for a rock star. No one is indispensable except for the client paying the bills. No one is above making coffee or cleaning out the cabinet.
Have a look at your colleagues who always seem to be employed. What do you think they are doing that makes that so? Are they really great at what they do and always seem to be learning more? Are they happy working anytime, including working days and nights, weekends and holidays? Are they meeting new people, working the old ones and taking classes and networking? Do they have updated skills, a can do attitude and have an aptitude for getting things done and moving on?
They say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Good news - these are not new tricks. These are tried and true and have worked for millennia. I hope they work for you too. They certainly have worked well for me over the years.