How To Get a Job in Podcasting Today
For the first time in podcasting, there are many more talented and experienced people seeking jobs in the industry than there are open jobs for them to fill. How can you stick out?
Welcome to Dispatch #54 of The Audio Insurgent.
For those in the US, I hope you have a great Thanksgiving this week. For those elsewhere, I hope this Thursday is a day filled with joy and fun for you, too.
Today is one of those potpourri dispatches with a mix of stuff in it. Is there a theme to it? Maybe.
Today has four short things and one big thing–on how to best position yourself for today’s podcast job market. It came from a number of conversations I have been having with friends and colleagues lately about the number of super talented people seeking new gigs in podcasting. These managers were very generous with their time and I promised I would keep their contributions anonymous (I’ve tried to write it so it isn’t too confusing).
In case you’ve been living under a rock, it is a tough time to find a job in podcasting. Many hundreds of jobs have been lost this year because of lay-offs, closures, and cutbacks, largely resulting from a recession in the broader advertising industry and a slowdown in investment in podcasting. And new job listings come at a trickle. Not a good match. That isn’t unusual considering the media industry has shed more than 20,000 jobs in 2023. So a lot of people in podcasting have found themselves looking for very few jobs.
A number of people I spoke with, including myself, think that because getting a job in podcasting has been so relatively easy for the past few years, many job seekers aren’t doing a very good job of representing themselves, their skill, and their experience when approaching potential employers.
So I decided to reach out to a few people I know across the podcast industry who do hiring of production talent and share what I heard below.
[TODAY’S FIRST SMALL THING: “LISTENING IS DOWN”] Taken from a conversation I had this past week… When you are around someone, especially someone who works in broadcast (but this applies to any medium), and they say something like:
“Listening is down.”
Please insist they amend their statement to say:
“Because we continue to offer the same thing in the same way, listening is down.”
Insist on the edit, because it is almost certainly the truth.
So many want to blame declining audience on digital disruption, the “death spiral” of traditional broadcasting, changes in listener commuting or preference, competition, or other external factors. But every time I’ve heard someone blame the external–then I look at their audience data–that never proves to be the case. In fact, I’ve never seen a broadcaster who has experienced more damage from external factors (like those mentioned above) than from their own laissez faire approach to programming over the past decade. External threats and pressures are real, but they are often disproportionately used as a cop-out.
[TODAY’S SECOND SMALL THING: RECORDING OF MY RECENT WEBINAR PRESENTATION] We had 300 people sign up for the PRPD webinar on Millennial listeners and givers that I mentioned last time. It was a really good take of the presentation (the more I do, the better it gets). If you couldn’t make it but are interested, PRPD recorded it. You can view a recording of that presentation here. A number of people wrote to ask about this, so I thought I’d share.
[TODAY’S THIRD SMALL THING: OTM AND PODCASTING] The week before last, a piece on the often-incredible On The Media did a terrific job looking at an issue that a lot of media writers get wrong: the recent cycles in the podcast industry. Towards the end, there are some amazing reflections on both podcasting and public media by Nick Quah that amazed me with his exactness and clarity. I thought his comments captured so much that I listened to his section of the report a few times. Towards the end of the segment, the reporter questions Nick about podcasting’s troubles, and in particular the recent moves made by OTM’s parent organization, WNYC. The reporter characterized WNYC’s actions by saying of podcasting, “It didn’t work, so why are we chasing a unicorn when we have Old Reliable over here on 93.9 [FM]?”
Nick responded by saying, “Two things. One, Old Reliable isn’t going to be reliable forever. Something feels different about how fast things are changing and the way that we are moving today. And the second thing I’ll say about it is that… Did it fail because of the theory, or did it fail because of the execution? I would argue it's because of the execution. I’ll say it out loud. It does feel to a large extent, it does feel like budget mismanagement, right? We’re focusing on all the executives that you want to pay lucrative salaries to in relation to your newsroom. The model works within the context of an organization that is able to support it.” [Emphasis mine.]
What Nick says about theory versus execution is so poignant. Everyone has assumed that because podcasting is “easy,” that podcasting success was easy, too. And those who had been successful in other media approached podcasting with a sense of success entitlement. Yet easy ad money allowed a lot of bad thinking to go unchallenged and unchecked. Once the rug was pulled away by the advertising recession, then the truth became hard to avoid.
Can you be successful in podcasting? Absolutely. But success comes from clear thinking, a relentless focus on making listeners happy, and expert execution.
[TODAY’S FOURTH SMALL THING: ME ON A PODCAST] Here is a link to hear me as a guest on The Storymakers Institute talking about something I have rarely written about and never spoken about: data and creativity. How some UNDERuse data to inform their creative work… and how many others OVERuse data to inform their creative work.
I first met the host, Joel Carnegie, on a street corner during my beloved Hearsay Festival in Kilfinane, Ireland. We ran into each other again at the equally beloved (yet bygone) Audiocraft Festival in Sydney, Australia. And despite these international run-ins, we’ve never really sat down for a full conversation until this interview.
To quote myself (yawn) on the importance of having clear vision for strategy, creative work, etc, I said something I usually only whisper to my colleagues when they are frustrated by the process of defining and getting specific–and looking to data to help inform our thinking: “My goal is for our only real restriction is to be the limit of our own skill and imagination. It will never be perfect, but let's make it as good as WE could possibly make it.”
And the interview closes with me sharing the origin of how I ended up doing a podcast with Deepak Chopra during the early days of the pandemic. It is a great story.
[TODAY’S THING: PODCASTING’S JOB MARKET] About four years ago, I met a young person who’d been sent my way by a mutual friend. I was looking for a producer to work on a new Magnificent Noise project, and she was looking for a new producing gig. We clicked well, so I made her an offer to be a Producer on our staff. She was very bright, but light on experience: having been an Associate Producer for NPR’s Morning Edition for less than two years, followed by a four-month stint as a temp at Gimlet. I gave her what I thought was a fair and competitive offer, which she turned down immediately. She told me she was aware of how in demand her skills were in podcasting and that she would not feel comfortable accepting a salary of less than $95,000. This is for a producer who has less than four months dedicated podcasting experience and had been out of college for two and a half years.
We couldn’t do that, so we each politely pursued other options. She was hired by someone else–at her desired salary–a few weeks later.
Flash forward to now. Fair to say things are a bit different.
We recently made a hire at Magnificent Noise. We posted the listing, then shut it down five days later because we’d received more than 350 applicants, including a ton of top shelf contenders. The first cut was 30 producers, all of whom had great resumes and could have easily done the job. Several years ago, any of these 30 would have been our top candidate.
This led me to think about the podcasting job market for production talent, how things have changed, and how those looking for jobs can best position themselves for the job market they find themselves in. So I spoke with a handful of podcasting execs who hire production talent and was surprised how uniform a lot of their feedback and insight proved to be.
The excesses of the past are coming back to haunt both companies and job seekers: aka job and title inflation. The first concern every hiring manager I spoke with told me was how hard it is to understand a resume for a podcast producer today. “We made this problem ourselves,” one told me. “When we were competing to hire someone, we’d say ‘Hey, but we’ll make you a SENIOR Producer’ or some other inflated title for someone who was really pretty junior. Then they leave us and expect to get a similar title or higher somewhere else–but they haven’t developed the skill or experience to justify the role.”
Another told me, “When I read resumes, I see all these made-up titles. But then they don’t have skills or the skill set isn’t coming through when reviewing their resume.”
This comes out in two ways: first, resume reviewers are seeing candidates whose skill and experience doesn’t match their previous job title. And further, the skills/experience of people who fall under any job title is such a sprawling range that the titles then become useless.
The solve for this: focus more on what that job title means in the role you are describing. If you were a Development Producer–what did that role do at that previous show or network? Be specific about the specific role you played on shows or projects, rather than assuming that a hiring manager will understand (or trust) what being a “Head of Podcasting” or “Producer” means. Sure there have been some efforts to standardize and categorize job titles, but I’m hearing that there is still a huge disjoint between titles, skill, and experience on the resumes many candidates are submitting–and if you don’t offer clarity, you are asking an overworked hiring manager to do that work for you (and they won’t be able to).
Vanity mentions don’t carry the weight you think they do. “I see so many resumes that just list where they worked and what show they worked on,” one hiring manager told me. “Like I’m supposed to be impressed that you worked for The New York Times. I’m not. I want to know what you did at The New York Times.”
Another hiring manager working for a major network told me, “My biggest pet peeve is when someone says ‘I worked on blah blah show’ and then all they put underneath is a link to listen to an episode of that show. Like I’m supposed to listen and figure out what their contribution to this was, as opposed to the rest of the show staff?”
“When I look at a resume, I notice someone has worked at the ‘right’ places or the ‘right’ shows, but you didn’t develop the skills,” another told me. “When you talk to them, it becomes clear they were a very small player on that team. It’s become that when someone says they worked for a prestigious company or on a prestigious show… I find myself not trusting what I’m reading.”
The solve for this: (and this is something I heard from each hiring manager I spoke with) is to be incredibly detailed in describing your work. What did YOU do? What were you responsible for? What ideas did you bring to the table? What did you accomplish? What was the impact of what you brought to the job? Tell a story about your work.
“No one produces alone,” one manager told me. “So I need to understand that you’ve been part of a functioning team and for you to tell me what part you played. You don’t need to be the one in charge, just please be clear on how you worked on your team.”
Another described it slightly differently: “I want to know the challenges they faced in producing the work. I need to hear not just skill and resume, but that you have had your skill and talent stress tested. In other words: Can you get things done in a hard situation?”
Right now, podcast producers are being hired for their ability to execute, not for their creativity. “When we’re looking for a creative visionary, we go out and recruit that person directly. We don’t post a position,” one manager shared. “But if I’m posting a position, I’m looking for someone who knows how to get things done.”
I heard this a lot from those I spoke with: so many podcast production talent spend a lot of time in resumes and interviews talking about their creative skills. Creativity is important–it is what takes work from good to great. But in today’s podcast job marketplace, the applicants that rise to the top of searches are those that convey their ability to take an assignment and make it as good or better than imagined, on time, and on budget.
It’s okay not to know everything. It’s pretty common for producer resumes to list the tools they know how to use, such as Pro Tools, Descript, Audition, Hindenburg, and so on. I’ve never found these sections to be terribly useful or enlightening, but the hiring managers I spoke to all thought this was important. But… don’t list something unless you really know that tool.
A number of the managers shared that too many hires list a program or tool they use, but when they are interviewed, it is clear they haven’t had much experience with the tool or only have a novice’s grasp.
“Just be honest about what you know and have used,” one manager says. “If you are terrific at everything else, I am happy to teach you the programs we use. But if you say you know it, then it becomes clear you really don't know it very well when we are depending on you to use it day to day… that is the wrong time for us to learn that.”
And don’t just rattle off a list of software you use–share how you use it. “Take a program like Descript, which has so many different uses–you can edit interviews, do basic lay-ups, edit social videos, and on and on,” said another manager. “Don’t just give me a bullet point that says ‘Descript’--tell me how you use these tools and what you are able to accomplish with them. Tell me about how you use tools to develop a workflow–that tells as much about you as it does about the software you’ve used.”
The return of the editing test. One hiring manager told me: “A few years ago, I asked someone to do an edit test as part of a hiring process and they said they wouldn’t do that because it was tantamount to doing unpaid work… and I hired them anyhow! But today, because there are so many people coming to us with such a range of experience, we’ve started to insist on a controlled way to understand skill.”
I, too, am not a fan of asking someone to do free work, but I do think there are ways to do skills-based assessments like an edit test. When I’ve used them, I pay a lot of attention to how much time I’m asking for, I make sure everyone does the same test, and it is work that won’t be used in the final project (I often ask people to edit something older to avoid this concern–and unused interview, for example).
But as job seekers, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned above, this is increasingly becoming part of the process.
Attention to detail. I found it very ironic when reviewing resumes for the Mag Noise hire that applicants would talk about their ability to pay attention to detail, yet their resume would contain typos, incorrect grammar, and–this happened at least four times–the cover letter was addressed to someone else. Totally cool to reuse something, but you should update the name/company you are addressing it to. Journalism and production require a lot of fussiness over details–so make sure you proofread your resume or, better yet, ask someone else to proofread it for you.
The cover letter provides an opportunity to connect you and the job. I must admit, the cover letter, generally, has always felt almost unnecessary to me. But when I spoke to these hiring managers, they all look to cover letters to help sort through some of the issues we’ve covered so far. But, not to sound like a broken record here, they use it as an opportunity to get into specifics of understanding skill and experience.
One manager told me, “I read all the time: ‘I would do really great at this job.’ Well, so would a lot of people! What separates you from the crowd? Show me how you would be great.”
Another told me that they recently read a cover letter saying that the applicant had “strong writing skills.” “Great,” they told me. “So do a lot of people. ‘Strong’ doesn’t tell me much. What do you write? What do you write better than most? What do you excel at writing? Telling me helps.”
They counsel that if you review your cover letter and find any general statement, edit it to provide examples.
Trust the process. This was also something I heard from all the managers. They get emails, phone calls, LinkedIn requests, and DMs from applicants hoping to arrange an informational interview or chat about a position. “I’m hiring for five roles and juggling hundreds of resumes,” one told me. “I know you are looking for a leg up in a crowded pool of candidates, but I literally can’t even reply to the request, let alone set up time.”
The consensus: trust the process and don’t try to circumvent it. It can actually backfire. “Despite all its growth, podcasting is still a small industry,” one told me. “Don’t pester people, because they will remember it.”
And don’t ask for feedback. I know a lot of job sites and coaches suggest asking a hiring manager for feedback after a candidate learns they won’t be moving forward in a search. Some companies won’t allow hiring managers to even reply to these requests, let alone give the feedback. I went back and looked at the requests I received from the Mag Noise hire for additional feedback: 42 applicants asked for this. That would take a week to do if I agreed.
Put more bluntly by one hiring exec, “It isn’t my job to make you a better candidate.”
All the managers were cautiously optimistic that 2024 will see more hiring, but all were concerned about the backlog of job seekers pursuing these jobs.
“Hiring for podcasting has never, ever, been this hard, and it is hard on everyone in the process,” one manager told me. “I really feel for those out there looking. That’s why I was so glad when you reached out. I really do want to help people. It may seem like I’ve been whining this whole time, but I think people would do better with just some deeper explanation of what makes them a unique talent.”
Another closed with, “I’ve seen hiring like this happen in video before–just a lot of people suddenly looking for work. If I were looking for a job right now and having trouble, I’d advise that some might take a step back and assess how their skills might be useful in another field. You can come back to podcasting later as a stronger candidate with all your original skills, plus some new ones you’ve picked up from the new job.”
I’m not sure I’d advise anyone to throw in the towel, even temporarily, quite yet. It’s obvious that there are way more people applying for jobs in podcasting than jobs to fill. But as we often discuss, all media is cyclical. Things come in and out of favor, good times invariably lead to not-so-good times, then swing back to good again.
And that young producer I mentioned at the top of this piece? I checked in with her. She was laid off in April, didn’t work for most of the summer and struggled to find something–and she did! She just recently started work on a project. It isn’t a permanent job, but it will run through the first half of 2024. She’s hopeful there will be more opportunities then, though she’s thinking she might like just working project to project for a few years.
Now run out there and edit that resume–and best of luck.
[COULD WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE, PLEASE? SAFETY FOR WHOM EXACTLY?] So this isn’t really something else, but it is something to think over from another industry… but it does have clear and direct implications for any part of the audio industry that makes revenue from advertising.
I recently read a thoroughly interesting article from 404 Media about “brand safety” titled “Advertisers Don’t Want Sites Like Jezebel to Exist.” Brand safety, for those unfamiliar with the term, is broadly applied to ad tech that helps brands avoid placing their digital advertisements next to content that they don’t want to support. Keeping Charmin ads away from a white supremacist’s channel on YouTube? Sure, that makes sense. But, as the article points out, brands are often uncomfortable supporting any news content. Quoting the interim editor of Jezebel at the time of its decline, the article says, “So yeah, it was very much the problem here that no one will advertise on Jezebel because we cover sex and abortion.”
During the “boom” part of podcasting’s rises and dips over the past few years, I would tell anyone who would listen–clients, partners, colleagues, friends, etc: of all the dangers of depending on one source of revenue, especially when that one source was advertising. It’s dangerous because advertising is so cyclical, and anyone who is advertising dependent eventually caters their work to what advertisers want to advertise on, which is a downward cycle. They would politely listen, pat me on my head and say something like “Your public radio roots are showing” and skip off to the bank to deposit those big agency checks.
And now here we are, an industry in recalibration and hundreds of lost jobs, all because podcasting became too addicted to easy advertising revenue and stopped thinking about diversifying revenue and making smart choices about content and the business that supports it.
So we come back to this: did things fail because of the theory, or did they fail because of the execution? The model works. But it works within the context of an organization that’s built to support it.
I’m generally not one to say I told you so, but…
[OKAY, ONE MORE THING: THE FUTURE BELONGS TO PEOPLE WHO SEE WHAT OTHERS MISS] Recently, Martina Castro of Adonde Media asked a few people to record messages for her staff ahead of their annual retreat. I recorded one and thought I’d share it with you, too. You can watch the video here. Below is what I said:
“Hi, my name is Eric Nuzum. I am co founder of a company in the New York area called Magnificent Noise. This is my dog, Mabel, who's a bit happier to be with us than she might appear because it's Friday morning and Friday is the day that Mabel and I hang out in this office all day and she mostly naps and I do a lot of big thinking. So, when Martina asked me to think about this question of ‘how do we hold on to the magic in what we do?’ It's a great time for me to consider this, being a Friday morning.
And, you know, I think that the interesting thing about magic is most of the things that we see as being magic really aren't that magical. They are the result of a lot of consideration and thought and creativity and planning and it creates something that appears magical and may actually convince someone that magic is happening.
And that's a great thing, an aspiration to have in work. And, a magician once told me that, that magical moment where someone sees or hears something that they didn't think was possible. In that moment, their mind is open to that in this world, anything is possible. And I think we do aspire to that in our work.
And, you know, I get asked about the future a lot in my work. I really hate talking about the future because I have no idea what's going to happen in the future, but I do know two things about the future. The first is that the future is a result of choices and actions that you make and take today.
So when you're doing planning, don't think about what you're going to do in the future. The future that you want is going to happen as a result of the choices and actions that you make today. And the second thing I know about the future is that the future belongs to those who see things that other people don't see.
It can be right in front of their face and they just don't notice it. It can be a character, a story, an audience that others don't see. A guest, a topic, a perspective, point of view. It can even be like a real clever turn of phrase that you see, obviously, in front of you. Others miss, and when you share it with them, it becomes a magical moment.
So the future belongs to people who understand that their job... is to find things that other people are missing. So how do you hold on to magic? Practice, think. Practice, think. I actually read that once in a quote from a magician. Practice, think. Practice, think. I would add feel to that as well. So practice, think, feel.
Practice, think, feel. And keep that in mind as you're going through. And uh, good luck. And I can't wait to hear what you come up with. Bye.”
Okay, that’s it for today.
If this was forwarded to you or you read this online, would you mind subscribing?
Make great things. I’ll be listening.