Get to know people.. They might surprise you

I was reading an article recently where Jon Hamm of Mad Men fame was being interviewed. He talked about his high school, and one of the remarkable things that they did. Every lunch time, every day as a student you were assigned seats. Each day a different seat, each day sat next to a different person. So for that hour, you made an effort to speak to someone different. The jocks, the prom queens, the geeks and those perceived as different were all mixed together away from cliques. You had the opportunity to chat to people beyond your clique, to strike up a friendship with people you may not consider being friends with. How marvellous I say!
I am blessed with wonderful friends and I thrive on meeting interesting people. I don’t care where you are from, what you look like, or what you do for a living, but do we connect can we chat, can we laugh. Isn’t that the essence of human interaction!

I’ve had wonderful conversations with strangers from the taxi drivers who diverge from football talk and open up to me about their marriages and fears for their kids. To the person on the train reminiscing to a time where things seemed simpler and kinder. It’s always good to listen, to put your ego and thoughts aside and truly absorb what someone is saying. In this rich tapestry of life it truly pays to listen.

In 2010 I was in Phoenix, Arizona (not Texas as I put on Facebook at the time) to see one of my besties Craig perform the lead in the musical Nine. We arrived at the theatre early and Craig went off backstage and I had an hour to kill, so grabbed a glass of wine and read a book. 2 mins later I found myself chatting to a woman in her 80s and her friend a man in his late 70s. They were Diana and Bill. Diana had lost her husband two weeks earlier and this was her first social outing since then. As we sipped Pinot Grigio I found out so much about her marriage and life and was struck by her beautiful spirit, strength and sense of purpose. It inspired me. Bill had been a flight attendent and we chatted about classic broadway shows, he’d seen Judy, Merman the lot. He’d lead a wonderful life tinged with sadness at losing a true love in the 1960s to a closeted marriage and never fully embracing his sexuality until he felt “it was too late”. These two people in that short space of time profoundly touched me. So much so after the show I wanted to find them, introduce them to Craig and get their addresses to write to them. Alas at the end of the show I couldn’t find them, but I was touched by their candour and their kindness and their true sense of knowing exactly who they are.

In a world where we can communicate in so many different ways. Nothing is more effective than just sitting down and listening to someone. Everyone has a story to tell, be a listener! You’ll be surprised you’ll really learn something.


Too nice to work in TV?

Have you ever been sat in a work meeting or in the process of employing someone when the phrase, ” but he/she is too nice” has been thrown out. When this is mentioned it usually means there will be a problem. Being “too nice” is seen particularly in television as a weakness. In order to succeed you need to be tough, ruthless and determined, but can’t you succeed and be a thoroughly nice decent human being too? Are they mutually exclusive? When people are “too nice” it’s often felt that they would be walked over, taken advantage of, not taken seriously. Well actually teams in my experience tend to respond better to honesty, kindness, openness and knowing what they can and can’t do. Being “too nice” doesn’t mean letting people run riot but actually pointing it out to them when they do and explaining how they will be perceived and how that will affect their career.

What is “nice” anyway that’s the question. To a lot of people in the workplace it’s about being pleasant, respectable and fun. It can often be misconstrued for bland. I’ve often heard people say “nice” is the worst thing you can say about someone. We never say “oh that person is kind” why not? In a self obsessed world surely kindness is the most important thing.

Watch people in your office, watch people at all levels and see how they treat people. Particularly people that can not do anything to further their career. I’ve seen runners behave with such venom and rudeness to other runners and security and reception staff. I’ve seen heads of department behave in exactly the same way. It’s something I coined to a friend the “downton abbey” syndrome. You know where there is an upstairs/downstairs divide in the office that makes people treat people like servants. Although Lady Mary who could barely raise a smile treated her servants better than the way I’ve seen some people be treated.

I’ve had friends who’ve been told “why are you talking to the cleaner” as apparatenly you are only supposed to bark at someone and tell them what needs cleaning rather than actually engage and have a conversation.

Have you also been sat in an office and someone gets bad news, starts crying or is obviously not in a good place. Do you look and see how many people notice this, who offers help. Maybe it’s that stiff upper lip British thing of repressing emotion which is exasperated in a work environment. I remember a colleague received some bad news about a family member, my instinct was just to go up to him and give him a hug. That felt the only right thing to do, you know sometimes words are not enough. I was the only person to do that though. I’m not saying I’m holier than thou, but I do think if you see someone upset offer kindness and an ear to listen. Don’t let work be a place where as someone once said to me, “everyone cries at work, they just go to the toilet to go and cry privately”. Surely there is something wrong with the industry if that becomes the accepted norm?

So looking out for people and being kind is not going to damage your career. You know what people remember when in their darkest times someone reaches out to them. They also remember when someone doesn’t or when someone exasperates a situation further by being either cruel or cold or both. I know work can get busy, you are ambitious and driven, but that’s no excuse for rudeness or throwing someone under the bus. Maintain your dignity, remember karma’s a bitch.


What to do when a company invites you in for a “chat”?

You get the call, “hi there we got your cv, we’d love you to pop in for a chat, how about tomorrow at 5pm?” You hastily agree, put the phone down and then think, “what exactly have I agreed to?”, “what is popping in for a chat?” Well let me give you a few hints and tips mixed with some do’s and don’ts that should make it clearer.

The chat can be for a specific job or it can be to suss out your potential for future roles. Usually the person on the phone would clarify this but if they don’t ask them, “is this in regards to the researcher job I applied for?” If it’s not for any available job still take it very seriously. Things can change in a heartbeat and how you come across can mean the difference between, let’s bring them in for that role, to hell no they don’t want to work here.

These chats can take place in offices or sometimes in busy coffee shops. If that’s the case then you have the panic of “do I pay” “do they pay” “do we go Dutch”! Relax it’s not a date, but if there is that pay confusion (ideally the interviewer should pay) and no one has mentioned anything then offer to pay. People remember that stuff. Personally in a coffee shop as well when meeting an employer i would avoid ordering food, nothing worse than an almond croissant slowly disintegrating over your smartest outfit. As you casually brush off crumbs trying not to talk and chew it can look sloppy so after the chat grab a treat and pig out then.

What is the chat? Well basically it’s masquerading as an informal interview, a just getting to know you twenty minutes. Don’t be fooled it’s an interview, those soft open ended questions over a latte are really to see what you are made off not to just have a chat about your weekend. If asked about your weekend, keep it friendly and charming avoid saying you got so drunk and definitely avoid details of Saturday night love conquests. No matter how much the interviewer is making you believe they are your friend they are not, so avoid revealing too much personal stuff.

Know the company, talk about their recent work, what you’ve watched, if they’ve won any awards. I know this can sound like sucking up but actually what it translates as is you’ve done your research and you are passionate about working there. Effortlessly weave in your skills to the conversation and how your recent work fits in well with the company, their plans and this role. Before you go to a chat think about five things that you want to get across, maybe that’s achievements, skills or passion for the output and make sure you mention them. Do it in a natural way, rather than what some people do which is bombard you with information before you’ve barely managed to say hello.

Take your cv along with you, or recent examples of your work to show them. Make sure it’s all relevant as this can make you look super keen which is definitely a good thing. Ask about next stages if it’s about a particular job, don’t be afraid to do this. Often and I’ve done it, I’ve left a chat and thought “is that it?” Do I have three more interviews in the process, or none? Get that clarity. Be honest with the employer as well, if you’ve got lots of interviews then say it. Not in a bragging way “check me out everyone wants to hire me” more in a “I’m interviewing at the moment and I’m really keen for the opportunity here, when will I hear back about the job?” That’s really fair enough, direct and honest no one should have a problem with that.

Know where you are meeting for the chat, know how to get there and get there a bit early. You should be the first to arrive. Take it seriously it can just be a ten minute chat but think about the impression you want to leave them with. Be friendly and charming but not over familiar. Eye contact and smiling are important but don’t be fake and don’t stare and grin as if you are runner up in a beauty pageant. Know who you are meeting and what their role is and what they do. If they’ve worked on things you’ve seen then mention it. Again fine line though don’t stalk them on social media and mention casually information about their fiancĂ©e or their Saturday night out. Keep it professional.


How do you define yourself?

What is important to you? What are the things that you want people to say about you? We can choose how we define ourselves and we can choose to see things in our own terms. So often we define ourselves by things, cars, houses, bags, the latest play station etc or we define ourselves by things we’ve done “when I back packed through Peru” or “I work in the city”. Now they may be things we do or things we own, but are they really who we are??

In the world of social media we can also easily define ourselves into roles that we deem as important, business executive,gym bunny, father, mother, hipster, club kid, organic chef a la Gwyneth and so many more. Are these really who we are? Are these things we really love or are they things that make us fit into a nice box to be defined by others. Nothing wrong with any of the above, but how often do we do things for us, rather than because it’s the norm or expected or you want to fit in?

The psychologist Beck wrote that it is not what happens in life that defines us but how we deal with it. You find people with charmed lives who constantly play the victim, those first world problems of kitchen refits, no focaccia at the deli and the cleaner who just won’t clean the way you want them too. You can also have people who have suffered deep tragedies and hard ships and choose to see the positivity in every day.

For me I like to define myself by my actions, we are all constantly learning and I’d like to be defined by how I treat people. If at times it’s not great I’d like people to keep me in check.

We can so easily be overwhelmed by the day to day so take some time to appreciate those people who are always there. The ones that don’t care if you have put on a pound or ten, who don’t care if you haven’t been skiing, or if you are having a tough time.

It’s very easy particularly in the media world to be swept up by the supposed glamour of it all. To think all your colleagues are your best friends (they might be, they might not be). It’s easy to think that their is no world outside television, well there is. Remember those that have supported you and those that continue to, remain true to your values. Define yourself however the heck you want to but make sure it’s your definition not anyone else’s.

I discovered the amazingly inspirational Lizzie Velasquez on Twitter and she sums up wonderfully in this TED talk how to define oneself. Watch and enjoy.

Careers breakfast with The TV Collective at Kudos – 12th August

Hey there,

I’m going to be speaking at a careers breakfast, Tuesday 12th August, bright and early at 8.30am. I’ll be chatting about the best way to market yourself when looking for TV jobs, as well as how to deal with rejection, keeping inspired and focused and not letting self doubt take over you.

Come join me, be great to see you.

Click on the link below;


How do I break into a job in TV?

So you are passionate about television, you may be even studying a course, you might be a modern day Dawson Leary from Dawson’s Creek (hopefully without all that angst), you might watch TV and think I can bloody well do that! Any of the above is great, but often the question is how do I get in there, how do I get past the metaphorical dragon guarding my entrance into the world of TV? For some it’s easy, “my uncle is an exec producer” so I got work experience, not taking away their talent but they don’t have the struggle. If you are not from London, or NYC, or LA, or Paris or any major city then there can be this daunting question of “do I really want to move my life somewhere on the promise of nothing much really?” That’s tough, I’ve done it and don’t regret it, but you have to love big city life and be hungry for it, it doesn’t suit everyone and there is no shame in that.

At the heart of any work decision, there has to be ultimately a passion, a real passion to want to do it. People go into careers for development, money, stability, interest which is all good, if you are going into a career in TV you need to have that passion and that hunger. The stability, money and development will not always come so easily so that is why passion is key. I’ve outlined below some hints and tips which will hopefully help you on your path to success

Advertised jobs

The mystery of TV is often individual jobs aren’t advertised, particularly at entry level. If they are advertised they are generally not through recruitment agencies (unless PA/Exec PA) level. Sites like Monster, Reed etc probably don’t advertise a lot of TV jobs either. Firstly look at the company websites and see what’s advertised there. Register for job alerts, and keep a close eye on what comes up. Due to the short turn around when crewing up for shows, a lot of jobs won’t get advertised. Why? Well simply it’s not worth the time, if you get green lit on a commission on Friday more often than not you will need people to start early next week so it doesn’t make sense to formally advertise. Don’t be disheartened by this though as there are other ways to find this information out.

Look locally as well if you are not living in the hub of TV production at more local radio and TV opportunities. Get to know the output and if you can volunteer once a week to answer the phones, do some running. It all adds up to great experience.

Trainee and Apprenticeship schemes

These will always be advertised and whilst hugely competitive they are always worth applying for. The process itself will hone your skills and make you think do I really want a career in this industry?

There are loads of great apprenticeship and trainee schemes out there. in the UK to be an apprentice you can’t have a degree. When doing your application, it’s important to be you, don’t try and be something you are not, don’t try and predict what the interviewers are looking for. Everyone has something great and different to offer so focus on what you’ve done and what you want to do. Make sure your passion and enthusiasm leaps from the page and that you have an abundance of ideas. Keep them relevant, topical, different , but try not to just simply relegate what is out there. Try and be innovative. Be bold, be yourself and don’t give a half arsed attempt at filling a form out, simply give it your all.

Utilising social media

Twitter and social media are vital in your job search. Follow everyone you can that can help you on your career. Don’t stalk or pester people but do engage politely with them. Promote the stuff you are doing as well, short films, new technology you’ve learnt, blogs, websites etc, let people know that you are keen and interested in TV and actively doing something about it. Essential people to follow and engage with and they post jobs are @theunitlist, @thetvcollective, @mediaparents, @bbctrainees, @4talent, @itvjobs, @tellytalklondon to name a few. There are loads more as well, so follow, engage, look out for jobs and read up on advice.

Use twitter as a platform to promote yourself (in a good way no one needs to see that drunken night in Ibiza- no matter how great if was). Engage with,like minded people and if you are making your own stuff, shout out on twitter for help. I’ve seen this really work, networking can be just as effective with your peers than those in a position to offer you a job.

Follow groups on Facebook as well, chat to people on their “want to work in TV” and “TV/Film events and information” are good. There are lots of runners ones to, so don’t be shy find out what’s going on. Find out what’s going on closer to home as well, whether that be local radio and TV. It might not be glitzy prime time television but it’s an amazing training ground and will look good on your CV.

Build a portfolio and name for yourself that sells you as a future TV professional, talk, engage, leave your whinging for the pub, but you can totally utilise this for your benefit.

Contacting people directly

You know this can be truly effective but it has to be done in the right way, and it has to be done to the right person. You don’t want to go all stalker ex on someone you have never met, save that for Tinder not your job hunting. Having said that, I have heard of people who’ve watched a programme, loved it and then contacted the Exec Producer or editor, or production manager with the reasons why they loved it, and a bit of information about themselves, this has been accompanied by a showreel and cv and requesting advice. Now some may not have time to read these emails, some may reject them, some may forward on to the talent manager to deal with! but some will respond directly back. The more keen, enthusiastic you are without being sychophantic and needy the better. It’s about acknowledging their work, asking their opinion on your work and also expressing your interest in working with them in the future. Like I said sometimes this can work but needs to be phrased carefully. You also need to read the situation if you are contacting people many times. It’s easy to annoy people so just contact them on an ad got basis and only with a new bit if information, whether that be about their new programme, your new work experience, new skills you’ve learnt


Events are great ways to get to meet people that can help you on your career, and can often lead to jobs. Networking events as scary as they may sound are essential. Not only do you get access to people who can potentially give you work, you can also expand your peer network and help each other out. Telly Talk and TV mingling are great examples of events aimed at entry level roles and breaking down the mystique of getting into telly. Check out my article on Networking (shameless plug there) on how to be the best you can be in those situation and not be forever remembered as that drunk girl or that rambling idiot.

Make your own stuff

If you can, make your own stuff, film, edit, produce short films, get involved with charities to do more of the same. Promote them, get your work out there. Now I am mindful this isn’t available or affordable to everyone, but network, get involved with charities and groups that can help you with these skills. The Media trust in London is a great organisation to get involved with. I’ve known people who’ve written their own plays, got them staged, made their own films and own competitions with them, it all looks awesome on your CV. You don’t have to wait around for someone to offer you the opportunity to do something you can grab the opportunity yourself. If not documentaries or films, then maybe blogging, getting involved in a local project. Find a story that’s going on in your community and write about it. Today there are so many opportunities to promote your work, if you say you are passionate about television or journalism yet you’ve never shown an interest in TV or written anything then why would someone give you the opportunity? Now that sounds harsh but if you want to break in, you need to demonstrate that passion, hunger and drive!

Getting in the side door

There are thousands of none production jobs in television particularly in larger broadcasters. So maybe your route in is through marketing, hr, IT or working on reception, whatever works for you. Think outside the box, look at your skills, look at what you can do. If you are an amazing whizz on excel and can type like a speed demon then use those skills as a way in. Be mindful though when interviewing for non production roles, no interviewer likes to hear that the person they are interviewing really doesn’t want the job and is using it as a stepping stone. That’s too honest and it will piss them off. Also try and stay for a significant period of time to show some loyalty, whilst doing that build up your relationships with production and the move will feel much more organic and supported by all sides.

Know your specialism

Think about what makes you different and unique, think about the skills you have that might be needed on a TV show. Think beyond shooting, editing, research (all very important though). Do you speak languages, specialise in history, arts, religion, work with a community group, teach young kids, have a physics degree. Think of thing that might not be obvious but could be a great addition to a team. I’ve none people come on board a production because they’ve spoken Arabic, or know about horses, or worked with young offenders, or whatever it may be. These unique things can really help a team, so start thinking about your USPs (unique selling points) and start thinking how that can benefit a production.

Breaking into television isn’t easy but the key attributes, are passion, enthusiasm, and a drive and resilience. Perserverence is the key.

Best of luck, keep smiling, keep dancing, appreciate what’s important, be kind but if this is your goal stick at it and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


Dealing with other people’s stereotypes of who they think you are!

Do you find that people want you, yes you to fit into a nice comfortable box, something that they can put a label on? If you step away from those parameters that have been given to you, isn’t it interesting to see how uncomfortable that can make people feel. When we enter the office or place of work we are immediately judged by those around us. Now this can be positive and negative and is generally based on individuals perceptions, experiences, prejudices, ignorance and life experience. To some extent we all do it, but some of us are aware of this and not all of us let it shape our opinions. I was raised to treat people as you find them, to be nice and open with people irrespective of background, race, disability, age, sexuality. Everyone has something great to offer – I truly believe that. So coming from that open mindset how does it feel when you feel like you are being judged, and assumptions are being made about you simply because of who you are?

There have been many times working in television that I have felt the need to place myself in the box that others perceive me to be in. As a gay man I’ve felt the need to be “on” at all times in the office. To be witty and outgoing whilst having immaculate hair and great dress sense, to provide support to everyone’s issues and woes. To be a shoulder to cry on with a superior knowledge of women’s fashions whilst at the same time remaining an enigma in terms of my own personal life. I was also meant to be sexually mute in the eyes of some colleagues and bosses. Like a harp playing eunuch in the court of queen Elizabeth the first I was there for entertainment. Now I may be exaggerating and it wasn’t always like that. It’s interesting though as gay, bi, lesbian or trans people we can shut a bit of ourselves down at work and not fully take part in the conversations that our straight colleagues are having. Maybe that relates to past experiences either in work or in school or day to day life. Sometimes it’s simply that people never ask. It’s very telling and I remember it on a number of occasions how people and bosses will ask straight colleagues if they are dating but never ask gay colleagues. Maybe that’s out of fear of outing people or maybe it’s their own uncomfortableness but I’ve seen it happen on a regular basis.

I had an old boss who would constantly refer to me as “different”, “Simon you are so different”. Different from whom I’d think but never ask. He also referred to me as being colourful, proud and out there and pretty much every 1950s style euphemism for gay. I’m surprised “light on my feet” wasn’t used, or maybe it was behind my back. What I came to realise though was that it was my very own security in my own skin and my lack of shame in who I was that seemed to annoy him. Surely as a gay man I should just blend into the background or be a source of amusement, heaven forbid I had real emotions and relationships just like everyone else. I think people like to categorise to make themselves feel more powerful. They are scared of seeing the similarities that everyone has, as with that they perceive their power is lost.

The “that’s so gay” comment about everything or about individuals is offensive. When you find it offensive you are seen as being a bit prudish, the type of person who can’t take a joke. When you do speak up it’s often followed with “but I like you” or “your not like other gays” or my favourite “I don’t see you as gay/black/Asian etc etc.. What people don’t realise (or maybe they do) when they make fun of someone who is of the same sexuality, race, age group, disability. They are blatantly saying that there is something wrong with being that. It’s establishing some hierarchy simply from the words that have been said. I had a discussion with a friend once that got quite heated as they were talking about how “gay” a particular reality TV star was, how they couldn’t watch him as he was so gay and how her husband was offended by him”. This was all said in a very matter of fact way as if I would agree or apologise for one of my kind to behave in such an appalling fashion. What they failed to realise was that he was an individual like him or don’t like him, but don’t use his sexuality and the term “so gay” to really mean inferior in your eyes.

Stereotyping whilst working in television is rife. My northern accent has often been find amusing to the home county ladies who lunch and Oxbridge toffs. The presumption is that I won’t be as intelligent or well educated so it always used to surprise them when I knew more than they thought and shock them when I knew more than them. The urge you have to fight is trying to change yourself to fit in. You need to remain to be authentic. Don’t be ashamed of the things you like, for me I like Hollyoaks, Pop music and chips and gravy but I also love theatre, classic literature and museums. People aren’t one dimensional so don’t automatically presume that they are. I have a friend who is very successful in Tv but when she started out she was told to take elocution lessons to rid her of her scouse accent. Her hoop earrings and causal attire she said was often met with looks that read as “is she going to rob me”. She’s hugely successful and has remained authentic.

I’ve heard tales and friends of talked about the racial stereotypes that have been thrown at them whilst working in TV. How they’ve felt a losing battle at times because they know people expect them to react according to a certain stereotype, ie angry black woman. So the urge then is to suppress opinions and feelings so people don’t just nod and think oh yes that’s because of…

It’s important in the work place to be aware of others prejudices and ignorances. Some will be more blatant than others some will be very subtle. Some in the other persons eyes might be well intentioned. I was showing people pictures from my friends Craig and Ryan’s weddings, and a colleague said, “oh Simon so many handsome men, you must have had a different one every night” This was followed by a concerned expression and a “I do worry about you I hope you are careful”. Now the people in the photos were my good friends, just friends but the idea that I’m a gay man who can scrub up quite decently well I must be promiscuous. Which I’m not. That’s the stereotype though isn’t and of course I should fit that mould.

If someone says something that makes you feel uncomfortable say it and say it as soon as. Take that person aside and say “I’m sure that was unintentional but that upset me”. Acknowledge it. I used to say at these times rather sarcastically probably whilst rolling my eyes “thank you for your casual homophobia, I really appreciate it”. Probably not the best approach but it did leave people speechless.

Make notes of when this language is used even if it’s not about you directly write it down. If it continues speak to a person you trust at work about it. Then if it continues speak to HR. You know what makes you uncomfortable don’t just dismiss it as banter or ignorance if it is making you upset.

Be self conscious as well, think about your language and the things you say. Something jokey and innocent in your head could be really offensive to some one. Talking about a person struggling with their weight on TV in a nasty manner in front of Mary who’s so self conscious about her size is going to have an impact on Mary. So think words are powerful use them wisely.

Remember to not let yourself feel inferior or to take those words to heart. You are perfect. Know it, own it, be it. And do it with dignity and a smile. Nothing pisses off angry bitter ignorant people than secure, content happy individuals. So go ahead kill them with kindness.