Young alumni regale RTVF students with tales from beyond graduation

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April 26, 2012

"I wanted to move to L.A., but I couldn't afford a car," Katie Isaacson (C09) told a crowd of RTVF undergrads earlier this month, perfectly capturing the sort of dilemma that confronts so many brand-new graduates. Isaacson, who is now an executive assistant at the Chicago-based production company Digital Kitchen, was one of four featured speakers at The Young Alumni Panel: Life After RTVF, a forum presented by the School of Communication and the RTVF Master Class Series to help prepare students for life and career building, post-college.

Some panelists; Mike Placito, Martin Rodahl and Steph Sorensen with moderator Paul Kruse

The other panelists were Mike Placito (C06), an administrator for Columbia University's departments of theatre and urban studies, Martin Rodahl (C08), the founder and director of 71°North, a Chicago-based production company, and Steph Sorensen (C08), a production assistant at Harpo Studios.

Moderator Paul Kruse (C08), the School of Communication's cinematography specialist, explained to students that the focus of the evening was the journey. For a panel where recession-era job-hunting was the topic-du-jour, there was a surprising amount of laughter—and very generous servings of advice. Here are a few:

Know What You're Doing. "If you come to me looking for a job in commercial production," Rodahl said, "and you show me an eight-minute student film, I may appreciate the artistry, but it still leaves me wondering: Does this person know how to write a treatment?" Rodahl, who launched his company before he had even left Northwestern, encouraged students to take classes that offer applicable skills in their chosen field, whether it's how to pitch, how to edit, or how to work lighting and grip equipment. "Try to create content while you're here that you can leverage later," he said.

Young alumni regale RTVF studentsLaser In. If there's a place you're dying to work, Sorensen said, throw all your energy into getting its staff to know who you are.  This was the approach she took with The Oprah Winfrey Show. "In my cover letter, I told them how much I wanted to work there and that I was willing to do anything," she said. When she was summoned, months later, for an informational interview at an inconvenient time? "I dropped everything and raced downtown." While Sorensen eventually landed a job, she stressed the importance of realistic expectations—and patience. "I applied for that job in December and I didn't get an offer until May. It definitely didn't happen overnight."

Take the Lloyd Job. Placito, who worked in Los Angeles for two years, joked about the fictional assistant Lloyd from the show Entourage, who is constantly berated by his boss—as well as the very real Hollywood role of third assistant. "That's the assistant to the assistant to the assistant of someone in charge," he said. "Entry level can be tough. But sometimes those jobs can help bring you closer to the center of things." He also stressed the importance of a positive attitude: "A lot of people who interview you are thinking, Is this someone I can imagine being at work with at three in the morning when the s**t is hitting the fan? Keep that in mind."

Do Internships. As Many As Possible. All four panelists stressed the importance of internships, despite that not all of them had done one. "They're very, very valuable," Isaacson said. "You can learn how an office works and get on-the-job training in programs like After Effects and Photoshop. It's so important to know the digital stuff. Especially now." [For more information on the SoC's internship program, go to http://www.communication.northwestern.edu/epics/]

"The purple mafia is real." Job leads, apartments, a couch to crash on in a new city? So many of these things, the panelists said, flow through your former classmates and fellow alums. "Join the alumni association," Placito said. If you're moving to L.A. or New York, join the Northwestern University Entertainment Alliance for your coast. For more information, go to alumni.northwestern.edu External link icon or www.nuea.org External link icon.

Young alumni regale RTVF students talk together on a panelEngage in social media. Sorensen described a friend who was recently hired by the Cleveland Indians to help run the organization's social media department. How did he catch their attention? By being the first to respond to a human resources staffer's tweet. "You can also use social media for inspiration," Isaacson said. "A lot of the profiles on LinkedIn are public. If there's someone in your field who you really admire go look up their profile and see how they did it."

Use The Resources You Have Now. "Take advantage of all that Northwestern has to offer," Sorensen said. "Yeah, you're not getting paid. You're not at Sony. But the pool of resources here is incredible." Rodahl added, "I wouldn't have had a reel when I entered the workforce if it wasn't for the free labor I had at Northwestern."

Don't Compare and You Won't Despair. All four panelists mentioned the stress they felt when, halfway through their senior year—with no solid plans of their own—fellow classmates all around them were landing jobs. "As much as it's good to know what everybody else is doing," Isaacson said, "you don't want to focus too much on that." She relayed some advice a family friend had given her: "We tend to see our lives in bubbles of time: four years of high school, four of college. It helps to remember that your career bubble is very large—thirty years. That's a whole lot of time to go after what you want."

Photos by Mikhail Tsirtsan (C15)

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