There is a common theme amongst emails I receive asking for advice. One of them concerns the question of how you get a job in the UK when your CV contains only (or largely) experience from abroad. Can you break into the British workplace when your television background contains no credits or work experience in the UK?
The latest, well written, email came from Aparna Murthy who recently moved from India to live and work in the UK. (I mention the ‘well written’ aspect of the email partly because good writing skills are often lacking in much of the correspondence I receive even from UK natives, and partly because it demonstrates that difficulty with the English language is not the issue in Aparna’s situation.)
Aparna explained that she is a TV Producer from India, with 15 years of experience on the entertainment side. Her email went on:
“I ran my production house, post production studio and a Video Editing Institute in New Delhi. My clients included ESPN Star Sports, Discovery Networks to name a few. I also worked as a freelancer. My last stint was that of a Content Head in a reality show for NDTV Good Times.
In Feb 2011, I attended the Broadcast exhibition BVE expo, to familiarise myself with production houses, companies and the industry in general.
After moving to the UK, late last year, with eligibility to work under spouse visa, I attended BVE again, with no successful leads. I applied for jobs, open to start at a junior level, still no success. Sending applications through recruiters ended up in more rejections. The main reason was no UK experience.
I am not a quitter but when things don’t progress one starts to wonder, where am I going wrong? Where is the other side of the tunnel? How does one get experience in the UK, without working?”
So what practical steps can Aparna – and others in her situation – take to address her lack of UK experience? I have not done extensive research on this but I can talk from my own experience of trawling through CVs to create a TV team – and from my understanding of human psychology.
In order to work out how best to sell yourself in such a situation you need to consider what might be going on in the head of the potential employer. Here’s my theory:
1. It is part of our basic human psychology to distrust what is unfamiliar to us. No doubt a deep-seated instinct for survival. If I don’t recognise it, it may be dangerous, so I will treat with caution.
2. My own observation from many years in the workplace is that people tend to employ people like themselves. This is often an unconscious decision. We feel comfortable with people we can understand, who maybe demonstrate qualities we have, or had in ourselves earlier in our career. TV employers are also conscious that they need to create a team that will ‘gel’ and work effectively together. If they feel anyone may not fit in for any reason they will think twice about employing them however good their qualifications. We respond to people from similar backgrounds with similar experiences.
3. Readers of CVs want to see qualifications, experience and credits they understand. If they have no knowledge of the Indian education system they may be unsure of how relevant Indian qualifications are. If Aparna has a TV credit on a show a potential employer has never heard of they have no reference point from which to work out how it compares to shows in the UK. A producer looking to hire a team to work on a UK daytime magazine format wants to see a CV that has credits on UK daytime magazine formats.
4. Employers like to check up on CVs, both formally and informally. They will take references in the usual manner, but they often check up on someone’s reputation via friends and former colleagues who may have worked with the applicant (which is why it is so important to get on well with everyone!). An applicant with overseas credits does not allow for this to happen.
So far, so negative but here’s the good news – the media world thrives on variety, it feeds on a multi-cultural diet, it welcomes input and expertise from around the world. TV companies have been charged over the years to be more welcoming to different cultures, to be less white, British and middle-class. It is no longer acceptable to discriminate against age, race and religion.
Enough of the theory; Aparna wants to know what – if anything – she can do to get herself noticed and her experience acknowledged. Here’s my advice:
1. Do your research. Find out what TV programmes in the UK relate most closely to those you have worked on in your country in terms of format and content. Help the employer along by making comparisons. Do any of the shows you have worked on bear any similarly to a known show in the UK? If so consider explaining that comparison either briefly in the CV or in the covering letter/email. (Aparna, for example, has worked on a reality food show with competing chefs – does this relate to the UK’s highly successful Masterchef format? If so why not make that point).
2. Make sure you are using the correct terminology. We are not talking language differences here but how we refer to skills, tasks and roles. Your CV must use phrases and words that TV employers use in this country and if TV roles are different where you obtained your experience make sure you refer to your role in the language a British employer will understand. (For the record, Aparna’s CV clearly explains her previous roles and duties without confusing terminology).
3. Find and highlight common ground. Obviously applying to TV companies that have some connection to your country of origin, whether through business connections or through the content of shows they produce, will help. Anyone working on a format that requires a good knowledge Indian culture as well as a strong TV background would welcome someone with Aparna’s experience.
4. Find fellow nationals who may at least respond to an email asking for advice and contacts. Chances are they had to find a way to settle into work in this county just as you did and will be willing to lend a hand or a good contact. I have created a list of producers and production companies with Indian backgrounds or connections and you can find that HERE. (This list was based on my research online some time ago so I can’t promise that some of the detail is not out of date).
5. Highlight the skills that British TV employers want. They are no doubt exactly the same as those employers in your country wanted but ensure that you spell out which edit systems, cameras or budget software you have used so employers know you are familiar/competent with them.
6. Make your background a positive rather than a negative. What is it about you, your background and your experience that would benefit the employer?
7. Don’t be vague about what role you want to fill. You may be willing to take a step backwards in order to get into the UK job market but don’t send a CV proclaiming your experience as an executive producer if the role is for researcher. The employer will assume you will be dissatisfied in a more junior job. Have confidence in your abilities and certainly apply for jobs just below your previous experience but make sure your CV and application suit the role you are applying for. If you are an assistant producer willing to take on a researcher post then state that in the CV. Add the title Researcher/Assistant Producer beneath your name. That way they know you are happy to research but also ready (qualified) and able to take on a more senior job. Consider amending CVs you send slightly so that you highlight the relevant aspect of your experience
8. Follow the advice I give to the Brits trying to change careers or start off in a TV job.
If anyone out there can help give Aparna a helping hand on the ladder of UK TV work then drop me an email and I’ll pass on her details.