Louise Gallagher joined our site and told me her story. I told her to tell everyone else! We love a real-life story on here and Louise won’t be the only person wanting to change careers to ensure she feels totally fulfilled professionally. Lou has written plenty of her own words do I’ll let her get on with it:
So, you want to work in television? Yes, I really do!
I haven’t just left college/drama school/university and I don’t have a degree in anything media or television related. I haven’t made it my business to gather work experience in this sector from the first possible moment I could. I don’t have lots of TV experience and, I have never worked in an employed position within the sector. Yet, I am determined to change that!
I remember when I was seven years old I went with my mother and grandma to sit in the audience of ‘That’s life’ the television show hosted by Esther Rantzen. I was so incredibly excited to be there – and I was totally fascinated by what was happening in the studio and behind the scenes. I decided there and then I wanted to be just like Esther – and work in television.
I was seven years old. I quickly forgot that dream.
Fast forward (almost) 22 years and here I am, wanting to make it come true – yes, that’ s right: I want to work in television and I need to start all over again to do so.
Why am I changing ‘career’ at this stage? To be honest, twelve months ago I never believed I could work in television. I assumed, wrongly, it was a sector made up of media/journalist graduates with a wealth of experience and contacts. My partner works in television (he is an Assistant Director on a popular drama) and a year ago I relocated toManchester to live with him. Since then I have become close with many of his associates and realised how passionate they all are about what they do – tired, but passionate. It was this that made me realise I was coasting, doing something that I enjoyed, but not something that challenged me and made me want to excel in every possible way. I discovered that very few of them had studied anything media related, many coming from a host of non television backgrounds. Suddenly it seemed I could have the credentials to work in TV!
I decided to explore the possibility of a career change – knowing television was something I could do well in, I investigated further.
When I was at university I had no idea what I wanted to do: I had spent two years prior to my degree as a full time carer for my very ill father, and when it came to starting my degree I just wanted to build my confidence back up and live life. I had left school at 16 post GCSEs following a severe bout of ill health – which had meant I missed over 6 months of school and had to reduce the number of GCSE examinations I took. School advised me to have a year out and rejoin the following year when my health was better – being 16 and absolutely lacking in sense, I decided this would not be the ‘cool’ thing to do. Instead, I left – and a year later when I was well enough to return to full time study, I joined the local college… which I swiftly left after being chased across the courtyard by a fellow pupil brandishing a leather belt with a large metal buckle. I digress – that is another story…
My father passed away when I was 18 and I promised him I would live life to the full and never do something that I wasn’t absolutely committed to. My mother on the other hand had struggled for years, and attributed that to her lack of academics and ‘career’: she urged me to do a ‘real’ degree and get a ‘real’ job. Post undergrad I found myself at law school – as ‘real’ a job as I could think of! I studied hard and did well and was privileged to be offered training contracts with some of theUK’s leading law firms.
At the last moment I remembered what I had vowed my dad and decided I shouldn’t commit to a career I was not certain about. I was brutally honest with a top firm – who were fantastic and gave me the opportunity to undertake a six month paralegal/team support role to see whether the job fit. It didn’t – and I am grateful to them for enabling me to find out without the commitment of a two year placement and lots of further debt.
I went to China shortly after finishing my contract and completed a 10 day trek for Cancer ResearchUK. This was the most amazing thing I have ever done – and I returned home with a new lease of determination to make a positive impact with my life and to find a job I would love.
Unfortunately upon my return I became very ill myself and spent the next 12 months in and out of intensive care and hospital. I was unable to return to work until August 2008 when I was finally declared ‘fit’ to work and had overcome a long battle.
After my trek, I grabbed an opportunity to support a cancer charity by joining the CEO’s office. I was very lucky to be given a very senior position with very little experience – and for the next 18 months I worked within the Company Secretariat of a top research company.
The role was a challenge and I enjoyed the team. I was utilising my legal experience so I felt that my time at law school was being put to good use – but I still had that niggling feeling I hadn’t found what I was really supposed to be doing.
In January 2010 I was offered a regional management position at another leading national charity – in Manchester. As my partner had been contracted there for 12 months it seemed ideal: a job where we would be close, CV progression and a more varied role which I hoped would suit.
It did to an extent – I was highly motivated by my role in the organisation and by the service and the people that worked within it; and I love working with systems and information. It just still did not feel like I was doing what I was supposed to be – does that make sense?
I have frequently, post ‘That’s Life’, been a member of television studio audiences and found what went on fascinating – but a career with a camera or boom was not for me. It was only when a friend of mine was compiling a pilot show that I got to see the production office side of television. I found the environment exciting and busy – and in need of someone with excellent organisation and planning skills to manage it all. It was exactly the environment I would thrive in!
Organisation and planning are my greatest strengths – and this is probably why I was so successful in Events Management, something I did to fund my way through law school.
I started to read books, websites and articles on Production Management and when I was certain this was where I wanted to use my skills, I started to explore whether entry into this field at this ‘late stage’ would be an option. I had mixed feedback – but I decided that if I am going to make it, now is the time to do so.
So – where to start? Now the research is done and I am absolutely confident this is where I want to utilise my skills… how do I begin?! I have done the usual: joined networking groups online, signed up to job sites and started to look for links between myself and local or London based Production Managers. The reality is though, for every great job I see, with a skill set I know I can deliver, there comes the tagline ‘xx months/years experience in identical position required’. How frustrating! How do you get someone to even look at your CV when your experience in ‘an identical role’ is ZILCH!
How should I present my CV for this new market? And how can I get it noticed? There is a lot of information around but much of it is confusing and contradictory. My challenge is to convey my commitment to succeeding in television, despite having not previously worked in the industry. I also want to make evident that I have many transferable skills – and as such, my experience to date is relevant.
I appreciate I will potentially have to start in an entry like position and am willing to do this with the opportunity for progression.
I have completed a work experience placement in the 2nd Assistant Director’s office on a leading drama and have also shadowed a Costume Assistant and a Talent Producer. None of these are posts I wish to work in however all this experience adds to my understanding of the television environment. I got a fantastic opportunity to experience set and studio work, and also to assist in the AD office with call sheet prep, etc.
So, what next? In an ideal world I will be able to secure either a Production Secretary or Production Management Assistant post. These roles seek a lot of TV experience and I continue to gather as much television work placement as I can.
I am currently under notice of redundancy (voluntary) and am being paid until the end of August – so my plan is to use this time gaining as much shadowing experience as I can. I have no contacts but am going to write to various Production Managers in London and Manchester (as I have property in both) and hope it pays off. I am prepared to work full time hours for nothing to gain experience until September when naturally, due to financial commitments, I do need to be earning.
So – wish me luck! I am about to embark on a scary but hopefully positively ending journey. I am determined to excel in all I do… now I just need some contacts or leads – in fact any help I can get!
To all you Production Managers and Heads of Production out there – next time you are recruiting for a Secretary, Coordinator or Assistant, don’t automatically discard the CVs that lack TV experience. There are a few of us with great skills just dying to prove to you that we have what it takes.
Hit the ground running? If I got a chance, I would hit it hopping like a gazelle!
Thanks for sharing that with us, Louise, and here’s hoping someone will have at the very least some work experience to offer you, or better still a job that requires excellent organisational skills and a real passion for television. If you have any advice for Lou or want to share your own story then leave a comment or contact us.