For recent graduates, the job market has always been competitive, but with the additional challenges of 2020, it can be even more difficult for graduates to stand out or get a foot in the door.
We spoke with alumna Heidi Dawson, Controller of BBC Radio 5 Live, about her career journey as a journalist and broadcast producer, and her advice for students and graduates hoping to break into their industry of choice.
Take Every Opportunity To Find Your Passions
“It’s always hard to get a job in this industry, for me it’s all about ideas and persistence. I always recommend people to start out in local radio if they’re interested in media and broadcasting because you get the opportunity to try out so many different roles, and really get a feel for what your passion is.
“When I first finished the course in Salford, towards the end of the degree I was given the opportunity to do a work placement at an independent. I worked there through the summer, and I think I worked there for about a year before the work dried up. I then had a period where I was out of work, which was really difficult, so I decided to take a bit of a chance.
I moved to Southampton and it turned out to be really lucky because I got some work at a TV company there for a little while, and then a job came up at the BBC as a broadcast assistant at Radio Solent which was about as far geographically from everyone and everything I knew growing up in Lancashire. But I got the job, and I’ve been at the BBC ever since then.
I did some reporting, I did some news reading – I was actually so bad at news reading that I was taken off-air, and the entire shift was changed! I was really really good at producing radio programmes, but really really bad at being on air. At that point, the Breakfast Show Producer had to read an early morning bulletin, and in the end, they went; “No. Let’s change that because that’s not your skillset.”
That helped me realise, just because I wasn’t brilliant at everything, didn’t mean I couldn’t be brilliant at something. It helped me really focus on trying not to be quite good at everything, but rather the one or two elements of this that I can be really really good at.
Be Willing To Follow & Pursue Your Dream Job
After three years, a job came up for Radio 4 in London, working on the PM programme. and I went for it. At the time people asked why I was doing that because it was two pay grades lower, but I’ve never been that focussed on grade or status. I care more about what the role could give me, what could I learn on that and what would be different.
While I was there a broadcast journalist job came up at 5 Live. I’ve been really lucky because ever since I was at university 5 Live was the station that I’d choose to listen to. I thought wow what a great opportunity to work on the station I listen to at home.
There’s a reason I’ve stayed at 5 Live ever since. It is a really great and varied place to work. When I started at 5 Live I tried out a whole different range of roles. I was always the first person with my hand up.
I’ve been a producer at the Olympic Games in Athens and Beijing, I travelled all the way around Germany for a World Cup. I’ve done quite a lot of field producing in Northern Ireland and various different places. I did an attachment in Israel working as the radio producer in Israel.
As much as I enjoyed the field producing, I liked having oversight of a whole programme. So I moved through various roles to become the assistant editor in charge of my own news programme. I’ve always had that strategic interest, so when an opportunity came up to take an attachment in the management team, I jumped at that,
Whilst my role has always involved journalism, I have always seen myself as more of a radio producer and content maker, rather than purely as a journalist. Making journalism is only part of making a programme.
I stayed with the management team for about 8 years, until September last year. So we’re up to my one year anniversary as the controller of 5 Live!
What’s been really interesting about my career, is that it’s been kind of a funnel. Every decision I’ve made along the way has helped me to get here. This job has pulled together every element of experience I’ve picked up along the way, it’s incredibly helpful.
Know When To Seize The Moment
It’s all about creativity; I think spotting your moment as well. In the middle of coronavirus, that’s not a bad time to throw in a load of ideas; “I can see you have more airtime to fill, here are five programme ideas you can use” or maybe five podcast ideas. Knowing that’s a good time to knock on the door, that’s smart. I think people with strong ideas will always be at the front of the queue in terms of jobs that are available, so it is all rooted in creativity, but it is related to persistence and knowing where you want to be.
As I said about my career, and the funnelling through of what I was passionate about. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I ended up as the controller of the station I was listening to in my 20s. I think it’s because that’s something I was passionate about, and therefore that was something I was good at.
Thank you to Heidi for sharing her story. You can connect with your fellow Salford graduates in a range of industries at our online alumni hub fromsalford.com. You can ask questions, expand your network or even find a career mentor.