How to build your reputation one brick at a time and that catch 22
I couldn’t find a job. Crazy. How ever much I tried, letter after letter, after letter, a rejection came back. I could have created my own purpose-made wall paper of rejections.
One day, I wrote to HR of the company I wanted to work for. Why wasn’t I getting interviews? OK the proverbial catch 22. I didn’t have experience and my background as an Applied Chemistry graduate didn’t exactly scream, “he’s a writer” and “he’s Oxbridge”. I wasn’t. I mean Oxbridge.
Six week later, a letter came back from HR inviting me to come in for an interview. However there was a twist. I was going to be interviewed by around twenty senior managers. This was an interview by HR, observing senior managers interview me.
There were three of us candidates, who went through this. Our panelists were cordial, and it was an enriching experience. The odd interview tip was also passed on. Think about the question and tell a story, I was told. A firm handshake from the three members of HR six hours later ended the experience and that was it. Back to the day job.
Oh I forgot to tell you. After finishing my degree, and then a post grad in radio at Falmouth, I was working as a freelancer for BBC Radio Leicester, as a researcher/ reporter, and BBC Radio London. The former came from badgering the station head as a student, the latter a bold letter to the head of the department about what I could do.
Some weeks passed then something strange happened. I was called for an interview. In a room with various candidates, I took my turn to meet the editor and a few other personnel. The line of questioning was about my knowledge, what I did, whether I knew anything about the programme. It was intimidating. My first real interview. A week later, a call from HR.
That’s how I came to work for BBC Newsnight as a researcher, to use the phrase “back in the days”. Newsnight, one of the most respected news programmes on British TV wasn’t for the meek. Confidence, above all in what you were doing, was a requisite. As the new boy, some people went out of their way to talk to me, like Peter Barron, who was then a producer; others were indifferent. In the third week, I struck lucky. I was asked to bash the phones to raise a guest in Dubrovnik, which at the time was being shelled. That was the news of the day. This was the Yugoslavian war or the Bosnian-Croat war. It had various names.
In my head it could have been a thankless task. As others darted around shaping that evening’s output, every five minutes I picked up the phone to ring various numbers but to no avail. It was like cold calling. Then around 8.45 p.m. something happened, someone picked up the phone.
It was the Mayor of Dubrovnik. I asked what was happening. His reply was contrary to the news on the day. His English was broken, but I sensed what he had to say was important, so asked if I could record him. To do so meant hanging up and going to a radio booth, which would take about 5 mins to set up. There was no guarantee he would be sitting there waiting for my call, especially when he’d told me it was a sat phone and he needed it to be open, for emergencies.
Five minutes later, he was. I helped him string sentences together to make sense. You’re saying there are no bombs? Yes no bombs, but everyone scared, um start soon, he’d say. I went back up stairs. It was about 9.10 and said to the editor the lead is not what the mayor says is happening. The day editor shot me a look as if to say who are you, so I showed him the reel to reel tape. He listened to it, and then time grind to a halt.
In the middle of the newsroom, the programme editor Tim Gardam came out and summoned me to his office. What did I know, and how? I explained. I was to work with Jeremy Paxman, which I did (which was scary) to tell him everything I knew.
Within that hour Newsnight produced an entirely new programme of the lead. It was great theatre to see, and be a part of — which is why I remember it so well today. After the programme went out. Gardam and the editor of the day made a point of saying well done to me. I got a few slaps on my back too from other staff. How did I get the interview, several people asked? I bashed the phones all day, I replied. But, yes my radio skills, and determination to get evidence on tape, helped too.
However, in all of this, proof to myself that I could do news, I missed a huge, vital trick that I would regret when leaving Newsnight. There would be many other incidents like this where proving what I could do, (part luck, other sheer hard work ) would say to others here’s what I could contribute.
Because CVs were the norm, and no Internet at the time existed, getting other jobs was no guarantee based on details of past achievements, what others thought of you, or that your name (Gyimah) didn’t put off people. Finding my next job in the UK proved so difficult I relocated to South Africa. It culminated in this.
Peter Barron, over the years would become deputy editor of Channel 4 News, where I would later go on to work, and then editor of BBC Newsnight, before becoming a senior exec at Google. He knew my work and wrote this in 2016 when I was building my reputation page.
Thanks David — great to hear.
I can’t quite remember what I said at C4N, but I’m sure it was positive. Something like this:
“David saw the potential of digital video journalism early on, and keeps on pushing the boundaries in brilliant and beautiful ways”
Europe, Middle East and Africa
Our reputation is what we have. It’s hard won, and is based on our values both socially and at work. Today, I post what others say, not as a means towards self aggrandisement, but perhaps to suggest another form of how we could be judged, in the face of CVs.
And these layers of testimonials are just as important coming from students. Weeks after saying bye to my cohort of Masters students at one university, I was so heartened to receive an overwhelming send off on Linkedin from friends and these from students I had the privilege of teaching.
We know ourselves more than anyone, and it’s up to us to let others know who and what we can do. That’s our reputation. Thanks to Paul Breen for inspiring this piece.
I am just writing to say thank you.thank you for teaching us things we need to learn, thank you for being there for us when we have any problems, thanks for your devotion and willingness to help us, thank you for the love you’ve shown to us.
I am lucky to have a teacher like you.
( name withheld)
Happy New Year! So nice to meet you this term! You are a very good teacher and have shared a lot of useful knowledge and experience with us. I have read your articles on the medium before entering the university. Thank you so much! Unfortunately, next semester we can’t share knowledge and time with you. It’s a little sad, but I hope everything will be fine for you in the future. Take care.
It’s so sad to hear the word “last”… Good luck to you always. You are a great and patient teacher and give me much effort during the first starting semester. It seems not that hard for me under you — my teachers help, as a Chinese student learning in London.
Best wishes and good luck to you,
Here for my full Reputation Management page which includes Jon Snow, and industry executives