Interview will be at 8:30a SHARP, (he will be there closer to 9a, but please get there early, even closer to 8:15a, if possible) and have copies of your resume with you, Human Resources wrote.
I sat in the common area at the hotel. The seat was brown leather; the staircase was oak wood; there was a chandelier hanging on top of the ceiling. He placed his luggage next to him and pulled out a copy of my resume after he sat down.
“It’s going to be very hard,” he said.
“I like challenges.”
“You’ll have to verify your sources.”
“Mr. Levin, your car is ready for you,” a hotel staff announced.
Mr. Levin and I shook hands; I made sure it was a firm one. He walked down the oak wood staircase and proceeded to the hotel entrance. I looked at the time: the interview lasted four minutes.
A month later, I signed the paper work to work as a News Assistant at TMZ, a celebrity news website. Shortly after signing, I flew to Los Angeles to meet the team and to receive training. On my first day, I was to report to the office at 6 in the morning.
That morning, I ran at a speed of 7 MPH, on the sidewalk of Sunset Boulevard. The moon was bright; no cars were on the road; no human being other than myself was seen. I couldn’t even find any porcupines to accompany me because you know, they usually follow me around. TMZ’s headquarter was only four blocks away from my hotel so I chose to walk instead of drive.
I quickly regretted not driving because each block was very long and if I did get assaulted, there would be no one to help me. Potential injury, homicide and kidnapping raced in my mind so I used my New York City gangster instincts as I ran through those four blocks.
Luckily, I got to the headquarter in one healthy piece and took the outdoor escalators to the third floor.
“Who’s at the court house now?”
“How do you spell this?
“Is anyone watching this?”
“Who did that man just talk to?”
I walked into an open floor news room. The same man who interviewed me was asking these questions as he sat in the center of the room. The trial of Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson’s personal doctor was taking place. I quickly realized why my day started at 6 in the morning: The West Coast was 3 hours behind. On the East Coast it was already 9 and news does not wait.
No one made eye contact with me. No one greeted me. I got the attention of a Samaritan woman who directed me to a vacant seat in the room.
People told me to always go with your gut because it’s right, most of the time. Well, after sitting in the newsroom for just half an hour, my gut already told me “I don’t think I want to be here.”
But this job was what I yearned for. It was a full-time position at one of the leading celebrity news outlets. How could something I wanted and hoped for so badly not…feel…right, to me? Feelings were fake anyway, right? They weren’t permanent so I ordered myself to ignore them.
I quickly learned that there were two types of people who would survive in this company’s culture: 1) someone who was incredibly easy-going and has thick skin or 2) someone with personality disorder(s). I was not the latter; I did not plan to morph myself into the latter; I did not want to surround myself with the latter.
Several months later, I was on the phone in my office in New York City, on speaker, with my bosses from the West Coast.
“You signed a contract with us.”
“I’m not interested in working for this company anymore.”
“You can’t just leave. You signed a contract saying you’d stay for 3 years.”
About half an hour ago, I sent in my two weeks’ notice. Bosses called me and the gist of the conversation was the above.
My mind was set. That day, I skipped out of the building, humming to a Disney song. Some people weren’t so supportive of my decision. They believed that quitting without getting promoted would set me back several years. They believed that the decision was unintelligent and irrational. People at work told me I should have had another job lined up before resigning. Their opinion was of little value to me because I already made up my mind.
A month later (yes, my two weeks’ notice was a one-month notice to them because I had to train my successors), without another job lined up, I walked out of the Warner Brothers building in Midtown West. I had a big smile. I was confident that I was one step closer to my long-term goal, which was to become a producer for a new, funny, talk show that aired at night. Once again, I left a job without having another one lined up. And once again, I was unsure what the future held for me.
As much as the unpleasantness of my second job surpassed its pleasantness, I learned valuable lessons from it.
Lessons I Learned From My Second Job:
- Verify facts before you publish anything. In life, this meant that you should validate people’s statements. Don’t believe everything at first hand, verify information, especially negative information about people, from multiple sources. One time I almost published an unflattering piece of information about an American Idol contestant. I interpreted a court code word for arrest based on domestic violence. I decided to call the court employee to verify the code and she told me it meant that he was NOT involved with domestic violence. Had I published that without doing an additional layer of verification, I would’ve incorrectly defamed him.
- If people like you, they will help you. Being genuine is the key. There were many times that I had to cold call people, actually that was my hourly life. I had to find an instant connection with them so they don’t brush me off because the information I was soliciting probably has nothing to do with their job. One time I had to get a copy of an autopsy report on a celebrity’s sister. Her name, and the State of where the medical examination was done were the only two pieces of information I had. When I got my hands on the list of medical examiner’s offices, which were over 60, I said “you have got to be shitting me,” and just picked a random one. I explained to the dude who picked up my call that I was just starting this job and that really I only had two pieces of information and his telephone number was just the luck of draw. He understood my situation and patiently guided me through the process on autopsy requests. Oh yeah, and his office happened to be the one that performed the examination. Good things happen to good people?
- You can talk to anyone you want. If you want to talk to someone, anyone, it is not impossible. All you have to do is find their contact information and call them. Half the battle is the contact information; the other half is getting a hold of them. This can be difficult but is achievable. Unless, they are dead. Then, you might need to use a different method.
- Contrary to popular belief, nice guys do not finish last. You don’t have to be asshole, step over other people, to succeed. While working at TMZ, I met one of the most successful people in the entertainment business, Jim Paratore, who was as humble as a humble bug and treated people with respect.
What I Discovered About Myself:
- I enjoyed investigating and finding connections between stories. I also enjoyed being the first to publish exclusive news.