Back in May, I graduated from a small, liberal arts school in Norton, Massachusetts with a dual-degree in English and Film & New Media and began hunting for a job in the television industry. I started out slow, applying to about two or three jobs a week and calmly reassuring myself that yes, it was normal to be unemployed a week out of college, or two, or five. When I didn’t hear back from anyone, I upped the application count, churning out a cover letter or two a day in the hopes that someone, anyone would extend an offer and allow me to put my degree to good use. As my desperation levels began to rise, I began to apply to jobs that were out of my league professionally, positions so high up on my “dream jobs” totem pole, they were obscured by the clouds.
This is how I ended up applying to the NBC Page Program. The NBC Page Program is an entry-level, career development program intended to shape its candidates into leaders of the media world. The 12-month “fellowship” allows participants to rotate between various departments at NBC Universal, from business to consumer marketing to creative development, in order to help them explore their interests and gain hands-on experience in the professional world.
There are plenty of other blog posts detailing the Page Program’s highly competitive application process but in talking to past Pages, the procedure seems to have dramatically shifted this year as a result of the program’s changing requirements. With this in mind, let’s take a look at how it all went down.
Stage 1: The Digital Application
The first step in the application process is just that: a process. The lengthy online application starts with the basics — employment history, education stats, references, etc. — before moving onto the real “meaty” part of the process: the essay questions. The realization that there was not one, not two, but three required essay questions in this application marked the beginning of me underestimating how serious NBC Universal is about who they employ and how they employ them. (I would not make this mistake in the future.) Ultimately, this stage functions as more of a screening process to weed out those who are legitimately qualified for the program from those who watched 30 Rock once and decided it would be cool to be Kenneth Parcell.
Tips for this stage:
- Set aside at least a day or two for this application. You should be treating these essay questions like, well, essays and putting in the same degree of effort that you would if you were writing a paper for one of your college classes.
- Write out all of your answers in a separate word document. The webpage likes to time out every 20 minutes, forcing you to start the application over from the beginning. It’s painful. Don’t ignore this tip. You’ve been warned.
When should you expect to hear back?: 2-4 weeks
Stage 2: The Online Video Interview
I don’t know if I’d call this stage an “interview” so much as “an awkward Skype conversation with yourself.” For this part, candidates were asked to log on to a program called “Take the Interview,” where they would sit in front of their webcam and respond to questions that would pop up on screen in 60 seconds or less. The easiest way to describe it is “a Skype interview without the interviewer.” Considering the number of people that apply to the program, I can’t blame really blame NBC for including this wholly unnatural step. Typically, you’re given a few days to complete this process, which only takes about an hour from the time you start it. Once you finish recording your answers, you do get the chance for one or two “redos” but take note: if you decide to redo your interview, you must redo the entire interview, you can’t just pick and choose which questions you want to have a do-over on.
Tips for this section:
- Take the interview once through as a “practice” so you can get a feel for the questions and get comfortable with the program. Then, during your “redo,” you’ll feel and sound more natural and you can be better versed in your answers.
- Cover your face on the screen. In my experience, it’s always distracting to watch yourself talk on camera and you’ll end up spending more time fretting over how your hair looks instead of how well you’re answering the questions.
When should you expect to hear back?: 2 weeks
Stage 3: The Panel Interview
When you hear about the NBCUniversal interview process, this is probably the first thing that comes to mind. The (infamous) Panel interview consists of five parts, that I will roughly outline in order to avoid being called out for revealing confidential interview information:
1) The Panel
As you might expect, the Panel interview kicks off with a panel portion. All of the candidates (there are usually 5-7 other prospective Pages) sit on one side of a long table facing a long line of program coordinators on the other side. One of the board members will present a question which the candidates are then required to answer in turn. Once they reach the end of the line, they present a new question, this time at the other end of the table. Rinse and repeat about 4 or 5 times. When it’s over, the board members leave the room and the group is divided into smaller clusters and directed to their next “station.”
2) The One-on-One
Or, rather, the “two-on-one.” For this, you are called into a room with one or two of the program coordinators from the Panel interview. While the setup for this one will be familiar to most people, it’s by no means easy. I got the feeling that this stage was meant to test how each candidate functioned under pressure, as many of the questions involved elaborating on story details and coming up with quick retorts without messing up your story. Be prepared for rapid follow-up questions and make sure you know your past work experiences inside and out.
3) The Writing Exercise
And you thought you’d never have to do a timed writing test ever again… For the writing exercise, we were given a prompt and asked to answer it in 20 minutes or less. If you’re a fast typist, you’ll have no problem with this step.
4) The Industry Discussion
The night before the interview, the candidates received an email containing an article that we were required to read and “be prepared to discuss” by the following morning. After the Writing Exercise, I was guided to a small room filled with two different program coordinators and two of the other candidates, where we were to discuss the article and some of its overarching ideas. For those of you that hail from small liberal arts colleges where 90 percent of your in-class activities involve group discussions, this part will be a breeze.
5) The 2-Minute Presentation
As an introvert-masquerading-as-an-extrovert, I agonized over this section for the three weeks leading up to the interview. At the end of this four-hour process, all of the candidates were called back into the Panel room and asked to make a 2-minute presentation about their past work experiences, how those experiences would make them a good fit for NBC and, most importantly, why they were specifically interested in the Page Program. Visuals were strongly encouraged. By which I mean, bring a visual. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top, but bring or do something that will help cement your image in the board members’ minds. One girl in my group used her interest in fashion as a metaphor for her skills and brought in a series of different outfits that she’d worn over the years, ending with a nod to the Page Program’s iconic grey uniform. Another girl created an anagram for her name that went through each of her best qualities. I created a magazine about my past work experiences and tied it into my love for storytelling and how that led me to TV. No matter what you do, it’s important to find something that ties together a passion of yours with your interest in the program. They want to see who you are as a person and how you represent yourself.
Tips for this section:
- Get to know the other candidates. You may be tempted to view the other interviewees as enemies because they’re all vying for your job but remember: these people are all in the same position as you. Recently graduated, nervously unemployed, and excited about the opportunities ahead of them. Treat them as your coworkers instead of your rivals (because that’s likely who they’ll be to you one day). When you walk into the 2-minute presentation, you’ll be glad you mingled with the other applicants because it’s much easier to present a visual to a group of friends than a group of strangers.
- Prepare! In the three weeks leading up to the interview, I created two sets of notecards: one for NBC Universal facts and one filled with personal questions and stories about past work experiences. The latter is more important than the former, though knowing the history of NBC can definitely give you an edge during the interview process.
- Reach out to experienced Pages. Before heading into the interview, contact some past Pages and see what their experiences were like. It can give you a better grasp on the process and put you more at ease before you embark on this journey.
When can you expect to hear back: 2 weeks, by phone or email
So there you have it. To all the prospective Pages out there: I hope this post was helpful in soothing your pre-interview anxieties. Or maybe it just scared you more, in which case, I’m very sorry. I tried my best.
According to Wikipedia, “An NBC page is a person usually in his or her early twenties working in various departments of the NBC television network during a one-year period as a training ground for careers in television broadcasting and entertainment. In addition, pages work as tour guides and studio audience ushers at NBC Radio City Studios in New York City or NBC Universal studios in Burbank, California.”
My friends, the Page Program is so much more than that. And it’s so much more than “Kenneth from 30 Rock.” I’m about to tell you how I got in.
1. Late Night with Conan O’Brien
In 2007 I was a sophomore going into my junior year of college, and landed my first internship at Late Night with Conan O’Brien at NBC in the summer. There, I became familiar with the Page Program, always knowing what it was, but never hearing first-hand information about it before. I befriended the members of the staff who were able to tell me tidbits about their Page glory days, but it wasn’t until I actually started meeting the at-the-time current Pages, that I drank the Kool-Aid and wanted in.
The Conan Interns, as we were called, were the clowns of the NBC summer interns. That became clear during our internship orientation, when we all sat in the back and snickered at the over-corporatized human resources business that we were forced to sit through. We were the kids in sneakers and jeans, plaid button down shirts and hoodies, and trendy summertime dresses adorned with thick-rimmed glasses and trendy hair styles. No slacks, ties, or blazers. Typical.
One of our assignments every Monday morning was to roll up XL t-shirts to later hand out to the audience members as they entered the studio floor. It was a nice bonding moment for the interns that arrived on time to work; sipping our iced coffees, watching the final hour of the TODAY Show as the staff trickled in. It was the quiet calm before a day of fun.
Around 5:30pm, two or three of us would run downstairs with two giant boxes of rolled up shirts, and would hand each one to an audience member. I began to meet more Pages personally when on shirt duty, because one of the “positions” of a Page while loading an audience, was to stand in the elevator bank and direct the audience traffic into the studio around the corner of the hallway. We’d stand with them and chat between the waves of people.
I asked questions about the program, like what they do, what it’s about, how they got in. I became friends with them, and said hello when I saw them in the commissary and hallways. I even was invited to some page parties and outings, all of which I was too nervous to attend. I became determined to get into the Page Program, and learned that in order to have a remote shot of being accepted, I’d need as much information about it as possible.
I genuinely enjoyed my summer at Late Night. The staff was absolutely wonderful, and I never knew how precious the relationships I made with my fellow interns would ever be until years later. With only the fondest of memories made, I was affirmed that I needed to pursue the NBC Page Program.
2. Saturday Night Live
Two years after I interned at Late Night, I found myself in an interview for an internship at Saturday Night Live. It was an all-business, no funny stuff interview. My interviewer (who later became one of my supervisors when I was hired there full time) was a very approachable, mild-mannered Associate Producer. He took me into one of the green rooms and asked me the most basic interview questions. It was straightforward and simple. No mind games or fluff – my kind of interview.
A week later, that producer called me and offered me a position as a SNL intern. Naturally I played it cool but when I hung up the phone, this happened:
The internship was great, and definitely a “it is what you make of it” experience. It was all on me to force myself to make connections, or just be my normal introverted self. Sometimes I networked, and sometimes I was the latter. There was no spoon-feeding or pampering at SNL. No one had time to teach you anything, so as an intern you were on your own if you wanted to learn something. It was also much more cut-throat. The moment you got an assignment or were sent on a run, every other intern breathed down your neck to get information about who entrusted you with a duty. It was certainly competitive there. But being immersed in the competitive environment was very good for me, too. I saw that I handled it quite well.
My intern supervisor was a former Page. And so was the Associate Producer who interviewed me. Then I found out that one of the editors was a Page, and another coordinator, and some assistants, and a talent producer. It became clear to me that it would be foolish to try to directly land a job at SNL after my internship ended. Instead, I knew I had to get these former Pages to help me find my way into the Page Program, the very “fraternity” that bonded them all together.
3. A good business woman knows “Apply” and Demand
While at SNL, in November of my senior year, I applied to the Page Program and never heard anything back. I knew that it was a competitive application process so I figured I’d have to get on their radar in a more tactful way than just applying online.
One of my friends who interned with me at Late Night two years prior had just become a Page. She was two years older than I was, so she had already graduated school and had been in the program for a few months.
In April, I asked her if she would forward my resume to the hiring managers, explaining that I applied but never heard from them, and that I could easily make myself available for an interview because I was in the building already at SNL. She agreed to help me out, and also gave me the email address of the Page Program manager. I immediately wrote to her, and didn’t hear back.
I never gave up. I wrote to the manager again in the summer after I graduated school, and the cosmos must have aligned that day, because she forwarded my email to her colleague, who set up my first interview.
Stay tuned for part two!