Professional Development

people sitting around a wooden table with pens, appers, laptop, beverages, eyeglasses, and brainstorming
image courtesy of StartupStockPhotos via pixabay.com

What do you do to keep growing in your profession? How often, in job interviews, are we promised opportunities for professional development, and then the company is too understaffed and too busy to fulfill them? Or they expect the employees to give up their own time (and often money) for them?

Independent contractors have more flexibility in the what and when of professional development opportunities, but it’s still up to us to pay for them!

What do you consider “professional development”?

My definition of it means learning something I don’t know and acquiring new or stronger skills. I consider the whole “soft skills” definition a load of horse manure. Skills are SKILLS. There’s no “hard” or “soft.” It demeans the skills that make better humans, thereby making more positive workspaces.

Since I am a writer, everything I experience is material. Everyone I encounter is material. Which means just about anything can be professional development, because I can and will utilize it in my work at some point.

Some of what I consider professional development others might consider personal development, and I don’t see why they have to be separate. I believe that the best experiences grow as both as people and grow our skills.

I recently did an artist residency with a group of poets. Most of them use this time as something apart from their lives, because they have careers in other arenas, often careers they really love. So this was about growing in their craft, but it was also personal. I considered it very much both personal and professional. I do not have the grounding in the craft of poetry that they do, but I could learn from every poem that was brought into the space, even when it wasn’t mine. And my work was able to take a huge leap. The work was exciting, the sense of nurture and excitement about each other’s work was incredible, and I learned poetic techniques that will serve me well in ALL my writing.

The nine-week Nightwood Creatryx program with Nightwood Theatre in Toronto was definitely professional development, because it helped me grow in my work as a playwright, something that is very central to my work. It also provided personal development, because we all trusted and nurtured each other’s work, and we were all invested in each other’s work in very intimate ways.

What if I want to take a workshop working with clay again? I miss working with clay. But I am not a professional ceramics artist. I would take a workshop to play with clay, try new things, learn new techniques. Where would that fall?

Again, I see it falling into both. I take it for fun, to learn about shaping and forming and building and firing and glazing. Learning from my fellow artists, and learning what I can do with  my hands contributes to personal growth.

The physicality will give me sensory details. The steps will give me other details. So when I create a character who works with clay, the daily details will help make the character more relatable. Even though I take the workshop for fun, and personal growth, it will feed into my work.

I hope, overwinter, to find/take some sort of class that will make me more comfortable with web development. Something that will teach me not to fear CSS coding, and the rest. That will very much add a marketable skill to my toolbox. It will also encourage personal growth, because I will feel more confident and grounded in that work, and not tell myself I’m not smart enough to learn it. It will start as professional development, but also have a positive impact on personal growth.

How do you define “professional development”? Do you separate it from the personal, or consider them integrated?

Once More, For Those in the Back: No Unpaid Labor As Part of the Interview Process

image courtesy of Tina Miroschnichenko via pexels.com

I’ve talked about this before, and it needs to be said again: If a company expects unpaid work as part of the interview process, they do not have a positive work culture, no matter how much they’ve paid for whatever award they claim.

This includes assessments, tests, and project-specific samples.

An ethical company will pay you for your time and skills.

You fill out an application and send it through Indeed and they immediately send you a series of tests?

Ignore them.

In my cover letter, I clearly state that I do not do unpaid tests or project-specific samples, and I will provide my rates upon request. I also have a contract specifically to such tests and samples, which requires that they are scheduled in advance, and half of the fee paid up front.

Or the test doesn’t happen.

If the company sends me a form rejection because I did not take their unpaid assessments, it merely affirms they were not the right fit in the first place.

If a recruiter or HR person tries to convince me to create unpaid work samples because, “everyone who works here has to do that. I had to do that” they get a copy of the contract and the terms to schedule the tests and samples. There are also instances where I have said to the HR person, “I’m sorry you have such low self-esteem you felt you had to work for free.”

That shuts them up.

Or, if the response is, “but you have decades of experience, it will only take you a few minutes to do the test” my response is, “Yes, I have decades of experience. I have no need to take the test.”

I repeat: ethical companies will pay you for your time.

Early, early on in my freelance career, there was a company that asked potential freelancers for unpaid samples, which they assigned. I declined, but I heard from several other freelancers who did it, against all our better judgements. Turned out, the company assigned pieces of a big project as the different “samples” and thereby go the entire project done for free. They told all the potential freelancers that they were hiring other people, then changed the name of the company and used the work on their website, without paying anyone. How do I know this? Several of us who pitched to the company had crossed paths on computer bulletin boards (yes, that long ago) and found out we’d pitched. Those who created free samples shared their experience, and one particularly industrious freelancer found out what the company did after telling those writers who did free samples that they were not hired. The writers whose work was used wanted to sue, but had no grounds, because there had never been any contract or agreement not to use said samples without payment.

A company who says they need to see if I can “write in their voice”? Honey, I was in theatre for decades. I can mimic any voice any time anywhere. Read my portfolio. A lack of reading comprehension on your part is not a lack of skill on my part.

Pay for assessments. Pay for tests and samples. The most talented, skilled prospects have enough self-respect not to fall for this crap.

I was irritated beyond belief when, this week, a high-profile company approached me about applying for an open position. They sent a short job description and several pages about why they were such a great place in which to work. Then, the kicker: along with my application I was to send a “sample email” telling a potential customer about why their product was so great and why that customer should buy it.

Um, that would be unpaid labor as part of an interview process, and negates all the positive work culture details the company sent.

Nope.

Even more irritating, LinkedIn sent me an email this week, telling me I should take their special assessments (unpaid, of course) and “earn” skill badges that will attract recruiters. The subject line of that email was “Your skills are in demand.”

Hell, yeah, and that’s why I’m paid for them.

You know where LinkedIn can shove those badges.

Have I ever done unpaid tests or samples? Yes. There was only one instance in which I did not completely regret it. And in that case, I had a slightly different agreement in place, stating they could not use that sample unless they paid me for it, whether or not I was hired for anything else.

I’ve started keeping a list of companies who expect unpaid labor before they even schedule an interview, or as part of an interview process. Referring to that list when something hits my inbox is saving me a lot of frustration and time.

The request/demand for unpaid labor as part of an interview process, or as a condition of interview, denotes an unethical company. Don’t fall for it.

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Real Costs of the One-Way Video Interview

image courtesy of Free Photos via pixabay.com

One-way interviews have become more common during the virtual interview process of pandemic. “Send us a three-minute introductory video.” My response to that is, “Are you high, sweetie?”

First of all, any interview is a two-way street, or you are the WRONG place for me. I’m interviewing you as much as you’re interviewing me.

A one-way interview is a waste of the interviewee’s time.

I am not an actor. I do not make audition tapes and perform for you.

I am a writer. I’ll write the scripts for the spokespeople in your video spots to rehearse and perform.

But I am not performing in order to “earn” an actual conversation with someone in the company.

As someone who worked in production, let me break down what it means, in terms of time, production, labor, and cost to do a three-minute video:

Script. You need to know what you’re saying, even for (especially for) an introductory video. When I started writing short corporate script videos, that paid per finished scripted minute, it was $85-110/hour. Now, it’s more likely to be $200-$300/hour. Right there, it’s a loss from $255-$600. Figure that includes 2 rounds of revisions, possibly more as you rehearse. How fast do you write? How many hours will it take you to come up with 3 minutes of material? If you’re used to corporate video shoots or short shoots, probably 3-4 hours. If not, it could take three or four times that.

Location. Where will you shoot it? Inside? Outside? We’re in a pandemic, so your options are limited. Hopefully, you won’t have to pay a location fee (if you don’t use your own premises, but there’s still the time and decision involved). On the low side, it’s another $100 .

Set. How will you decorate your surroundings? Even if the video is head-and-shoulders, what kind of chair will you sit in? How much does the camera take in? You’ll need to set decorate your workspace. Is part of the interview showing them your remote work set-up? On the low end, that’s $125/hour. Figure 2 hours to set up the space the way you want it. That’s $250.

-Props. Again, even if you’re doing a head-and-shoulders at the desk, or standing, shooting on your phone, you may need props. A pen? A notebook? You want them to see your tech? Figure at least one hour at $100.

Lighting. Good lighting is vital to a decent video. Figure $50/hour. Once you get the set, props, costume, make-up in place, you’ll need to light it, shoot tests, and relight. Remember that, unless you’re blocking out daylight, as the sun moves, it affects your video. Figure 4 hours or $200.

Wardrobe. What will you wear on camera? You need something that doesn’t wash you out, isn’t too busy or distracting, and makes you both look and feel good. If it feels uncomfortable, your body will react, and the camera will read it. A wardrobe/stylist is about $120/hour. Figure 2 hours of deciding what to wear and how to accessorize, and at least an hour of prepping the clothes – steaming, ironing. Alterations are an additional time at an additional fee. Do you have to buy something for the video? That’s another cost. But it’s at least 3 hours at $120/hour or $360.

Makeup/Hair. Again, you’ll need to play with it in the lighting, with the wardrobe and do tests.

Non-union can start as low as $25/hour. A good one will cost you a good deal more than that. You’re probably non-union. Figure an hour to play with makeup and hair to decide what you want, and then an hour to actually do it. Again, you’ll need to shoot tests, but we’ll get to that later. Figure $100.

Sound. Does your recording device have decent sound? Is it tinny or does it sound like you? Do you have to unplug anything that runs in the background, shut doors, muffle anything? Chances are you can’t/won’t need to edit the sound or add Foley. Sound techs start around $20/hour and go up from there, depending on skill level and specialty. Give yourself an hour to play with your options. $20.

Rehearsal. You’ll need time to rehearse, revise, memorize. Actor fees can start as low as $50/hour and sky’s the limit. Figure 4-6 hours rehearsal time, so $200-$300. You are your own actor/spokesperson for your brand.

Test shoots. You’ll need to shoot test footage for the look, the sound, and shoot some of the rehearsals. If you really have your act together, two hours at $50/hour, for $100. That’s lowballing A LOT, because you’re putting together all the elements you worked on.

The actual shoot.  When I production managed film, we broke it down by 1/8 of a page for the schedule. For feature film production, one hoped to get through 2 pages per day. When I worked one-hour drama television production, it’s much faster. It’s broken down the same way, but you usually need to get through 7-10 pages per day. You’ll need multiple takes, and you’ll need to look at the takes and make adjustments for other takes. Give yourself 3 hours. Since you’re wearing all the hats, and you did all the prep, and should be in good shape, figure $250/hour for 3 hours, or $750. You think three hours sounds crazy for a three-minute video, but it’s less time than you’ll probably need. You’ll note I haven’t listed a director’s fee in this set-up. If you’re lucky enough to have someone to act as your director, that’s another fee, but I’m assuming you’ll go director-less. Since this is more of an audition tape.

-Editing. Are you going to edit the video? Do you have the editing software? Do you have editing skills/experience. Direct Images Interactive talks about how a 2-minute video takes about 34 editing hours, and can cost between $3400 and $4250. If you don’t have a bunch of cuts because the entire interview is done in single takes and you don’t edit sounds or effects, dubbing, or adding music, but just shaving a few seconds here and there or adding filtering, figure 10 hours or $1000.

In order to make your “quick, 3-minute intro” you’ve put in the equivalent of:

40 hours (a full work week) AT LEAST

$3435 – $3520 unpaid physical labor

We haven’t even gotten into the unpaid emotional labor involved.

All your work HAS value and needs to be valued. This attitude of “well, everyone has a YouTube Channel” and “everyone is slapping up videos” — no. Putting together a production is skilled work with many aspects, all of which have a price tag and deserve to be valued. In the age of COVID, there are many more one-person production teams. Again, ALL of the elements must be valued.

Even if the job pays $60K/year, you’ve put in the equivalent of nearly 2 weeks’ worth of salary to submit something that will never be reimbursed, and where you don’t get to have a conversation/ask questions/get a sense if this is a place you want to be.

“Make an introductory video” robs you of $3500 worth of billable hours with zero promise of return. For a job that is unlikely to have any video production involved in it.

Because if it WAS a video production job – they’d look at your reel, and not expect you to create something “introductory” for them without pay.

Because professionals should not demand unpaid labor, especially not as part of the interview process.

Basically, you’re being asked to audition like an actor, but without the benefits an actor gets from making an audition tape. And yes, plenty of actors spend this much time, money, and effort on audition tapes. Which is a form of unpaid labor inherent in the acting profession, and can lead to a labor conversation on a different post.

Beverlyboy.com, which deals in professional video services, suggests figuring $1500 to $10,000 PER FINISHED MINUTE for a video. A three-minute video would cost $4500-$30,000. Yes, it’s for something polished with a professional crew. They have a great breakdown, and show some terrific examples of their work.

“But it’s not professional, it’s just an introductory video.”

If it looks like crap, you won’t go any further in the process. Even if you’re doing it yourself, you’re wearing all the hats. Every job you undertake to put together the video needs to be costed out and deserves payment.

If you like the idea of an introductory interview/audition tape, now you know what you need to create one that’s unique to YOU, not a particular job. Put it on your website. You do it once, and then use the link to send potential clients/employers to it. But it is about YOU — not specific to any given company.

If you start your relationship with a new-to-you company by doing this kind of work for free, it does not bode well for your future relationship. You’ve already said you are willing to be overworked and underpaid (not paid) for maybe-someday getting rewarded. Which doesn’t happen.

Don’t do it. When you see the demand for a one-way video interview in the job description, click away. It’s not worth it. The real test they’re giving you is to see if you’re willing to let them take advantage of you.