Video Production: Questions To Ask A Potential Employer And How To Gauge If The Team Is Healthy

My fellow microbudget filmmakers, most of the site's content is for the freelancer (whether on the side or F/T self-employment) and second to our community, the businesses who need videos. 

But what about video producers who are thinking they want to be gainfully employed by someone? I.e. you're someone's W2 problem. You pay half of FICA. You're paid for time-in-chair (e.g. 8-5, M-F) or even as an on-call video producer (but W2 nonetheless). What about these video producers who dream of telling stories of hope on the big screen or the little screen? 

I don't mean to neglect this segment of video production. Truth of the matter is, all of us video producers have a fair shot of making it onto someone's team. And by that, I mean work with a few bright minds as their employee. Yep, we all want to be the next Nolan, but until then, we must work for clients or a company or both.

In this post, I'm going to outline some of the hard lessons I've learned in my past experience of shopping around at other companies/groups. I'm going to give you a tested (not theoretical) approach to navigating interviews and using your God-given senses to know if they're interested in you and if they're a good fit for you.

Bonus: Stick around, after the show, for a free performance by Limozeeeeeeen. Actually, I'll send you pt. 2 of a list of quality questions to ask an employer that I've learned and adapted to our world, questions I learned from people who are much wiser than I am (e.g. Patrick Lencioni). And just as useful, I'll give you the script I've learned to ask about the SALARY question, when you should pop the question, and how to handle any push back, plus YOUR RIGHTS as a worker and what you're not required to divulge. 

questions-to-ask-an-employer

Step 0: Homework

Do your homework. Study up on the person you're interviewing with, and study, study, study. Where to study?

1. Their website

Do they have a video embedded somewhere on their website? If so, that's their welcome mat. Ask what they'd do differently with that video to make it a 10/10. 

If they don't have a video embedded on their site (and not in a blog post but an actual landing page), this is a problem to be solved and one you can come out swinging with. 

2. Their social media pages

Particularly the 2nd biggest search engine in the world - YouTube. Facebook as well. Might as well check Instagram while you're at it.

Look for these areas of improvement:

  • are their videos maximized for web engagement (call-to-actions, links to their site, etc.)?
  • are the videos properly color-corrected?
  • are shots colored consistently or do their color temperatures vary wildly in the same scene?
  • do they sound okay or could they use some EQ?
  • do they answer questions on their social media pages (each question unanswered is a chance for furthering the brand by doing a video FAQ response)?

Think through any technical issue you notice and write it down. Chances are, to get to the point they need YOU as a F/T, W2 employee, they've had to cobble together videos from multiple vendors or even current staff who are generalists and not specialists. If so, there will be plenty of problems you can solve.

3. If they're a non-profit, study their form 990's

I talk a great deal about these in the context of doing video production for a non-profit HERE and why you should study the form 990's before pitching an NPO. The same concept applies here, but rather than a 1-off job (or jobs), you're pitching yourself to work for the NPO. In either case, study the form 990's that are available and see where their dollars go (and check that post from yours truly to get the nitty gritty as a video producer).

4. Review sites

These include:

  • Yelp
  • Facebook
  • Google (Reviews)
  • Glassdoor
  • Indeed

I particularly want to emphasize the need to research glassdoor.com and then indeed.com for employee reviews and any salary information others might have shared. Glassdoor cares about bulletproofing their site from tampering, but I'm sure it happens anyways. Still, I find they're the S&P 500 of company review aggregators. 

If past employees (plural, not singular) are airing out dirty laundry on Yelp, Facebook, or Google (Maps/Reviews), RRRRRUUUUUUUUUUUNNNNNNNN! Do not collect go!

5. Misc

I also recommend studying up on sites like salary.com to see if what you want to earn with ole Uncle Bob is a fair market value for the location Uncle Bob is in.

Additionally, go to sites like payscale.com, nerdwallet.com, expatistan.com, and bestplaces.net to see what the cost of living is in that city (if moving to another city or even state) will do to your finances. I've used all four and use all four any time I'm even remotely curious what living in Austin, TX looks like vs. Casper, WY. Of course, the easiest way to get all four in one place is to type

"cost of living" "NAMEOF CITY"

into Google. You should see all four sites in the top 5 results for the city in question.

Additionally, see what pops up in the news for that company/NPO/church on Google. Limit your search to the last year and go from there.

Lastly, check the yearly weather if moving to another locale. You may be like me and loathe humidity, so working in Sarasota, FL would be about as bad an idea as Dr. Seuss' infamous cat babysitting your niños.

Step 1: The First Interview

Now that you've done your home work, come out swinging.

I.e. regardless of how that first question is phrased, come out of the gate ready to storm the beaches of Normandy with an M1-Garand. Tell them all you're going to do to take their video content to the next level - and be excited about it. 

But Jake, it's an HR rep in the first interview.

That's okay. It shows you're eager, forward-thinking, and you care about solving their problems. Don't be super esoteric, but do let them in on what and how you're going to elevate their videos, and do it in the first question.

Think of the ole timer who you casually meet and ask about their time in Vietnam and then they take that platform and run to town with it. 15 minutes later, the MC at the event finally speaks up, effectively ending the ole timer's monologue that started with Vietnam and ended with the elevators going inside the Biltmore ca. 1890.

Learn from the ole timer - use the first question as a launch pad and SEGUE if you must to come out swinging. 

If you don't sell yourself here, you only have yourself to blame. Your job is to convince the HR rep or decision-maker you're the cat for the job. No one else will do it for you.

Be sure in every question, you relate it back to SOLVING problems for their team. Even the ole trap opening line from an interviewer: tell me about yourself.

>>Imagine our favorite fishy general from a distant galaxy chiming in here!<<

I won't spend lots of time here how to navigate their questions. There are so many resources out there from people with far more wisdom than me.

But I will recommend the following for my fellow microbudget filmmakers and video producers:

  1. Be yourself - even if that's a zany persona like Tony Horton. No need to waste time if they're a bunch of stiffs and they won't pursue your candidacy any further because you're full of life and they're about as exciting as termites in a Georgia home.
  2. Be enthusiastic. Introverts, you can do this. You don't have to be Tony Horton, but don't sound like you're in a stupor either. Show them you're excited; try smiling and standing. Your voice is fuller when you stand, and smiling will naturally translate, even across a telephone.
  3. Share real weaknesses (and what you're doing about them) when they're asked for. Don't cop out here like a Dragonball Z episode that milks powering-up for 2.5 episodes. For example, I always say I struggle with information recall when information is passed on audibly -- but I take notes! And I tell them I'm allergic to long meetings that could be summarized in 5 minutes or by an email. I also admit I'm not the world's best closer -- but I learn sales training every working day.
  4. When they ask for strengths, opt for character traits vs. competencies. As my favorite Canadian pastor Carey Nieuwhof says, competency gets you in the door, character keeps you there.

When you've navigated the gauntlet of their questions, then ask how much time you have to run your questions by them. If they say "I've got x minutes," then pick and choose, and make sure the salary question is one of them (included in the bonus at the end of the post). Without further dawdling, these are questions I've battle-tested over the years:

  1. What do you love most about working with the team*?
  2. How would you describe the vision of the company/NPO/church - where it’s headed?
  3. Where do you see yourself in 5 years (yes, ask this to the interviewer - if they say "I don't know..." you should be leery)?
  4. How will success be measured for your video producers?
  5. What separated the good from the great in previous video producers?
  6. Is this role a new video producer slot? If not, why did the person before me leave?
  7. Who would I be working for? What’s the hierarchy for a vp (video producer)?
  8. Do you want the team to be a leader in the video space**?
  9. Who do you consider major competitors?
  10. What do you love about the culture (I recommend asking this later from #1 so you don't get as much regurgitation)?
  11. How would you score the team on living up to its core values? What’s the one thing you’re working to improve?
  12. What’s the staff turnover rate, and how is the team working to reduce it?##See below the asterisks##
  13. ASK THE SALARY QUESTION before the two wrap questions -- details are below in the bonus section
  14. Have I answered all your questions or are there hesitations about my qualifications?
  15. EXTRA (for the courageous only (i.e. takes action despite any fear - it is not the absence of fear)) question I learned from Uncle G: "How much of what I've told you do you believe?" Another variation is "Do you believe half of what I've told you?"
  16. What’s the timeline for next steps?

*Most folks are unprepared for this question (and #9), so expect long answers with no roadmap... show grace, they might not be used to these solid questions.

**Remember their answer here because if you're brought in on probation or as a temp 1099 worker to vet the working relationship, and if they try to pay you less than what you'd earn as a salaried producer with them (which means you have to look at their monthly checks they'd be cutting to you -- GROSS, not net -- and add another 10-20% for benefits), then their words and their actions don't line up and they truly don't want to be leaders. It's the classic example of Dave Ramsey sitting in on a board meeting at a church. Guy gets up, "Children are our most important ministry here!" Dave Ramsey disagrees, "Really? Their ministry makes up less than 3% of your overall budget."

##This usually makes employers a little nervous; be optimistic and smile when you ask. By asking the part 2 of the question (i.e. and how is the team working to reduce it?), you're effectively putting a positive spin on the question. If the numbers are high, I'd be wary of joining their team.

>>FUTURE HOME OF ANOTHER SNAZZY VIDEO<<

Step 2: The Second Interview (And Subsequent Ones That Are Also Not In-Person)

These loaded questions are available below, in the bonus section.

With this interview, you can bet you'll be chatting with a decision-maker, if not the decision-maker. The first interview is usually with an HR person or other influencer. Sometimes, the first interview is with your would-be-boss, but that's less common than Halo sequels. 

If you haven't already, this second interview will likely be via video (e.g. Skype), so bust out your interview special. As with all interviews where you are SEEN, you need to wear a suit. It doesn't matter if you're applying to work with a church, NPO, or an office environment where everyone is dressed like it's Silicon Valley and the CEO is 24-years-old. WEAR A SUIT.

Always, always, always dress up for your interviews.

I once was in a round of interviews where a group of us were testing all at once for this job. Two or three people showed up in t-shirts and shorts, and the company didn't mince words. They spent a good 10 minutes letting the entire group know how unprofessional we were (in the Chair Force "boot camp," if one person messed up, it was the whole group who was responsible... say "team" anyone?). 

While we're at it, a few common sense housekeeping items that might not be so common sense, and I'm saddened by the fact I even have to spell 'em out:

  1. Be in a well-lit area. Turn on your Kino if you must.
  2. Be in a quiet area. Don't interview outside. Don't have a dog yapping at a rabbit in the background. Make sure the niños are taken care of and won't interrupt your interview.
  3. Don't hold your phone. Interview via your laptop/desktop and have the former on a stable surface. There's a fair chance your interviewer won't like fetching dramamine because of your camera wobble.
  4. Be patient. Good teams fire fast and hire slow. For example, I once interviewed with a team for 3 months before they were going to bring me out for the in-person interview.
  5. If you haven't already asked the "how much of what I've told you do you believe" question from the first interview, you need to here. For example, I failed to ask this in my 2nd interview once, and the guy cheerfully said the next step would be a video chat with several of their team players. Guess what happened next? Nothing. That's my fault - not theirs. I failed to discover he didn't buy what I was selling.

My generation - level up! My son's generation - learn from your great-grandparents' generation when it comes to relationships: show respect, take responsibility always, and show up 15m early to all appts. 

>>FUTURE HOME OF ANOTHER SNAZZY VIDEO<<

Step 3: The In-Person Interview

You'll likely be meeting with several people in shifts. Singles, pairs, groups even. Smile often and do everything we talked about earlier, and for each *new* person you interview with, recycle questions from this post and the bonus section.

Put in your absolute best effort and remember to sell everyone you meet with on what problems you're going to solve for them. Be an active voice there, not a hypothetical one; it's an assumption close in action - you're working for them, and you're going to solve x, y, and z. 

Even if you make it this far, you still might not make it. For example, I once had an out-of-state interview carousel with several people, and weeks later, when I was back home, the head honcho said they were hiring locally. I.e. I did not close them on me being the right guy -- the fact they were hiring locally was simply one object. As Grant Cardone says, the unspoken objection is the one true objection.

How to prepare: before the in-person interview, check the social media profiles of the people on the team. If they love their job and their team, it will bleed over to their profiles. They'll have personal posts of their work, they'll be wearing company shirts all the time, and the evidence of them being "bought-in" will be staggering.

If you see this "bought-in" behavior in only a few of the key influencers and decision-makers, well, I have a theory (and pardon the ole math teacher in me, but a theory is just that - a hypothesis) this means the ship is going down or is rudderless. So far, I haven't been wrong. 

For example, I once interviewed for a video producer job out of state, and before I left, I checked up on all the key peoples' social media profiles. I then interviewed with 6 people in person, and of those 6, all but one interview were fairly formal to some degree or another. That part's irrelevant, but I what I found fascinating as I talked with these folks is how I'd ask the question of where they wanted to be in 5 years. Guess what their response was without fail?

I don't know.

Guess which of these folks showed off some company swag or just "having fun" pics from being "on the job" on their social media profiles?

ZERO.

A theory is just that - an unproven conjecture. Take from it what you will.

I'm leery of a team without a clear road map - aren't you?

>>FUTURE HOME OF ANOTHER SNAZZY VIDEO<<

BONUS

Are you looking for more help with the interview process? 

First, read.

Second, practice.

Third, have courage. Be like Daniel in the Lion's Den - take action despite any fear that may come your way and kick that fear to the curb while you're at it.

This bonus upgrade contains questions you should ask in the 2nd interview, and it includes the salary conversation (and how to handle complaints/objections -- and your rights as a worker) you should be having in the very first interview. After all, there's no need to waste anyone's time if they can't afford to bring you onboard.

By getting this bonus material, you'll be added to the Bold Nation newsletter. I don't sell your email to anyone, as I've spent 3+ years building this community, and I will continue to do so for as long as I have breath in my lungs. Emails generally go out a few times a month, and every now and again, I'll send an offer your way. For the most part, it's just valuable information for us microbudget filmmakers as we learn to hone our craft (the business side of it), that we might tell stories of hope to billions.

Hit that big blue button below to get in on all the action. 

Then comment below: what is your favorite question to ask an employer?



Jake the film guy

Las Vegas

I want to encourage others and bring honor to the Almighty in everything that I do with film and video. My goal is to take the first 11 minutes of my tv pilot and seek out decision-makers who can further the conversation about developing it into a show. If my team and I can do that, then we can teach 100,000 other microbudget filmmakers how to do the same thing so that we might tell stories of hope to millions. In the meantime, I'm a son of the King, a family man, a lifelong student of film, and the author of two microbudget filmmaking books.