“I just don’t want to disgrace the peacock”: How to become an NBC Page
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.