October, 2020. I had six months until I graduated in a pandemically-depressed job market. As a journalism major interested in documentary film production, I knew I needed all the help I could get.
I applied to the American University School of Communication (AU SOC) Alumni Mentor Program looking for someone who would help me develop the skills to break into the film and media industry, find a job and define a professional identity. I filled out the application, and one month later I was paired with David S. Falcone, the Director of Production Management at National Geographic.
David is a gracious mentor who offered up hours of his time and expertise to answer my resume questions, connect me to his professional and personal network and share the occasional pep talk. He practiced what he preached, often sharing hard-earned virtual networking advice from his own higher-stakes professional connections.
We met bi-weekly, and I learned about his day-to-day work at a television network, the different facets of production and how I could contribute to this industry. The best piece of advice that David gave me was the importance of networking in this industry. He encouraged me to go out and meet people from various areas and backgrounds and invite them to casual virtual coffees or quick chats. I prepared targeted questions and conducted background research for each conversation, often having an overarching theme or goal in mind. The best connections arose when I arrived prepared, leading to welcome surprises and conversations. As a result of this networking, I collaborated with one of my “professional BFFs” Liam Bruno to create a guide to connect your way to a job.
To help practice networking, gain professional experience and meet other film and media folks, David gave me a membership to a local nonprofit Women in Film and Video as a graduation present. (At my first WIFV networking event, I won a prize for film trivia and made some lasting professional connections!)
Following David’s advice, I discovered some “professional BFFs” who connected me to my first out-of-college job. I continue to stay in touch with the people I met during the mentorship, and I’m excited and well-equipped to network professionally online and in-person (when it’s safe to do so).
There’s no doubt that I learned more from him than he learned from me, but I enjoyed sharing my experiences as a full-time mentee as he and a group of Washington DC production professionals launched a new mentorship program, the Production Inclusion Project (PIP DC) which aims to increase opportunities and visibility for people of color in DC’s production community.
I am now happily employed working in video, confident in my ability to secure meaningful work and much, much better at networking. I teach high schoolers how to make documentary films on the side, and in that endeavor try to embody the gracious spirit of mentorship and teaching that David shared with me.
Throughout my time with the SOC Alumni Mentor Program, I learned to play the long game: making connections today with people who may change the world tomorrow, creating space for my career to grow as I meet more and more exciting and talented professionals in this industry.