From runner to researcher

Simon Wright, former talent executive for the BBC Academy and the BBC Production Talent Pool, has sourced and recruited thousands of runners and researchers, and offers some key points he got from them on how to get up the ladder.

One of the questions that I get asked a lot is “How can I get from runner to researcher?” often accompanied by a frustrated expression and a look in their eyes that reads, “I can do more than make tea!” The simple response to this is that there is no clear answer, but there are certain things that you can do to get yourself noticed and that can aid the transition. I have sourced and recruited thousands of runners and researchers, so here are some key points that I have got from them on how to get up the ladder.

Do your job
Nothing frustrates a production team more than a runner who constantly moans that they shouldn’t be running and that they are above the tasks that they have been given. No matter how skilled or talented you may be, delusions of grandeur don’t do you any favours! If you're constantly bigging yourself up as a researcher - “I have a degree, I should be researching” - and don’t actually do the job that you're paid to do, then frankly you're going to get on everyone’s nerves.

Get your runner jobs done well and then when you have a bit of spare time get involved in research, get out on location and show a real interest in everything that is going on - this will help you immensely. If you can come up with ideas and forge great relations with contributors (without getting too fresh and over familiar) then this will really help you get noticed.

"Sometimes the thing that you take for granted can be your unique selling point." – Simon Wright

Do your own thing
If you believe that you're a researcher then you need to be doing research, it’s as simple as that. You need to be finding contributors, finding stories, coming up with ideas and showing results! But you can also show initiative and make yourself indispensable to the team. Spot particular points of stress in the team and help out. Perhaps the team is lacking someone to do social media or online stuff - could this be an opportunity for you to step in and save the day? However, it’s a balance - you have to be careful not to annoy the existing researchers by treading on their toes. Aid them in their work but don’t take over and definitely don’t take credit for work that is not yours. That is one sure way to annoy colleagues and potential future employers. Everyone wants to get noticed but a bit of humility will get you noticed for the right reasons.

Film and write as much as you can in your own time. Let your producers see this, but choose your moments carefully. Build up trust and then ask them for their critique during a quieter time or at the end of the production. This just reiterates the fact that you are serious about developing your career and that you are passionate about creating content.

Make a change
Sometimes it can feel that you're just so good at your job that people don’t want to promote you, or no one is moving on in your team and you feel a bit stifled and stuck at a level. Look clearly at what your options are. Sometimes the only way to get ahead is to move out. If you are marketing yourself as a researcher but have only worked as a runner, then highlight on your CV the researcher tasks that you have done. Often companies are more concerned with what you’ve done rather than your job title. Apply and get yourself known and give the interviewers clear examples of why you should be a researcher. Simply being enthusiastic about wanting to be one is not enough.

Use your USP
Sometimes the thing that you take for granted can be your unique selling point. Whether that be a love of science, a foreign language or a fascination with serial killers, this can actually get you your first researcher role. If you have specialist knowledge or a particular passion for a subject, then that can really help, particularly for last minute researcher requests demanding specific skills. I have often been asked for Urdu or Arabic speaking researchers, or researchers with particular historical, scientific or literary knowledge. But it doesn’t have to be academic: I know of a runner who had previously worked in childcare and this was a huge asset to the production team when they needed a researcher for a documentary about child development. It's important to let your team know about your knowledge but only if it’s going to benefit the production. There’s no point just waxing lyrical about your knowledge of members of One Direction (no matter how great that may be) if it’s not relevant.

So it’s not an exact science but it’s not impossible either. You need to put yourself in the mindset of the hiring manager and think, “Why would I employ me as a researcher?” If you doubt yourself, then make some changes!