Seldom does a reality television show have a deeper meaning. It’s usually mind-numbing TV meant to distract viewers from the harshness of their actual reality—a ravaged economy, hundreds of thousands dead from COVID-19 and many more living with a newly imposed disposition.
Typically all one could reasonably expect from a reality TV show is trivial arguments, close-up shots and most likely irritated characters, all layered under a blanket of unnecessarily dramatic music calibrated to force a laugh, or at least a chuckle.
HBO Max’s The Big Shot with Bethenny, which premieres today, is different. Bethenny Frankel, known for her role on The Real Housewives of New York City or as the founder of the lifestyle brand SkinnyGirl, is at its center. In an eight-part series, Frankel hosts a competition for the new VP of operations for SkinnyGirl, which makes products ranging from popcorn to jeans. A job at the C-suite level is inherently hyper-competitive and the interview process is more often than not unconventional. Frankel’s new show is that job interview — streaming for the world to see.
The show couldn’t come at a better time. Amid ramped up COVID-19 vaccinations, it’s clear the economy is quickly opening up. That means more and more people will soon head back to work. For those out of a job they’re facing stiff competition, even in fields that were otherwise not that competitive. Last week, 553,000 people filed first-time jobless claims. That’s roughly the population of Tucson, Arizona, and still a pandemic era low.
On top of that, there are at least 8 million fewer Americans in the workforce than before the pandemic. Job seekers now need to get creative to stand out. Frankel has some suggestions about how exactly to do that.
Observer spoke with Frankel about her new show and the message it sends to current job seekers.
Observer: Your new show is an interesting narrative about how to make yourself stand out in this hyper-competitive marketplace, especially since there are a lot fewer jobs that exist now with COVID. What’s your initial reaction?
Bethenny Frankel: My initial reaction to that is that the snow globe has been shaken up in the world, and especially in the entrepreneurial business and world. There are many people unemployed and food banks and job lines. We can make the difference in a business surviving or failing. People just can’t hold on anymore.
That being said, it’s a time for transition, there will be a boom after this sedentary pause — this crazy life sabbatical that we have in some ways survive and thrive, and I think there will be a gold rush in many ways. People have to pull themselves out from being stunned, anxiety-ridden, fearful and see what’s going on and see what will be shifting now.
That brings us to your show. Which is essentially one long job interview. In the first episode, you spend a lot of time talking about the importance of first impressions. Right now, people are looking for work. Confidence is down. People may not be in the right headspace to make the best first impression. You hit on this theme in your show. Why is that so important to you as a leader?
It’s the craziest thing because the same way as on a blind date, you probably could find out five minutes in if you could be interested in this person or not, it’s the same thing in work. Someone has to really come in and make a good impression. You can’t be overly, you can’t be like a cocker spaniel jumping up a lot the place — activated and hyper, because that’s an energy that people won’t necessarily want in a work space. You also can’t seem really like things aren’t urgent.
You have to seem like you’re on it and you can handle it, but you can’t seem like you think you know everything.You have to be involved and attentive at whatever you’re doing, but you can’t seem invasive.
You have to seem resourceful and that you can get things done, but you can’t seem overly obsessive. It’s something we have to just exude confidence. There is a level of quiet that needs to be exhibited. There is a level of being reliable, dependable, confident and secure. People want to feel that the people around them have got it. You want someone, no matter what they’re doing for you, they know what they’re doing.
We’ve been waiting for this person for so long — and now we have to wait for the show to start. We are all sitting here and holding the business together with Scotch tape while we wait for this person.
In the context of your show and the kind of the reason you’re doing this, why did you put this together?
It is the ultimate job interview. It is such a good way to do it because there’s no way for me to just sit at a conference table in 20 minutes for me to understand if someone could possibly do this job. Because no two days are the same. It’s personal, it’s professional. It’s 26 categories, all differing from one another. Apparel and jeans are different from swimwear, sunglasses and eyewear. That’s then sold on HSN, which is a world unto itself.
That’s very different from writing a business book, which is different than doing a podcast about successful entrepreneurs, which is different from selling popcorn and salad dressing and being a mom and being a person who’s always home in pajamas. It’s not overly corporate, but they have to be corporate because my partners are from very big multi-billion dollar corporations. It’s intense. There’s no way to describe. It’s hard to keep up. There’s not a person who’s worked with me that has not said that I have learned more from this job than any job they’ve ever had.
This is actually your search for this particular position. This is not just part of a show, you’re just kind of showing the process of actually finding this person?
This is real. We can’t wait for this person to start because we have been — we’ve been waiting for this person for so long — and now we have to wait for the show to start. We are all sitting here and holding the business together with Scotch tape while we wait for this person, ’cause this has been a real need. That’s how real it is.
You’ve finished taping the entire show?
This is a limited series, correct?
It’s an eight-episode series. That will probably happen again.
The show gave me an amazing vehicle to do this thing. It’s not that easy to put someone through. What a great gift for me to be working and creating amazing entertaining, take-away content for people who are gonna be out in the job force, and it’s giving them amazing tips and tools, but that I got to utilize this experience to find someone incredible.
Now I can do that again. I would do this ten times to find different parts of my business and really vet people properly, and you have help getting these people, it’s hard to stop down and when you’re running a business to help support the business because you’re running the business, you’re building the rocket ship while you’re flying it. It is hard hard to pump the brakes on the rocket ship while everybody is pulling you in 20 different directions to do all these different things. This means you’re nurturing and facilitating and moving forward your television production career and your creativity and your need for connection and entertainment, but you’re also finding amazing, real staff. I’ve never been able to take the time to stop and do this.
You want someone who knows how to learn to open to learning more. Now, the places to find the tools for things that they don’t already know are that. Would that be correct?
I want someone who’s a responsible adult who really is not afraid of but thrives in hard work and likes when no two days are the same. I want someone who likes to be growing and learning and wants the American dream and wants to go with me all the way and have such a small staff overall. You’re always being seen.
I have two girls working for me that are an executive assistant and a personal assistant that have worked at Kelly and Ryan, and Watch What Happens Live. They were PAs. They got to run around and probably make copies and get coffee. Now they’re the ones connecting with the people at Kelly Clarkson. They coordinated with hair, makeup and wardrobe.
On your show you had to let go of some people pretty early. Can you tell me if there’s one that really stood out to you? Something that you feel you should not do in any job interview kind of situation?
It’s lack of confidence. It’s an uncertainty. It might be saying what they think I want to hear. It might be just realizing that they’re not savvy enough or experienced it after that they don’t have it, or that they’re a big super fan, and know every single thing about me.
That’s not really relevant. One of the girls who set up the Kelly Clarkson interview and worked for me, and never watched the Housewives. She was worried that she never watched the show. I couldn’t possibly care less. I don’t care if I even know anything about me. Can you work really hard? That’s all that really matters.The bottom line is there’s nothing that can replace old-school hard work.
There could be people that you let go and they’re great. It’s like breaking up with someone that is a good person that just might not be your life partner.
Was there something within the show itself, was there an example that stood out as particularly questionable?
It seems like there were so many of them that were singular-focused. One person was good at planned events and another person was in corporate PR. It seems like they weren’t really a jack of all trades. I don’t know if they can handle it, or in the way that they answer the question to me that maybe they wouldn’t be able to handle themselves in a serious meeting with partners. I need somebody who’s going to be strong enough to not always be the good cop, to be the bad cop, ’cause I don’t wanna be the bad cop. I want someone else to be the bad cop.
In some jobs, being someone who is a specialist is a good thing, your particular skill set is great for somebody else, but not necessarily for your specific needs…
There could be people that you let go and they’re great. It’s like breaking up with someone that is a good person that just might not be your life partner for cultural reasons, geographical reasons, fundamental reasons, religious reasons, parental reasons. Maybe someone is a vegetarian and you’re a carnivore. There’s nothing wrong with being a vegetarian or a carnivore. It just might not be a great match.
There were people there that I didn’t think were a great match for me, but I was able to say to them, “You’re going to do great. As much as I don’t think you are good for this, I don’t think this is good for you. You might need to be a person who needs to flourish in different ways.”
Be honest with yourself about what you’re looking for and what you can do. If you are a single mom and you really want to have a regular schedule of consistency with your child, this might not be the right job. If you have a good support system at home and you want to go all the way, ’cause your kids are gonna be proud of you really accomplishing something, and it’s gonna be part of your identity, then that’s great. Then nothing is wrong. You gotta be honest with yourself.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
The Big Shot With Bethenny premieres today on HBO Max.