“For some reason, my generation has decided that if they don’t have everything figured out by 18, they’ve somehow failed. Changing majors doesn’t mean you failed. Not knowing exactly where you want to be in five years doesn’t mean you’re a lost cause. I really believe that every step we take is purposeful and serves to teach us something.” This self-assured outlook might seem like it should come from a woman with decades of success under her belt, but these wise words are those of 23-year-old Natalie Bounassar, the Associate Talent Booker at ABC Chicago’s Windy City LIVE. Natalie didn’t discover her passion for working behind-the-scenes in the entertainment industry until halfway through college. But because of this, she decided to be proactive and take a risk.
Natalie transferred from the College-Conservatory of Music at University of Cincinnati to Columbia College Chicago, switched majors from Musical Theater to Media Management, and let go of her first dream—starring on Broadway. Natalie hunted down internships and embraced multiple opportunities to further her dream. She worked hard, took full advantage of the internship process, and cultivated work relationships. Leaving lasting (and positive) impressions on her colleagues opened many doors and helped Natalie succeed at a few of the entertainment industry’s most notable networks — Harpo Studios, CBS, and ABC.
When Natalie isn’t busy booking celebrities for Windy City LIVE, she’s writing articles for The Huffington Post and blogging at Entry Level Escapades, which Natalie founded as a resource for soon-to-be graduates and post-grads venturing into the job market. Entry Level Escapades is a go-to resource on “perceptions and reflections of a new graduate.” We love that Natalie has made it her mission to share her work experiences with other Millennials who are venturing out into the real world!
We are thrilled to feature Natalie on The Everygirl today because she is the quintessential Everygirl. She’s relatable, genuine, wise beyond her 23 years, and is offering us some amazing career advice! So grab a cup of coffee and keep reading to learn a thing or two about new beginnings and how to successfully navigate life after college.
Name: Natalie Bounassar
Location: Chicago, IL
Current Title/Company: Associate Talent Booker at ABC’s Windy City LIVE!
Educational background: University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of music and Columbia College, media management
What was your first job after graduating college? How did you land the job?
My first full-time job was a Post-Production Assistant position at Harpo Studios. The process of landing this job was somewhat of a domino effect. I participated in an internship programs at CBS and ABC and through those internships I was able to build a network that knew my abilities. I applied to the Post-Production Assistant position through the HarpoCareers website, however the recommendations of previous bosses and supervisors truly helped me land the job. They were kind enough to put in a good word for me, which really helped to open doors.
You initially studied Musical Theater at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, but you transferred to Columbia College in Chicago your junior year. What prompted you to transfer schools? Tell us about your transfer experience.
I really believe it’s our responsibility to find a way to use our talents to better the world in some way. With this in mind, I decided to mount a benefit concert at CCM during my sophomore year with my Musical Theatre class. With the help of the incredible talent that surrounded me, I produced “Carols for a Cause”—a holiday concert (which is now in its fourth year there!) whose proceeds were donated to the local homeless shelter. That experience made me realize that I was better suited for a career behind the scenes in the entertainment industry. I enjoy management and organization and combined with my love of the arts, it was a very good fit. I decided to transfer to Columbia College Chicago to further hone those skills.
The process of transferring, however, was extremely stressful. I had been bound and determined to be on Broadway since I was 12. Coming to the realization that who I imagined myself to be was different than who I was becoming was very difficult—it felt like a breakup of sorts. But once I made the decision and started actively moving towards a new goal, I began accepting and understanding that this was the right choice for me.
Coming to the realization that who I imagined myself to be was different than who I was becoming was very difficult—it felt like a breakup of sorts. But once I made the decision and started actively moving towards a new goal, I began accepting and understanding that this was the right choice for me.
What is your advice for women in college who are thinking about transferring or pursuing a new degree?
For some reason, my generation has decided that if they don’t have everything figured out by 18, they’ve somehow failed. Changing majors doesn’t mean you failed. Not knowing exactly where you want to be in five years doesn’t mean you’re a lost cause. I really believe that every step we take is purposeful and serves to teach us something. I still regard my time at CCM as one of the best experiences of my life. As difficult and frustrating as it was, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. In retrospect, I know exactly why I attended CCM and the lessons I needed to learn there.
Remember, you are not transferring because you made a mistake. You’re transferring because you’ve learned the lessons you needed to learn and that will lead you to your next step. Embrace the change. You might have moments of doubt, but trust your instincts and always keep moving forward.
During college, you held internships at various television stations, shows, and production studios including Chicago’s ABC7 Windy City LIVE, The View in New York, and Harpo Productions. How did you score such coveted internships?
I was really fortunate to have these experiences and to have people who believed in me enough to help me along the way. When I transferred, I knew I wanted to work in television. I scoured the Internet for internship opportunities in Chicago and found an opening in the Sales and Research department at CBS2. It wasn’t exactly where I saw myself, but I thought it would be a foot in the door and an opportunity to learn about an integral component of the entertainment industry. I applied blindly, was interviewed, and got the position. From there, I applied to intern at ABC7’s Windy City LIVE. To my delight, our intern coordinator was very receptive to my experience in sales. She reassured me that it was important to understand how sales affect the creative and vice-versa. From there, the contacts I made at the networks truly helped open doors for me. It’s so important to keep the lines of communication open.
If I had to narrow it down, I would say that it was my work ethic and kindness. Internships can be a wonderful and, simultaneously, frustrating experience. They usually last such a short period of time, and just as you’re learning the ropes, the program ends. You have three months to make an impression and you have to make the most of every day in order to leave the impression you want people to have of you. I tried my best to anticipate what people might need instead of waiting for them to tell me what to do. And I tried to be pleasant every day. I think at the end of the day, that’s all people want—to work with kind, hardworking people.
You’re now an Associate Talent Booker at Windy City Live. For those who aren’t familiar with television and media, what does your job entail? What invaluable skills have you learned in this role?
A Talent Booker’s job is to work with managers and publicists to schedule the guests that appear on the live show. As an Associate Talent Booker, I assist our Talent Booker Emerald-Jane Hunter with different booking related tasks, including sending guest confirmations and maintaining our show calendar and calendar of upcoming Chicago events. It’s a lot of keeping track of what’s happening around us—what’s “newsworthy.” I also book many of the authors that come on the show.
I’ve been so lucky to work with Emerald-Jane—she’s extremely talented and has been such a great mentor, friend, and source of inspiration. She’s a ball of fire, and she always pushes me to be the best I can be. One of the biggest things I’ve learned through working with her is the necessity of organization. We ingest so much information on a day-to-day basis. Whether it’s contact information, follow up emails, or event dates and we’re constantly trying to keep track of numerous moving parts. Between lists, calendars, and excel spreadsheets, we make a huge effort to keep everything organized. It makes the day so much easier when you know where to find the information you need. Plus, I’ve found that when people are organized, it positively impacts the way others perceive them.
You’re also a great writer! What prompted you to pursue writing? You’ve also been published on The Huffington Post. Tell us how that happened.
Well, thanks! When I was younger, my mom made me write a little bit each day during my summer breaks. It was a drag. When we went on vacations, she insisted I journal about the experiences—so boring! When I wanted something, like a raise in my allowance or a pet, I had to write persuasive essays. I hated that too! But I’m the first person to credit my mom for the joy writing brings me now. Writing has become a creative outlet for me. I think everyone needs an outlet outside of her daily job. Honestly, I do it for fun. I write about things that interest me.
Huffington Post is one of my favorite publications, so it was extremely exciting and a huge honor to have them publish my writing. When it comes to getting published, I think it’s important to understand what you’re “selling.” Once I understood my target audience, I was able to submit the piece to the correct HuffPost vertical for consideration. I think the key to achieving success in the field of writing is to write about what you’re passionate about. Passion permeates the text and excites the reader.
Name three essential attributes an individual needs to excel in your field.
Passion, persistence, and patience.
Your blog is called Entry Level Escapades, which can be thought of as a mini-guide for recent graduates. Aside from your own personal thoughts and career advice, what can new readers expect when they visit?
From the time we’re little, we’re asked what we want to be when we grow up. We’re talking about our careers from a young age. Declaring your major or declaring your career—that’s different from having that career. I found that even though I knew what I wanted to do and what I envisioned my career to be, I was still uncertain about the first steps I needed to take to get there. Entry Level Escapades is a resource for college-aged and entry-level students who are trying to figure out how to bridge the gap. Aside from my own writing, they can read interviews with outstanding recent graduates who are already making waves in their respective fields. There are suggested resources offering motivation and various perspectives on career and life in general. Soon we will be launching “Mentor Insights”—interviews with more established and successful individuals who are further along in their careers.
What obstacles have you faced so far in your career? How were you able to overcome them?
The entertainment industry is extremely competitive. I learned this early on as a performer, and it remains true behind the scenes. I auditioned for a lot of shows and wasn’t cast, and I’ve applied for a lot of jobs and internships and was passed up for an interview. There’s a lot of rejection, and you have to guard a part of yourself so it doesn’t get you down. Rejection happens, and you’ve got to be equipped to deal with it. I read somewhere that you get 20 minutes to feel sad—20 minutes to cry or pout or rant, and then you have to move on. You have to keep moving forward. Ultimately, rejection is a test of how badly you want something. When I was in high school, I read Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture” and ended up writing about his words in my college application essays: “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.” Rejection is an obstacle and you overcome it by persevering.
What is a typical workday like for you?
Every day is different! Some days it’s heavy on the research—which celebrities, authors and performers are coming to town, what movies are being released, and what’s making headlines. It’s the booking department’s job to constantly stay on top of it all. Other days, Emerald-Jane and I spend a lot of time coordinating. We schedule people on the show, work with managers and publicists to arrange an appearance time that works for both parties, and connect with the WCL producers to ensure their shows have the guests they need. Sometimes, my job requires dealing with guest cancelations and having to rearrange the show schedule as a result. Unfortunately, those sometimes happen last minute, and it’s our department’s job to fill those spots! I also regularly pitch guest and segment ideas to our executive producer. Our hosts Val Warner and Ryan Chiaverini often have shoots in and out of town, and I help to arrange those shoots. For example, we recently sent Ryan to New York to interview Ginger Zee at Good Morning America. Emerald-Jane and I did a lot of the coordinating and scheduling to ensure it all ran smoothly. Sometimes the shoots are local. When we feature a new restaurant, we’ll usually work with that restaurant to set up a time to shoot footage there with our talent, their chefs, and their patrons. Each day really is different, and I love that! It keeps the job fresh and exciting.
How do you balance blogging, writing, and your job at Windy City LIVE? What is your favorite way to unwind after a hectic day?
I really enjoy being busy and feeling productive. I try to accomplish at least one thing each day when it comes to blogging and writing. Even if I only work for fifteen minutes, that’s fifteen minutes of work that wasn’t done before I started. And as I mentioned, writing is cathartic for me—it IS one of the ways I unwind. However, I also love getting hooked on a good TV series (working through House of Cards now), baking, and spending time with my family and boyfriend.
You currently reside in Chicago. What are your go-to spots around town?
I live in the suburbs of Chicago, but I’m downtown a lot for work. When I’m in the city, I love seeing shows—whatever Broadway in Chicago brings to town. For shopping, it’s Nordstrom Rack. When I’m not downtown, I really like being at home. I’m a huge homebody. My boyfriend and I have an unconditional love for Chipotle, though!
Where do you hope to see yourself in five years, both personally and professionally?
This is tricky. I find that every time I try to plan out where I want to be at any point in the future, I only put pressure on myself and usually end up somewhere different. I’ve learned that I need to keep my long-term goals specific enough to give me direction, but vague enough to allow for flexibility. In five years, I still want to be working in television. I hope to develop my writing skills enough to write professionally as well, though I haven’t decided in what field. I’d also like to involve myself in the theater community again at some point—again, specific but vague!
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
I am 23! I would tell other 23-year-olds, including myself, to stop feeling like they need to have life figured out. It’s something I know to be true but have a hard time believing. I think my generation is excited and ambitious, which is great! But at the same time, we need to remember to relax and be okay with some unknowns. We’ll figure it out, guys.
Natalie Bounassar Is The Everygirl…
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Ellen DeGeneres! I admire her outlook on life and how she uses her influence to better the world. She infuses so much joy into peoples’ lives. I would probably order something extremely simple so that I couldn’t spill it or wind up smelling like a clove of garlic. A chopped salad! Unless she ordered a pizza…then all bets are off.
Favorite booking so far in your career.
This is tough! My first ever booking, Judy Blume, will always be special to me. That was cool because I’d grown up reading her books and was a big fan. My ultimate favorite booking up to this point has been Octavia Spencer. It took a lot of persistence and coordinating to arrange this appearance, and it was very rewarding when it finally came together. She’s such an incredible talent, and it was exciting to have an Oscar winner in studio. Other bookings that stand out include Joe Manganiello, Arianna Huffington, and Bob Saget.
Best piece of advice that you have ever received.
When I was a freshman in college, one of the seniors kept reiterating the importance of finding balance. I sort of brushed it off and continued to binge on Broadway. When you’re young and excited and “Next to Normal” just released their original cast recording, it’s an easy thing to do! I’m realizing more and more how important it is to achieve balance. I consider myself to be an intense and driven person, and so finding balance is still something I struggle with. But it’s a necessity. I think we’re happiest when we’ve achieved balance in our work, personal, recreational, and spiritual lives (and whatever else people deem important to them). Each person’s scale is going to be different and balanced by different amounts of different things, but we’re able to give the best of ourselves to each “silo” in our life when we’re balanced on the whole.
Who inspires you?
My dad. He was born in Lebanon and immigrated to the U.S. when he was 24-years-old to escape their Civil War. He worked 9am-5pm days, put himself through school at Columbia College, managed to graduate in three years, and somehow supported his family financially through it all. Today, he’s a highly regarded and sought-after engineering project manager working at a global company. From the time I was little, he always reminded me that if a “poor little boy from a small village in Lebanon could make it, so could I.” I carry that with me every day. Despite every adversity he faced, my dad worked his way up from nothing so that my mom and I could be comfortable. Given the advantages I’ve had that were never afforded to him, there’s no reason for me not to make something of myself.
Describe your dream vacation
I would LOVE to go to Greece! But after this crazy Chicago winter, an all-inclusive getaway to some remote Caribbean Island sounds delightful. I want to turn off my phone, lie on a white sand beach, and maybe learn some yoga.