Andy Cohen's Secret to Recruiting (and Life): Passion

October 16, 2015

Andy Cohen, at his keynote address at Talent Connect Anaheim this Thursday, described his career journey as “lucky”, “unconventional” and “circuitous.” He talked about how fortunate he was getting a break at CBS News, or how unusual it is that a television executive would all-of-a-sudden become the host of a late night talk show on Bravo.

And yet, when he peeled back the onion a bit, you realize luck might have helped a bit, and his journey was certainly a bit unconventional. But the real driver to all his success was one thing: passion.

“The keyword that has served as the organizing force in my career is passion,” Cohen told thousands of talent professionals in his keynote speech. “I always had a passion for television, which I wanted to always do.”

Cohen is currently the head of talent and development at Bravo and also is the host of Watch What Happens Live, a nightly talk show on the network. To succeed at both jobs, he has had to build a strong team.

So what does he look for when hiring? Well, unsurprisingly, it is the same thing that propelled his own career: passion. He wants people who love what they do and will go above and beyond what’s required.

“I screen for passion,” he said. “I want people who love what they do.”

The career of Andy Cohen: A long path to fulfilling a childhood dream

When Cohen was growing up in St. Louis, all he wanted to do was be on TV. Particularly, he loved TV news, and his dream was to be a famous media personality some day.

So, naturally, he pursued it by completing several internships, the last of which was at CBS News in New York City. However, after it was done, there was no spot to hire him at the news channel and he had a choice: go home to Missouri or wait tables in New York City and wait for a position at CBS to open up.

Rather than give up on his dream, he decided to wait tables in New York City and wait. A week later, low and behold, someone quit and he got a full-time job at CBS News as a desk assistant.

For 10 years, Cohen worked at CBS, “loving every minute of it.” He worked long hours with limitless enthusiasm - “I’m sure I was so annoying to be around I loved it so much” he said - eventually rising to the role of senior producer.

In 2000, he got an offer from legendary television executive Barry Diller to become vice president of original programming at Trio, a pop culture network. After a few years, the network, despite critical acclaim, was cancelled, and Cohen landed a position as executive vice president of talent and development at Bravo.

He flourished there for years, starting shows like Millionaire Matchmaker and Top Chef, but there was a still a constant in his career: he was always behind the camera. Despite his lifelong dream of being on TV and exceptional success in television, he had never actually been on television.

That said, he was happy with his career and continued to enjoy producing engaging television. Although, one of his favorite past times was sending emails to Bravo Network executive Lauren Zalaznick about all the drama going on off the set on shows.

Zalaznick enjoyed the emails and encouraged Cohen to do something no network executive had done before – start blogging about the backstage gossip publicly, as a way to market the shows. Cohen reluctantly agreed, and soon the blogs became among the most popular pieces of content Bravo was producing.

That led to him hosting a reunion show online, and then a web show and, eventually, Watch What Happens Live. So, despite no real intention of being on TV, his goal was achieved anyway. Now Cohen – hired by Bravo to be a man behind the scenes – was the public face of the company.

“It just doesn’t happen that network executives go on air, and become stars on their own network,” Cohen said. “But it happened to me.”

Cohen’s message to recruiters

Several times throughout his keynote address, Cohen praised the staff at Bravo and talked about the importance of building a great team. Additionally, he said a big part of his job is finding the right people to put on television.

So how does he do it? Again, it comes down to passion. For reality stars, as an example, he wants people who are truly passionate about what they’re on the show for, instead of being obsessed with being TV. Specifically, for his show Top Chef, he doesn’t want chefs who have a strong desire to be a reality star; he wants chefs who have a strong desire to be great chefs.

He encouraged the crowd of 4,000 talent professionals watching on to put the same emphasis on passion when they’re hiring. But he also encouraged all of them to follow their own dreams as well, no matter how outrageous they might seem.

“We should be excited to be doing what we are doing, because we spend so much time doing it,” Cohen said. “So really do something you love.”

To receive blog posts like this one straight in your inbox, subscribe to the blog newsletter.