How She Got There: Leslie Picker, Business Journalist at CNBC

Name: Leslie Picker
Age: 31
Job Title and Description: Reporter
College Name/Major: University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign)/Political Science
Twitter Handle: @LesliePicker
Instagram Handle: @LesliePicker

What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day? 

LP: The only thing that’s typical about my day is that I can count on it being atypical! I cover hedge funds, private equity and asset management for CNBC, which means I’m covering some of the smartest minds in the business world. That requires waking up early and reading all the major papers and business-news websites to catch up on any news that came out on my beat overnight. Some mornings I’ll have meetings with sources, other days, I’ll do my reporting by phone – but a big part of my job is making sure I’m constantly speaking with people who are smarter than me who can teach me something new. I’ll then head to one of our three studios in the tri-state area – the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq or Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, where our main offices are. From there, I’ll have a better understanding of the times I’ll be on TV and what the topic will be. Some days, I cover several different stories, and will conduct research and calls. I’ll write my scripts and work with a producer to craft each hit. I’ll also cover breaking news that pops up on my beat. In the evening, I often attend more meetings with sources or various networking events in the city. 

What is the best part of your job? 

LP: I get to be insatiably curious for a living. The basis for being a journalist is asking questions, getting answers and synthesizing those answers so that they’re easy to understand for a broader audience. One of the things that attracted me to business journalism is that there’s some much complexity and nuance – a lot of finance is designed to be that way. I know that 30 years from now, if I’m fortunate enough to be working as a business journalist, there will still be infinite amounts to learn every day.    

What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it? 

LP: I worked as a booker at Fox Business. Having grown up and gone to college in the Midwest, I didn’t know a single business leader to bring on TV, nor did I know anything about business. I knew I wanted to cover business because of a prior internship where I had a front-row seat to the early days of the financial crisis. As devastating as it was, I saw a mission in business journalism to help explain what was going on. I went on to Columbia University to complete a master’s in journalism, and the school held a career fair where I met a recruiter from News Corp. She told me about Fox Business, which was a new sister network to Fox News, and brought me in for an interview. The interviewer told me an anecdote about how he hired a superstar producer who only knew one ticker symbol (I was praying he wouldn’t ask me to name any because I knew zero!). 

What words of wisdom do you find most valuable? 

LP: Every industry is a small industry. Be nice to everybody. When I walked in on my first day of CNBC, I probably already knew about 20 people from previous employers (and several more have joined since I started). Reputation matters. If you’re seen as someone who is difficult to work with, lazy or incompetent, that could be detrimental to the advancement of your career. You’ll see people who take the opposite approach. They’ll walk all over people, they’ll pound their fists, and they’ll throw colleagues under the bus. And then they’ll get promoted. And you’ll ask yourself, how did that happen? Just know that rewarding that type of behavior is rare. Working with integrity will win out in the long run every time.  

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it? 

LP: When I was 20 years old, I learned about the pitfalls of overconfidence. I had a summer job as a performer in our local theme park in Kansas City the year before. I was a singer and dancer in a six-person show – a great summer job right before I went off for college. At the time, I was very proud of my accomplishment. The theme park heard auditions from hundreds of people and chose me as one of about 25 performers across three shows. I loved the experience. So then the following year, when it came time to audition again, I figured I was a shoe-in. I procrastinated in picking out my audition song and had been out of the dance world for much of the year. But I figured – since I’d already done the job, of course they’d invite me back. I was wrong. The theme park wound up not offering me a spot and I was devastated and embarrassed. But 11 years later, I realize this was a pivotal moment for me. I learned not to take these types of opportunities for granted and never to expect handouts from anyone. Cutting corners never yields the end result you want. Only by putting your all into something – every single time – will you get where you want to be. 

What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far? 

LP: I’ve been covering the financial crisis in Puerto Rico and have spent some time with the people on the island. The decade-long recession there has forced so many residents to leave and move the United States. Those who stayed are grappling with losses on their investments and others have been pushed below the poverty line. Hearing their stories has reminded me the power of Wall Street and government actions on a population. Without the massive amounts of borrowing against a backdrop of a weakening economy, Puerto Rico would not be in the situation it is today.

What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations? 

LP: Find a focus. Set a goal to be the best golf reporter out there, or the best tech reporter, or arts reporter. If you can put your heart and soul into a subject matter, people will see you as an expert. That will make you invaluable to your employer (and the next employer after that). It’s possible to find a new expertise midway through your career but it’s nice to demonstrate that you know how to cultivate an ownership over a specific topic.

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