6 real life jobs that are nothing like their TV-interpretation

Real life jobs are often very different than their TV-interpretation. (ShutterStock)

We visited some professionals whose job is often portrayed in films or TV-series and asked them about the accuracy of the representation of their job.

We visited some professionals whose job is often portrayed in films or TV-series and asked them about the accuracy of the representation of their job.

Car salesmen

TV: The Middle
Real life: Kelly Neave –Car sales woman at BMW garage

In series and in films, car salesmen are often portrayed as not the most passionate or friendly employees. They would do anything to sell a car, even if that means not being entirely honest with the customer.

According to Kelly Neave, who has been a saleswoman with BMW for 13 years now, that is a false representation of the job. Honesty is key in car sales. You need to fulfill the needs of the client, instead of focusing on selling the most expensive car possible, to be able to have happy and returning customers. Furthermore, you need to be passionate about the product you are selling. These days, clients often have researched the cars they’re interested in online, so you need to know your product and always be on top of your game, especially as a woman. The job is also not as glamorous as sometimes insinuated on TV. You will have to work long hours and achieve your targets, which can be stressful at times. Staying friendly, professional, being able to work well with people and adjust to changing times are some of the characteristics of the real life car salesman- or woman. 

Read: I want to learn about careers as a Car Sales Executive


TV: Lean on Me
Real life: Retired High School Teacher

On TV, teachers play a very big role in the life of children. They can change their young lives in magnificent ways.

More often than not, that is unfortunately impossible in real life. In reality, teachers don’t teach only one subject in a big, bright classroom with only one small group to work with. Teachers often teach multiple subjects to multiple different grades and ages. They cannot adjust their lessons to the interests and learning abilities of students because they have to strictly follow the syllabus and are often evaluated by government subject advisors to monitor that they do. Teachers also don’t have as much time to get involved in the personal lives of their pupils as shown on TV either. While TV-teachers go the extra mile, real life teachers are still busy setting up and marking their students’ assignments, tests and other course work. And when trying to give extra classes or become more involved, in reality, few learners are able to participate in these initiatives (for various reasons) while the teacher becomes overworked and tired. While teachers do change the lives of many learners, there is a lot more they could do but the heavy workload is restrictive. When seeing a teacher’s career in movies, the real life teacher we interviewed doesn’t even think about her own career because she feels like there is nothing to relate to.

Read: I want to learn more about careers as a Foundation Phase School Teacher


TV: Suits, The Good Wife, Law & Order
Real life: Zunaid Parker – Former Lawyer

Lawyers basically live in court, are always involved in intense cases, and are wearing on-point attire at all times. At least, that’s what we would think when looking at the TV-interpretation of the job.

 When talking to a real life lawyer on the other hand, we get a completely different image. Law in South Africa is not practiced in the courtroom. Most of the time lawyers are busy with paperwork and contracts in an office space. The only time a lawyer will represent a client in a courtroom is when a case is assigned to the high court, and even those procedures are completely different as what is seen on television, for example, South African lawyers wear cloaks above their clothes and do not have juries. So if you’re basing your choice to become a lawyer on what you’ve seen on TV, you’re in for a big disappointment.

Read: I want to learn about careers as a Lawyer


TV: The Newsroom, Spotlight
Real life: Bronwyn McKay – entertainment journalist at Channel24

In television shows, working on a newsfloor is very hectic. Every second there’s news coming in, and journalists are constantly behind their computer writing articles and meeting deadlines, or out in the field asking questions and investigating facts. If there’s a female journalist involved, they often have intimate relationships with their boss or their sources.

This is however not a 100% accurate picture. First of all, all the female journalists we spoke to are not having any kind of intimate relationship with their sources or their boss. Second, redactions are only hectic when a major event has unexpectedly happened. And while working in the field can be very challenging and even dangerous, depending on the story, more often than not it isn’t. Interviews are scheduled beforehand and questions are prepared. The job consists of both practical assignments and admin based tasks. The difference with some of the other jobs in this article is that journalists are often positively portrayed on TV. So if there is an exception to the rule that you shouldn’t base your image of what careers look like in series or films, being a journalist is probably the one that comes closest.

Read: I want to learn about careers as a Journalist


TV: Mad men
Real life: Anonymous – Marketing manager at a digital media sales company

If all advertisers were like the characters we see on television, they would be predominantly male, lacking ethical conscience, and pushing brands for a lot of money.

We asked a real life business director at a big advertising company how she would compare the industry to how it is represented on TV. She told us that the biggest difference is that the advertising business is not at all a ‘Boys Club’, but in fact a fast-paced, professional environment where both men and women work incredibly hard. Also, we can’t compare today’s industry with the context in the 50’s. Television and Print have lost some of their feathers to the vast world of Digital, Activation, Public Relations and Shopper Marketing, to name a few.

When asked if she would’ve chosen the same career path if she would have based her choice on the ‘Mad Men’ depiction, she said she would most definitely not have chosen this career. There she would only have to file papers in high heels she wouldn’t even be able to walk in.  However, she answered with a definite yes for choosing this career when looking at the modern TV interpretations of the market. There, the marketing and advertising world seems like a very driven, dynamic and exciting environment to work in. 

Read: I want to learn about careers as a Digital Marketer

IT Specialist

TV: Hackers, Anti-Trust, The Matrix, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Real life: Sabihah Haq – SAP team lead & Diana Coetzee – SAP Test Analyst
(Sabihah and her team will try to fix bugs, Diana tries to see where the system can be broken)

If you think The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an accurate presentation or real life, you most definitely have a wrong idea of what a female IT specialist actually looks like and does. When we met with Sabihah and Diana, they looked nothing like the typical TV hacker.  If we believe in the accuracy of the TV representation, they should have been a tad bit strange.

In real life they are the most normal and kind women you could imagine. Yes, you read that right, women.

While the sector is still mostly male, female IT employees are not an exception. So the girl with the dragon tattoo is not a peculiarity at all. Furthermore, while It-specialists are often behind their computer and are very much fascinated and enjoy the job they do, they are not doing it in a very chaotic and improvised way. Their jobs demand a high level of accuracy and planning. They have very impressive hacking skills, but unlike shown on television, they are not arrogant about their abilities at all.

Read: I want to learn about careers as an IT Specialist

In general, basing any career choice on what you see on television is not a smart move at all. So before you commit to a certain path, inform yourself on what a job really is like here. 

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