"ASK HR" is our advice column where we answer readers' questions about pressing work dilemmas, job search queries, resumes, and navigating Hollywood. If you have a career-related question, email us, and the answer could appear in a future newsletter! All submissions will remain anonymous.
Dear Hollywood Resumes,
I know you always say to get your resume into the right hands by networking, and that a great way to build my network is to conduct informational interviews. I've set a few with people who work in my dream companies, in the departments I'd love to work in. But now what? What's my goal in these interviews? Should I be asking them to recommend me to join their team? Keep me posted for when there's an opening? What should I "get" when I hang up the phone with them? If the goal is a relationship, how should I nurture it -- especially now, when we can't meet in person?
-- Not-so-sure Networker
Dear No-so-sure Networker,
It's great that you're setting these interviews and getting going on a strong job search strategy. Taking that first step is often the hardest, so kudos to you for reaching out and getting these calls set!
Informational interviews can serve a variety of purposes, depending on your career goals. In some cases, you'll want to meet with as many people as you can to learn about various career paths, so you can determine a direction for your career. For those conversations, your primary goal would be to learn -- yes, a relationship may come from the call, but it's more of a fact-finding mission. In your case, though, it sounds like you have a clear idea of where you want to take your career and already have a list of target companies. So your "ultimate" goal is obviously to get a job at one of those dream companies! But in practice, it's a little less straightforward.
If you want to know what you should "have" when you hang up the phone -- though we hesitate to frame it that way, for reasons we'll explore below -- the answer is knowledge and a contact. You'll want to learn about the company and make sure it really sounds like a place you want to work. Can you get insight into the department or culture beyond what you've read in the trades? You also want to sow the seeds of a relationship with someone in the side of the industry you're pursuing who can let you know about openings at their company, or otherwise. You should always research the person you're meeting with to see if there's a particular thing that you would like to learn from them -- you might find there's a specific "ask" you have for that individual.
But your goal is manifold and nebulous, and not really something you can check off right when you hang up the phone. There are no KPI metrics for an informational interview, but rather a hope that you've established a meaningful connection. And that meaningful connection could have many beneficial results -- your contact may forward you job openings, pass your resume along when there's a job that seems up your alley (maybe even at their company!), introduce you to other people in the industry so you can expand your network, and/or become someone you can build a lasting relationship with. But really, it's less about "what you get" and more about a symbiotic, ongoing relationship.
There are many ways to nurture the relationship, even without meeting in person. Keep a list of who you're meeting with, when, and what was discussed so you can track the relationship, and then follow up every couple of months to check in (the holidays are a great time for this!) or send a friendly note if you read something interesting about them or their company in the trades. You also have a baked-in reason to reach out once in-person meetings become normal again -- something like, "I really appreciated the advice you gave me back in May. I'd love to meet up for a drink/coffee to say thank you now that we can do so safely! Please let me know if you'd be available." You don't want to be a pest, so you'll have to gauge how the person responds to your overtures, but as long as you are polite and checking in when it doesn't only benefit you (meaning you don't just ask for a favor every time), you should be able to build a relationship. And if the relationship doesn't pan out long-term, that's okay -- we encourage you to take this as a learning opportunity too, since some people offer great advice, even if they don't become trusted contacts.
You can't really control the outcome of the informational interview, but you can control what you put in. To that end, we recommend coming prepared with a list of questions, ideally based on some research on the person and company. Recognize that this person is doing you a huge favor by giving you wisdom and time, and they expect you to show respect by being prepared, not being pushy, and having an open mind. The less you're concerned with your "goal," the more likely you are to achieve it!
-- Angela & Cindy
If you’ve been working remotely since stay-at-home orders began, you’re probably a pro at some of the basics by now. But if your company is planning to keep its work-from-home setup for the foreseeable future or move to a hybrid model where you and your boss might not get much face time, you might be wondering how you’ll navigate big picture changes, like getting promoted or asking for a raise. How can you make the case for your professional advancement when you’re out of sight, out of mind?
Every office culture is different, but some of the basics apply across the board. For instance, it’s unlikely your boss will just offer you a promotion or a raise out of the blue. The onus is on you to ask for it. How?
First, assess yourself. Why do you deserve a promotion? If the answer is that you’ve worked in the role for a while, that’s not good enough. Consider what the value-add would be to the company if you were to get promoted. Are you doing higher-level work already, so a formal recognition would be an appropriate course of action that will not only retain you but also free up your time to do more of that valuable work once you don’t have to focus on lower-level work? Great! You’re ready for a promotion. But if you haven’t shown capability for a promotion yet, you’ll need to get on that ASAP. Take initiative by volunteering for more projects, offering creative feedback and notes, and finding ways to prove your value. Consider if there’s anything you can do that would streamline an inefficient work process or a new avenue you can identify to mine story ideas or an opportunity to expand the company’s network, and go for it.
But it’s usually not enough to do the work and sit back hoping someone will take notice. That’s true in an office, and all the more so in a remote environment. You have to make sure your boss knows you’re doing all this awesome work. Check in regularly, whether that’s presenting updates at your weekly department meetings or sending recap emails at the end of the day, week, or month, as appropriate. Working remotely means more managing up -- make sure you are keeping your boss informed of your progress on projects so that she can look good in front of her boss by showcasing how great her team is.
Additionally, log all your achievements so you can present them to your boss when you ask for the promotion. If you do email check-ins with your boss, this is easy -- just compile them and clean them up. Otherwise, keep a running document on your computer where you note what you’re working on and what you’ve achieved. When it’s time to ask for the promotion, you can email this document to your boss for review so they have a visual representation of how great you are -- plus, if they need to make the case to HR or their boss, they’ll have the ammo in hand.
When it comes to making the actual ask, you’ll have to be strategic. Gone are the days where you can gauge your boss’s mood, knock on her door, and ask for a sit-down. Well, sort of. If you have a regular one-on-one, email your boss in advance and ask if you can put some time on the agenda to discuss your performance. This will help your boss prepare for the meeting -- you don’t want her out walking the dog on a call when you’re trying to have a big conversation! Ideally, you’ll pick a check-in that is otherwise unclogged -- it’s not a good idea to schedule this conversation when you have a big deadline or lengthy agenda.
If you don’t have a regular one-on-one, that’s okay! You’ll similarly want to email your boss and ask if you can have a conversation about your performance. Be polite, and ask for a time that’s convenient for her (or if you’re an assistant, take a peek at her schedule and find a time to suggest).
Once you have the call set, treat it like a job interview. Imagine if you were in the office asking for a promotion -- you’d make an extra effort to look nice that day! This is even more important when you’re at home. Get dressed (head-to-toe, even if it’s just a phone call) and close yourself off from distracting roommates, kids, or pets. That will help you appreciate the moment, feel confident, and focus on asking for what you want.
Keep in mind that just because you ask for a promotion doesn’t guarantee you’ll get it. But putting off asking for it until “the right time” or “you’re back in the office” or “the economy bounces back” is a surefire way to guarantee you won’t. So what are you waiting for?
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
"Industry Spotlight" is our newsletter series where we interview professionals from across the entertainment industry about their current jobs and career trajectories. Our hope is that you will learn more about the positions you're already interested in, discover new roles you may not have considered, and utilize the wisdom of those who've paved the way before you to forge your own path for success.
This month, we sat down with Tiffanie Young Lofton, founder of college exit program Young in the Arts and SVP of Production at nonscripted production company Rock Shrimp Productions.
HOLLYWOOD RESUMES: In one sentence, how would you define what a production executive does?
TIFFANIE: I keep the production moving by negotiating, solving problems, and making smart decisions.
HR: What is your day-to-day like?
TIFFANIE: It's a lot of strategizing, be it budgets, logistics, schedules, legal, etc. Every day I'm planning, executing, and multitasking. Usually, I'm in production meetings while also emailing, budgeting, approving payroll, making deals, and more.
HR: What was your first job in Hollywood?
TIFFANIE: Budget coordinator for Lifetime Television.
HR: What are some of the skills someone would need to succeed in your position?
TIFFANIE: You must be detail-oriented, a quick thinker, a strong negotiator, and you absolutely have to listen. Listen to what's being spoken, but more importantly, listen to what's not being said.
HR: If you don't like ______________, you won't like my job.
TIFFANIE: Compromising. In production, you can't say no even when the real answer is no. It's a constant negotiation, which equals compromise. You will not always get your way and you have to accept that.
HR: What's something you do in your job that an outsider wouldn't expect -- and maybe you didn't before you started!
TIFFANIE: Memory. It amazes me how much my company and my team relies on my memory. I have entire budgets and cost trackers in my head (multiple at that) and I have to be ready to make money decisions on the fly. I also have to remember names, rates, hirings, firings, negotiations, contracts, vendors, schedules, etc. for current and past shows. Sure, I can say "I don't know" if I don't remember something and I've had to do that more with age, but production moves faster when I remember details. It's an asset I didn't know I needed, but I'm very glad I have.
HR: What's a mistake you made early on in your career?
TIFFANIE: I got emotional on my first TV job and let people's words get to me. When I reacted, they used it against me. But what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. I quickly learned to leave my emotions at the door and keep it all about business at work. I'm human, though -- so do my emotions still creep in sometimes? Yes, but I know how to manage it and use it to produce an effective outcome.
HR: If you could give one piece of advice for someone trying to break in/move up in the industry, what would it be?
TIFFANIE: Know how you're going to exit the business before you even enter it. Why? Two reasons: 1. How do you attain your dream if you don't know what it is? Know what you want and strategize how to get it. And note that your dream isn't the first step. Your dream is the end game. Dream big! 2. The entertainment business is competitive. You will face rejection and you will want to quit. But if you decide now what your exit is and commit to it, you won't quit until you get there.
HR: Tell us about Young in the Arts. Who is the program for and what do you hope to achieve with it?
TIFFANIE: Young In The Arts grew out of my passion for mentoring. It is an exit program for college juniors and seniors seeking to enter the tv/film industry. We meet virtually twice a month for a total of 8 sessions where I guide the students in Career Planning, Financial Planning, Resume Building/Networking, and Entry Level Training. My tagline is "Guiding the Next Generation of Creative Minds." I've seen too many young people start in this industry and then quit because they felt lost. My goal is to give them real-life tips and tricks to keep going and succeed.
HR: What are some of the challenges you see facing recent grads trying to break in to the industry?
TIFFANIE: COVID definitely made it harder to break in. Why would someone hire a new person with no experience when so many experienced people were unemployed? During COVID, people who were rarely ever free were suddenly available for booking. But, thankfully, things are better now. Hollywood has figured out how to shoot during COVID so experienced people are back to being booked and opportunities are becoming available again for newbies. Now more than ever, it's important to make those connections and make sure someone in the business knows your name.
HR: You're an expert on budgets from your production management work. Do you have any budgeting tips for job seekers or freelancers trying to make ends meet during hiatus?
TIFFANIE: Flexibility. You must have an adjustable budget, one you spend when things are great and one you spend when things are hard. And, go easy on yourself. In Hollywood, our success depends on creativity and creativity is stifled by stress. If you can't be creative, you can't make money, so adjust your budget, relax, and let the creative juices flow.
HR: Thanks, Tiffanie!
Have you ever sent an email to a work contact asking to reconnect, pitching a project idea, or requesting a referral, only to never hear back? You're not alone. Pretty much everyone has been work-ghosted at one point or another. But what do you do in this situation? Especially the ghost is someone you aren’t close with, it’s likely that you had an important or sensitive reason for reaching out, and getting ignored can trigger a lot of insecurities around your relationship. Your gut instinct might be to think they hate you and will never speak to you again.
The first thing you need to do in this situation is to avoid letting your imagination come up with worst case scenarios. The most likely explanation for ghosting is that the person didn’t see your email. Or saw it, meant to respond later, and forgot because it was marked as “read” in their inbox. This becomes more and more true as you reach out to contacts higher up the food chain. The number of emails department heads are getting each day is mind-numbing, so it’s no surprise that they miss emails frequently. And this gets even worse around the holidays or other busy times of year! You never know what’s going on, but be aware that if there’s a holiday or big industry conference coming up, it might not be the best time to email. Most importantly, don’t automatically assume they are ignoring you and write them off as a bad person. 99% of the time, the ghosting was unintentional.
If you haven’t heard back in a couple of weeks, follow up! Simply reply to the same chain and say that you’re checking in to see if they received the previous email and ask your question again. Most likely you’ll get an “I’m so sorry, I didn't see this email!” response pretty quickly. And you can continue the relationship from there. If you still don’t get an answer, this could be a red flag. If you’re trying to pitch a project or have a professional inquiry other than asking for a favor, you could try reaching out to a colleague of the person and explain the situation. They’ll probably be able to offer a reason that the other person couldn’t respond or get an answer for you. But it’s possible that the original contact doesn’t want to get back in touch. And if that’s the case, move on. There are plenty of other people to maintain relationships with.
One thing to note – none of this applies when it comes to job applications. It’s quite common not to hear back after you’ve applied for a role. Even when you’ve gone pretty far down the interview path. Is this right or fair? No. But it’s a reality we all have to deal with. You can always follow up with the recruiter or hiring manager every couple of weeks, but if you don’t hear anything, don’t take it personally. They were probably considering many other qualified candidates who all got ghosted as well.
The bottom line is: you have to give people the benefit of the doubt and don’t get too offended when you don’t hear back after sending an email. Instead, get comfortable with following up – a quick check in email is the best way to get an answer on something while maintaining the relationship.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan