When you first start out in Hollywood, chances are you’re an assistant of some sort, whether that’s supporting an executive on a desk or supporting a production. And being an assistant is a great way to get your foot in the door! But too many people get caught with one foot through the threshold and that’s it…stuck in Hollywood assistant-dom for years with no real advancement.
We don’t want that for you! Your Hollywood dream job lies beyond the admin stuff, and we want to help you get there. Our latest e-book, The Hollywood Assistant Guide: How to Roll Calls, Manage Calendars, Write Script Coverage and Maintain Organization on a Busy Entertainment Desk, will help you become a great assistant. And once you master the art of being a great assistant, you can hone your skills further to get that well-earned promotion. Here’s how:
Showcase your taste. When you’ve got a strong understanding of the basics -- phones, scheduling, tracking -- you’ll have earned the right to engage with your boss on larger creative conversations. A good boss will want to give you opportunities to weigh in with script notes, take the first stab at a treatment, make initial talent selects, pitch a joke or two in the writers’ room, or suggest a workaround for an issue on set. Take advantage of these opportunities, politely and humbly, and consider asking for more chances to expand your creative input. Maybe you can hip pocket a client, bring monthly suggestions of books for potential acquisition, or simply join higher-level meetings.
Initiate solutions. There are a million things that are backlogged in every office. Consider what processes you can improve or what tasks you can take off your boss’s plate. Take initiative to make things better and more efficient. For example, if your boss has been meaning to expand their list of writers of historically underrepresented groups but doesn’t have a minute to do the required research, offer to take that project on by curating a list of scripts from contests, fellowships, or peer recommendations. If your production office has a sloppy crew database because no one’s had the time to update it for the last few production cycles, create an easily-maintainable system.
Talk to your boss. Very few bosses have the capacity to remember to advocate for you – which means you have to advocate for yourself. Your boss may not be keeping a close eye on the calendar the way you are and has no idea your year on their desk is almost up. Make a list of your achievements and added responsibilities since you first started and ask your boss to have a discussion about your future. Explain to your boss what your goals are and ask for a promotion and/or growth plan. If you’re on a show or movie, talk to the line producer about how you’d love to be considered for coordinator positions on their next project, and mention this to other crew members in your department as well. The answer might be “no” if you ask, but it’s almost definitely “no” if you don’t ask.
Move on if you can’t move up. It’s possible there’s no room for growth at your current company, or that your boss will refuse to promote you (and even gets upset by the ask). If this happens, it’s time to get out! You don’t owe anyone loyalty but yourself. It’s understood that people won’t stay assistants forever, so you should feel completely comfortable and qualm-free about looking elsewhere to level up. There are some higher-ups who will consider it a personal affront that you dared to leave their desk, but trust us from experience – they’re not worth your time. These people will not help you down the line, and they will only hold you back. You’ve done a great job as their assistant, which was the maximum you owed them, even if they tell you otherwise. Tell your contacts you’re looking for a new role at a higher level, and adapt your materials to highlight the more advanced skills you took on in your role.
Be patient. There are more assistant roles in Hollywood than higher-level roles, and as you level up throughout your career, you’ll notice things thin out at the top. Not everyone can be CEO. It’s perfectly natural to have a longer job search when you’re looking for a more competitive position than when you were trying to get your foot in the door at whatever agency mailroom had an opening. Accept this and remain confident in your job search. If you’re strategic – targeting specific roles and specific companies, leaning into your network to generate new connections and referrals to jobs, tailoring your materials to each open position – you will get there, even if it takes a little while.
You can get and do deserve your Hollywood dream job and to move beyond the desk or past PA roles. Put in the effort to be the best you can be in your current role, build on that, and take control of your career so you can make it to the next step. And we’re here to support you every step of the way.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
If you’re actively on the hunt for a new job, you know you need an updated resume and LinkedIn profile. But what about when you’re settled into a role? On one hand, you know you should tailor your resume to the specific roles you’re targeting, which is hard to do if you don’t have a role in mind. On the other hand, you know Hollywood hires quickly, and you don’t want to be caught without a great resume when your dream job opens up!
There are a few different ways to approach this. If you’re primarily freelancing and hopping from show to show, you should update your credits list, IMDB, and/or StaffMeUp profile as soon as you get a new gig, so you can pass your most recent document along after wrap. Your LinkedIn profile should be stable, with a strong evergreen summary that includes your key projects (you can update those as you get more recent credits), and you can list all your freelance experience together, so you don’t find yourself constantly adding jobs every time you start a new gig.
If you’re not actively searching but casually open to opportunities should the right one come along, you should have an updated resume that’s geared to the types of roles you’d pivot for. For example, if you’re a development executive at a production company, but you’d jump ship if you had the opportunity to work at a network, make sure your LinkedIn is polished so recruiters can find you. Just don't be too overt about the job search, so your current colleagues and boss won’t think you have one foot out the door. Keep your descriptions in line with your current role and professional persona, while highlighting the key skills you bring to the table to increase searchability. On your resume, add your current role and update the job description as you garner more achievements, work on new projects, or expand your duties. You’ll want to keep the bullets tailored to the roles you’d leave for, so when something opens up, all you have to do is convert to PDF and press send.
If you’re happy where you are with no plans to leave, and you’re not even sure what you’d do if you were to embark on a job search, you should use your LinkedIn and resume differently. Your LinkedIn should tell the story of who you are in your current role and reflect an interest in building relationships for your current company. For your resume, we recommend creating an overview document that you can pull from when you are ready for the job search. Include everything you’ve done in current or past roles, even if you’re not sure if they’re relevant. This way, you can select bullets to match a particular job description when the time comes. It’s a good idea to update this document every few months or every time you finish a major project, so you don’t forget your accomplishments. This can also be helpful in case there’s a swift change in your employment status. You don’t want to find yourself with a resume that’s five years old when you’re suddenly laid off and need to find a job stat. Don’t worry too much about this document, though – it doesn't need to be perfect. You just want to have a handy record of your experience that you can easily pull from, so if and when you do decide to start on the job search, you’re ahead of the game.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
Once a job posting is up, how much time do you have to apply before you lose out on that opportunity? The answer is that it varies depending on the role, where it was posted, and who is hiring. Here are a few guidelines that will help you figure out whether you need to drop everything and apply right away.
In Hollywood, the jobs that get filled the fastest are entry-level roles, specifically writers’ room support staff like writers’ PAs, writers’ assistants, and script coordinators. These are most often filled by word of mouth or by someone asking for referrals through a tracking board. Quite often, the person collecting resumes will say they’re no longer accepting submissions after 200+ resumes pour in over the course of two hours. Similarly, assistant positions on the UTA job list and similar job boards get inundated with resumes just hours after the post goes up, though you likely have an extra day or two to apply for those, as the competition won’t be as fierce if you have a very strong resume and cover letter (most applicants for those roles "resume bomb" the openings, and hiring managers tend to wait a beat to gather stronger resumes). If you're applying for any of these types of roles, make sure you have a resume ready to go. Luckily, most entry-level postings are pretty short, and you can usually send the same resume out time and again without tweaking it. Assistant positions are typically filled in about two weeks, often because an executive is about to lose their support staff and want to get someone in quickly. At larger corporations -- especially where temps or floaters are an option -- the hiring manager might take more time to find the right person. And regardless of whether a posting is “closed” or not, you can still be considered if you can find someone to refer you – a hiring manager would always prefer a candidate who has been vetted by someone they know over someone they don't.
Beyond entry-level positions, there's a lot more disparity. The hiring timeline for freelance crew roles can vary depending on when the production will start, but these are also typically quick turnarounds. The good news is that your "resume" for a production role will usually take the form of a credits list or Staff Me Up profile, which should be pretty easy to maintain and send out at a moment’s notice. A good rule of thumb here is to update your materials every time you start a new job, so you're ready to apply as soon as your show wraps.
In-house mid-to senior-level roles generally don’t require such a rush. Companies hiring for these roles have a very specific need they are hoping someone can fill, so they're going to spend more time finding the right candidate for the job and really invest in that person. If you notice that a job posting just went up, try to be at the front of the pack of applicants and submit your application materials that week, but even if the posting has already been up a couple of weeks, it’s likely that the position is still open. If it has been open for a month when you find it, do some digging to see if you can get in contact with a recruiter or someone at the company who can tell you if they are still reviewing applications. You'll want to tailor your resume and cover letter to the job posting, so it's clear to the hiring manager that you're a potential fit for the specific role and not just applying willy nilly. This is a pretty big mindset shift from entry-level roles, where you fire the same resume off to multiple jobs per week. A role that requires greater responsibility on the job also requires greater responsibility on the application side; it's more important to apply strategically than quickly. Take the time to read the posting carefully, revise your materials, and tap into your network for referrals.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
Cover emails are one of the most under-utilized elements of job applications, but they can make a huge difference for your candidacy!
First, let's clarify what a cover email is and when it's used. Cover emails are short notes -- 1-2 paragraphs, max -- that are written in the body of the message when you apply for a job over email. For jobs that don't require a cover letter and don't have a fancy portal through which you submit your application, you'll want to include a cover email that briefly contextualizes your resume. Often, these jobs are for production and writers' room support staff roles or for assistant jobs on the UTA job list. There are also jobs that require a cover letter but still indicate that you should apply via email, rather than through the company's website or LinkedIn. Those postings require cover emails, too, even if they seem redundant.
Consider the hiring manager's perspective. If they are accepting applications via email, they're likely not a recruiter or in HR, but rather a person with a totally different full-time job trying to fill a hole in their team or replace themselves as they wrap out of the role. Meaning, they are busy. These hiring managers -- especially when hiring for support staff roles -- get inundated with resumes within hours. They are looking for reasons to say "no" and move on to the next candidate, rather than reasons to say "yes" and bring you in for an interview.
As they look through their submission-filled inbox, they'll see some completely blank messages that just have an attachment. It's a little scary to open a random attachment, since spammers could easily find the email address on the posting as they crawl the web. Plus, this candidate clearly put in minimal effort -- not exactly what most hiring managers are looking for. These blank emails are often passed over in favor of candidates who tried just a little harder.
Some messages will come through with a simple, "Hi, my resume is attached!" That's better than a blank email, but not much. Maybe the hiring manager will open your resume attachment. But if they see a message come through with a short cover email that convincingly highlights why the candidate applied and would be right for the role, they're more likely to gravitate toward that candidate first. Simply by crafting a message, you're showing that you're a go-getter who's really invested in the position and that you can communicate professionally.
So what goes in this all-important email? Think about it like the first and last paragraph of your cover letter. Open with a greeting and an indication of what role you're applying for and where you heard about it. Then share your current status and goal ("I recently graduated from Syracuse University with a BA in Communications, and I'm hoping to begin my career in the industry as a PA working in TV comedy" or "I'm currently an assistant to a literary manager at 3 Arts Entertainment and am seeking a transition to a writers' assistant role as I grow my career as a writer.").
If you have a bit of an unusual circumstance to highlight, like you took time off to care for family or are pursuing entertainment as a second career, you can bring it up in the next sentence. You can also highlight 1-3 transferable skills if you're making a larger career transition and need to explain why you're qualified. Then, include a clause explaining why you're excited about this specific opportunity (if you can -- sometimes the job posting is so vague that you can't really express anything specific). That's it for your first paragraph -- 3-5 sentences! Before your sign off, express that you've attached your resume and formal cover letter (if requested) for review and would like to set a time for an interview. Close with a friendly "Best" or "Thanks" and your name.
It's a pretty simple process and shouldn't take more than a few minutes of your time. Totally worth it for something that can be the difference between the hiring manager reading your resume or ignoring it.
-- Angela Silak and Cindy Kaplan