The key to moving up in Hollywood is to be a great assistant. Great assistants get recommended for higher-level jobs and often don’t even have to apply with a traditional resume and cover letter. But what does being a great assistant actually entail? Almost anyone can answer phones and schedule meetings, but there's a lot more you can put into the job if you want to reach that next level.
To be a great assistant, you need to go above and beyond for your boss and think two steps ahead of him at all times. For example, if your boss typically drinks a little too much while watching football on Sundays, make sure you never schedule a nonessential Monday morning meeting for him, even if that slot is theoretically “open.” If he must pitch a network on a Monday, remind him on Friday and again on Sunday morning, so he remembers to keep his hangover in check. Another example: If your boss calls every evening at 7pm asking to roll calls, make sure the call sheet is ready at 6:50 and finish all your other tasks beforehand -- make it clear that it’s not a surprise to you that it’s call-rolling time.
Even outside of phones and scheduling, there are ways to stand out. Be an information machine. Read the trades every day and send your boss clippings of relevant articles -- everything from competing shows getting picked up to good news about clients and contacts. If you see a name on the phone sheet regularly and learn that this person has landed a new job, make sure you tell your boss to send a congratulatory email. He may not have time to keep up with all the exec shuffles, and he’ll be glad you were looking out for his relationships. And it’s not just your boss who will be impressed by your berth of knowledge -- when you network with other assistants and coordinators, they’ll get a sense that you’re on the ball and might even recommend you for a position (and you’ll already have a head start on your interview research!).
Even though on the outside, it seems like being an assistant is as easy as picking up a phone, the truth is, being a great assistant takes a lot of finesse (and patience!). Hone your skills beyond the day-to-day tasks, and you’ll find doors opening for you as you advance in your career.
In an industry where everybody knows everybody, you have to be careful not to burn bridges in your business relationships. But there’s one situation where the fear of getting blacklisted should not apply, and that’s when you accept a new job. Let’s say you’ve spent two years on an assistant desk at an agency and have a great relationship with your boss. In fact, he regularly tells you that you’re the best assistant he’s ever had, and he doesn’t know what he would do without you. And for an assistant, you’ve got a pretty good thing going -- your boss never yells at you, he lets you go home early every Friday, he doesn’t call or email after hours, and he takes you out to lunch on days when he doesn’t have one already scheduled. You’re pretty comfortable in your role, and you know that you're valued at the company. But there’s just one issue -- you don’t want to be an agent. It’s always been your dream to become a development executive, and you’re ready to make the move to a network or studio. But when you finally get a job offer, you start to question yourself. "Am I wrong for wanting to leave a boss who has treated me very fairly for the past two years? Would I be completely screwing him over if I left?" The answer is no.
The first rule about working in Hollywood is that you have to watch out for yourself. Others are busy worrying about their own careers, so if you want to advance in yours, you’re going to have to put yourself first. There is absolutely nothing wrong with leaving your current job, no matter the reason. You've carefully thought through your decision, and you shouldn't feel guilty about doing something that's in your best interest. Your current boss might be a little disappointed when he learns he's going to lose you, but if he's a decent person and actually wants to see you succeed, he should be happy for you (and if he's not, you shouldn’t think twice about getting out of there). Especially in the entertainment industry, it’s completely normal for people to bounce around a bit, and no one is going to fault you for making a career move.
Still don’t believe us? There are a couple of things you can do put your mind more at ease. One option is to be completely transparent during the job search process. If you’re comfortable letting your current boss know you’re looking for a new job, go for it -- if he knows you want to take your career in a different direction, this shouldn’t be a problem. And if you’re lucky, he’ll even go out of his way to call on your behalf after an interview. Nothing looks better to a new employer than a current boss’s recommendation. However, transparency isn't always the solution -- sometimes it can be better to keep your job search a secret. You know your boss better than anyone, so use your judgment -- you don't want to be forced out or overlooked for a raise or promotion because the boss knows you're out interviewing. But if you have the kind of relationship where you can be open about your job search, it can often benefit you to be transparent.
The other thing you can (and should!) do is to find a way to leave on good terms. Don’t break the news to your boss and pack up your stuff the same day. Two weeks notice is standard, and your new employer will understand that (if they don't, it's a red flag, and you should tread carefully). You’ll also want to reassure your current boss that he’s going to be fine without you. Offer to help with the interview process and start to collect resumes. You know the type of assistant your boss needs, so your input can be extremely useful here. Then, leave everything very organized for the new assistant, so he’ll be able to pick up right where you’ve left off. Creating an assistant guide or tip sheet is always helpful. If your replacement is able to start soon enough, you’ll even be able to train him. Finally, make sure your coworkers know how much you’ve enjoyed working with them -- thank you notes are a great way to make a lasting impression. At the very least, make sure you sign off with a thank you email to your colleagues. As long as you’re not purposefully creating trouble when you leave, everyone should be on your side, regardless of where you end up.
Is one of your 2018 resolutions to find a new job? Great! Now the only question is . . . where?
With so many great and varied companies in Hollywood, it can be hard to pinpoint viable leads for new opportunities. Some people blindly submit their resumes for every job posting they see, and they probably aren’t having as much success as they would if they really targeted the companies they’re most passionate about. To make the job search manageable, it’s good to set some goals and put the majority of your energy toward reaching them.
We recommend selecting anywhere from 10-15 companies to heavily research and monitor for openings. Sometimes that list will be shorter -- even a list of one or two companies is fine if you know exactly what you’re looking for -- but tracking more than 15 will become too burdensome, especially if you’re working full time. Create a schedule for checking the job boards at each of these companies regularly, and make an effort to meet as many people as you can at each. If you're more interested in freelance work in writing or production, try to find 10-15 contacts on LinkedIn with the job title you're looking for and ask for informational interviews to learn more about those roles and build relationships with people that can notify you of future openings.
Not sure where to start with your list? Here’s a tip: Research the creative teams and distributors of your favorite movies and TV shows. You want to work at a place that makes the type of content you’re passionate about, so why not head straight to the source? Even if these companies are ultra-competitive, don’t discount them -- you’ll never get there unless you try! And, as an added bonus, you’ll also have a lot to talk about in a job interview if you’re very familiar with the projects your favorite company produces.
Another option is to choose a company with a mission or specialty that excites you. For example, if you’re really into politics, a company like Vice might be a good option. Or if you're an advocate for women in film, look for companies that produce female-driven content. The key is to find crossover between your personal interests and your work. The good news? There are companies in the entertainment industry that produce content for just about every niche imaginable, so it's relatively easy to create a very concentrated job search centered on organizations with missions that you support. When you apply for jobs at these companies, your natural enthusiasm will show hiring managers that you really mean business.
Obviously, there will be times where you see an interesting posting for a job or company that isn’t on your list or that you hadn’t heard of before, and by all means, you should apply. Don’t close yourself off to positions just because they weren’t part of the original plan. But still make sure to put in effort to get your resume into the right hands and research the company thoroughly so that your newfound passion comes across in your job application.
Although employers often have to be very strategic about sticking to professional qualifications when asking questions in a job interview, they also want to hire someone they'll enjoy spending 40+ hours a week with. Adding personal interests to your resume can help spark conversations that will foster a personal connection and allow you to showcase your personality during an interview. But in Hollywood, there's even more to the story. Here, your interests and hobbies can actually count as part of your professional qualifications!
In entertainment, a lot of your success will come from the people you meet and the life experiences you’ve had -- these will often form the basis for the creative storytelling that you’ve decided to dedicate your career to. In fact, interviewers will sometimes call attention to this -- they want to know what you read, how you spend your time, and what unique perspectives you can bring to the table. So whether or not you list them on your resume, if you can find a way to bring up hobbies or topics you’re passionate about during your interview, you just might be able to edge out the less well-rounded candidates.