"ASK HR" is our monthly 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've spent most of my career in representation. However, I recently transitioned to a non-scripted TV show in the story department and am loving it. But as a freelancer, I'm already feeling anxious about landing my next gig, because my resume is loaded with experience that doesn't apply to reality TV. What should I do?
-- What's My Story
Dear What's My Story,
First of all, congratulations on finding a job you love! That's no small feat, and it's exciting to know that you can transition to a new side of the industry and find happiness in it. More good news? That you already made the hardest transition. It's the initial jump from representation to production that's most scary, because you'll have to convince hiring managers that you're capable of doing a totally different job. You did that already! Take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back.
It sounds like there's a voice in your head buzzing, "What if this is a fluke? What if people see my resume and think I have no direction? How can my short roster of credits compare to other people in my position who've been at it for years?" Let's separate the truth in those questions from the fear and anxiety. Remember: You're already doing the job you want to do, and if you haven't been fired, you're probably doing a good enough job! So no, this is not a fluke. At least it doesn't have to be.
There are a few different options for your resume. First, you can include REALITY PRODUCER or STORY PRODUCER in your headline to convey your direction to employers right off the bat. You may also consider a professional summary -- something along the lines of "Story producer with background in representation. Experience producing non-scripted series for major networks and collaborating with writers to develop feature scripts." Your summary is a great place to make key connections between the transferable skills from your past jobs and your current trajectory. Plus, it's an opportunity to show what sets you apart. You never know when the hiring manager will want the expertise you acquired from working in representation.
Then, lead the experience section with your work at your current show. Hit all the major buzz words from the job posting, or, if you're applying through a vague posting or contact, what you know to be the most important elements of the job. List any significant achievements -- did the season perform particularly well in the ratings? Did you get any additional responsibilities beyond the original scope of your work? How many episodes are you working on, and how many editors are you collaborating with? Are you able to write or pitch any creative? Show the breadth of your current experience while keeping the section to 3-4 bullet points.
When it comes to the rest of your work chronology, give context for your jobs, since people in your current field may be less familiar with representation. Include as many transferable skills you can think of -- collaborating, negotiating, and pitching come to mind. Even though you may have done other things in those roles, keep your bullets short and to the point. Then, think about any other experiences that may be relevant to your current story -- did you ever intern for a reality production company? PA on set? Produce any short films? If those experiences still fit on your resume and weren't ridiculously long ago, they may be worth including.
You'll also want to make sure your skills section lists any technical skills you've picked up in your new job. Are you more comfortable with Avid now that you're creating string-outs? Put it on there!
And lastly, keep in mind that your resume is one tiny piece of your overall job search. Make a good impression on your colleagues now so that you can come recommended for the next show they go to and/or solidify your return for the next season of your current show. It's pretty common for story producers to get hired through prior contacts. And once you have a few credits under your belt, change your resume entirely to a credits list and leave your previous career in representation behind!
-- Angela & Cindy
In a traditional resume, your experience section will list all your previous jobs in reverse chronological order, and each listing will have bullet points underneath that describe your key responsibilities and accomplishments at the company. They showcase what you did, how well you did it, and prove soft skills like communication and organization by providing examples for how you implemented those skills in your day-to-day job. They make up the meat of your resume, so it's important to craft them properly! Here are five tips for writing great bullets:
1. Lead with a strong action verb. "Responsible for" is not a strong action verb! You want to highlight what you did in a role to give a picture of your work self, and those tasks should be described with action verbs. Hiring managers aren’t spending a lot of time with your resume, but if they were to read only your companies, titles, and the first word of each bullet point, they’d understand that you know how to manage, communicate, generate, collaborate, implement, organize…the list goes on. These are the words that will mimic what’s in the job posting and let you showcase your capabilities.
2. Don’t be repetitive. Get creative with your bullet points and do your best to come up with a new verb to lead each one. Even if the responsibilities you had at two companies were similar, you’ll be able to differentiate them by switching up the verbs. Use a thesaurus to look up synonyms if you need to – just be careful not to go overboard. If your resume is getting too repetitive, think about whether you can lose a bullet that's not adding anything new to your story -- remember, your resume is a marketing document, not a biography.
3. Give context. The first bullet point in each section should be an overview that describes the scope of your work and helps the hiring manager picture you in that role. Describe your main job function and offer a little extra info – if the company or department isn’t widely known, you'll want to explain its overall function. Alternatively, you may want to give a sense of the volume of work you were doing or list a key accomplishment. Start broad, and subsequent bullet points can hone in on some of your more specific accomplishments and responsibilities. That's where you can quantify your achievements and show results -- "Developed concepts and wrote pitch materials" is not as strong as "Developed concepts and pitched to network executives; sold HOLLYWOOD RESUMES: THE SERIES to ABC."
4. Use the job posting as your guide. Only include bullet points that are relevant to the job you’re going to do -- and use the verbs from the posting as your action verbs to directly answer the job posting. Try to limit bullet points to 2-4 per section, depending on how many positions you have to list. You might want to make a master resume that includes everything you ever did, and then carefully select the bullet points for each job application to correspond with the qualifications in the posting.
5. Shorter is better. You're writing bullet points, not sentences, and they should feel that way! Keep your descriptions brief. A bullet should ideally be on one line and never more than two. Consider using semicolons to bridge two related skills in one bullet. In fact, semicolons and commas are the only punctuation you should use -- avoid periods, since these aren't complete sentences.
Creating great bullet points takes practice – and also a pretty good understanding of how to write clearly and concisely. If you’re not a wordsmith, consider hiring a professional resume writer (that’s why we’re here!). They’ll help you get your point across in a clear concise way and will be able to objectively assess what’s most important for you to showcase on your resume.
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
"Industry Spotlight" is our monthly 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's Industry Spotlight is a special edition, where we sat down with a Talent Acquisitions Manager at a global media firm who previously worked at a communications-focused staffing and recruitment agency. Here, he shares his insight into the recruitment process and key advice for job seekers.
HOLLYWOOD RESUMES: What does a recruiter do and what is your day-to-day like?
RECRUITER: It varies a bit by company and type of recruiting role, but in general it's a recruiter's job to find the best candidates for open positions. We collaborate with hiring teams and business leaders to craft job descriptions, sometimes make recommendations on how to structure the teams, post job opportunities, review applications/resumes, source for passive talent, coordinate the interview process from start to finish, and extend job offers. Day-to-day includes meetings with hiring teams and business unit leaders, spending time in the applicant tracking system (ATS) reviewing resumes for open positions, conducting initial phone screens, attending events, reporting on recruiting metrics and KPIs, and looking for qualified talent on LinkedIn and other sourcing channels.
HR: What's the first thing you look for when screening candidates?
RECRUITER: The first thing we look for is if the candidate has the necessary hard skills to do the job. Because no matter what, that is needed. However, that is not enough to proceed to the next round. We also pay close attention to communication style/ability, personality, and soft skills. Does the candidate have an ego, and if so, will that be a detriment to this team? Can they describe things clearly? Do they seem confident? Have they prepared/done research? Believe it or not, we're also listening to the candidates to understand what they are looking for in their next role. They could have every single skill needed, but if the role doesn't align to their career goals, it won't be a successful hire. Finally, we are also thinking about the future -- perhaps this role may not be a fit, but maybe there are others now or down the line that would be better. Given the active job market and low unemployment rate these days, recruiters need to think ahead and be strategic if they are going to successfully fill their open positions.
HR: What's the #1 resume mistake you see?
RECRUITER: Misaligned dates of employment. For example, we'll see Job A from December 2015 - January 2018, and then Job B from January 2017 - June 2018. While it's possible someone held two jobs at once, make sure that's clear if it's the case. Along those lines, sometimes we also see certain dates on the resume, but then when talking to the candidate they give us different dates or time in the role, and that conflict can cause concern and lack of trust in what's being communicated to us. Bottom line is, don't be afraid to tell the truth, and if there are gaps in employment, that's OK -- just find a way to address them on the resume and the phone screen (and you don't have to account for every single little thing you did, it's understandable that candidates will have some minor gaps in employment history for a variety of reasons).
HR: How should candidates use LinkedIn?
RECRUITER: LinkedIn can be a powerful tool. First and foremost, make sure you have a professional profile. That includes a professional-looking photo, and most (if not all) of the sections filled out. Link your role to your company's page if they have one (and if they don't, take the initiative and make them one!). Another thing that's very helpful for recruiters is if you include two key pieces of information for each job: 1) a brief overview of the company or business unit/division you work for, especially if it's not commonly known, and 2) a summary of your key responsibilities. These two snapshots provide some great information all in one place. Also, leverage your network! Reach out to mutual connections, ask for introductions to recruiters or professionals you want to meet, and be willing to pay it forward and help others! And finally, if a recruiter does reach out to you, respond! You don't have to be interested in the role, but it never hurts to start the relationship.
HR: Many of our readers are looking to make big career transitions -- i.e. freelance to full time, returning to work after time off with family, switching career paths entirely -- what can they do to convince a recruiter they're right for a job in a new sector?
RECRUITER: This is a great question, and I've found myself in this situation in my own career as well. First, you need to know the market and come to the conversation with knowledge. You need to understand the role you are applying for and what the requirements are, and whether you have them or not. I'd say it's less about "convincing" and more about "exploring" -- make it a collaborative partnership with the recruiter, be very open and clear about what you are looking for and why, and what areas of your background and experience can apply. Also, admit to what you don't know or don't have experience with -- most companies, while they have a list of requirements for each job, will hire people who don't hit every single box. Remember, other skills are important, too -- personality fit, soft skills, communication, ambition -- these all can help your case. And finally, be realistic -- if you've been a graphic designer for 10 years and now you want to be a TV executive, you're not going to be able to start at the same level as someone with 10 years of relevant experience. Be ready to have that conversation, admit to what you do and don't know, be realistic about your expectations for the job and salary, do your research, and you'll probably then be well on your way to landing that career transition you are looking for.
HR: Tell us about ATS - how important is it to tailor your resume to them? What keywords are absolutely imperative? Do all companies use the same ATS?
RECRUITER: There are tons of ATSs out there that companies use; it's essentially recruiting software. Many are similar in how they function, but each have their own strengths and nuances. My first piece of advice is not to worry too much about it. The ATS is more for the recruiting teams to manage open positions, applications, pipelines, job status, candidate status, etc. However, certain ATSs are more advanced than others and may use technology to help match a resume to a particular role. So, first and foremost, make sure you have a solid resume as a foundation. This means it's detailed, hits the important points, and can be adaptable. Then, it doesn't hurt to tailor your resume to the job description. So, if you see a job description touting certain skills or using specific keywords, there's nothing wrong with making sure your resume matches some of that verbiage or addresses those areas...but only if it's true! It may increase your chance of matching in the system and getting contacted for the role. But again, I wouldn't drive yourself nuts trying to do this to perfection. Just develop the best resume that showcases your professional career and professional self and make tweaks here and there to align to the the job description, and you should be in good shape.
If you’re looking for a job at a higher level than your current role, trying to break into the industry from a different field, hoping to move from one area of entertainment to another, or aiming to leave the industry altogether, you’ll need a resume that communicates that you’re capable of doing the job you’re applying for. The resume you used to get your last job isn’t going to cut it! But if you follow these key tips, you’ll be able to convince a hiring manager to bring you in for an interview.
First, read the job posting closely. You’ll need to assess if you actually are qualified for the position (overqualified does not count as qualified). Read each element of the job posting as if it were a question; “Communicate with multiple players to manage project execution” becomes, “Can you communicate with multiple players to manage project execution?” If your answer is “Yes!,” consider why. Map that “yes” back to a skill you acquired at a previous position, and make sure that skill becomes a bullet on your resume. If your answer is “No,” that’s okay, as long as you have affirmative responses to the majority of the qualifications. If you don’t even understand the terminology in the posting, reassess if this is the best job for you right now, or if you should take some professional development courses to learn more about the field.
Once you’ve determined which of your skills translate to the open role, you’ll need to make sure they’re highlighted on your resume. Your first bullet in each section should set the stage for each of your past roles to add context for the hiring manager (this is especially important if you’ve worked at smaller companies or are transitioning to a new industry). The remainder of the bullets should track back to the job posting and use as much verbiage from the posting as possible. Even if the majority of your job was spent doing something else, focus only on the relevant skills that apply to the open position. Your resume isn’t a biography, but rather a marketing document designed to highlight the value you can bring to the new company.
You may also consider adding a professional summary or core skills list to your resume to highlight key elements of your background, particularly if you’re further along in your career or are making a huge transition. (If you're applying for entry-level roles, these sections aren't necessary and mostly just waste valuable space).
A professional summary is a paragraph at the top of your resume that provides a quick overview of your experience and strengths and creates a story for why your multitude of skills makes you an excellent candidate. To write a professional summary, think about how you would define yourself -- if you can brand yourself with a known title (like development executive or reality TV producer) that's great, but if not, you can list a few specializations and the types of companies you've worked for. Then think about the primary qualifications the posting suggests an ideal candidate would possess and use that to fill in the last 2-3 sentences. It’s a good idea to tweak this section, even slightly, for each posting to highlight the most important skills you bring to the table and what sets you apart from other candidates.
A core skills/area of expertise section can also help boost your resume, since it’ll give you an opportunity to use more keywords and showcase expertise you gained from multiple positions. This could be presented as a simple list of skills at the top of your resume, or it could be a few broader skills with some bullets describing them. For example, you can title a section “Project Management” and highlight how you managed budgets and deadlines as a line producer on set in bullet points below. If you’re going for Project Manager roles outside the industry, you’ll have that critical phrase on your resume, even though your title of “Line Producer” doesn’t directly translate. Just be careful not to include soft skills in this list -- things like “excellent communicator” or “team player” are easy to say and hard to prove. If you list a skill in this section, make sure it’s backed up by a tangible description in your resume.
You might also consider a functional resume, especially if you’ve had a lot of freelance positions and are looking for a corporate role in a different area of the industry or a different industry altogether. This resume focuses more on general areas of expertise and achievements than a chronology. This is often a last resort, since employers like to see a clear timeline, but it can help keep your resume from becoming four pages long or too repetitive. In particular, a functional resume can be a helpful alternative if you’ve worked on multiple projects in a year, returned to a series for multiple seasons, or if you’ve consulted for a variety of clients in a similar capacity.
Regardless of how you tackle it, make sure your resume is tailored to the job posting. Show the hiring managers exactly what they're hoping to see, and leave off the extra stuff. You might have to dig deep to remember experiences and skills that will translate to the new role, but if you can mimic the job posting as much as possible, you'll have the best shot at getting through that first hurdle of making a successful transition.
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan