The assumption of the corporate ladder is that once you’ve figured out how to do a certain role yourself, you’ll be able to manage others when you get promoted. But managing people is a very unique skill set, and many people find themselves ill-equipped to manage a team when they first get that opportunity. Some people figure it out -- but a lot don’t -- hence the fairly common complaint about incompetent bosses and supervisors.
There are many different management styles, each with their pros and cons. And while it’s unlikely that you’ll be a super effective manager just from reading this newsletter, here are five things to keep in mind as you develop your managerial skills:
1. You have to do your job. Unless your job is 100% team oversight, don’t think you can let your primary responsibilities lapse because you now have a team eager to prove themselves. Delegating tasks is all well and good, but you still need to do your own job. It can be really tempting to pass along the tasks that bore you to someone below you who can’t seem to say no, but don’t take advantage of your power. You can encourage your direct reports to grow by allowing them to take on more senior responsibilities, but if something is above their pay grade -- i.e. at your pay grade -- don’t force them to do it unless you’re prepared to pay them for it! And make sure you’re still carrying your weight. Just because your development coordinator is great at giving notes on sizzle reels doesn't mean they should manage the whole slate -- you should still handle a few projects exclusively.
2. You don’t have to do your direct reports' jobs. We’ve all had micromanaging bosses. The kind of person who proofreads every email you send, who complains if your organization system differs slightly from theirs, who, when you ask, “How do you want me to structure this presentation?” responds with “Run with it! Let’s see what you come up with!” and then hands you a laundry list of very specific, taste-oriented notes. Don’t be that person! Give your employees clear instructions, answer their questions, and if the work is satisfactory but not exactly how you’d do it, let it go. If you let your team do their jobs, you’ll have more time to do yours -- and more time to lean into innovation and growth for yourself and your company.
3. Give constructive feedback. A major part of your job is helping your team get better at what they do and encouraging their own professional development, so you’ll need to give them feedback when they make mistakes or could use improvement. But not all feedback is created equal! One of the best ways to give constructive feedback is a compliment sandwich (a genuine one, or it backfires). Start by acknowledging something good about their work, whether it’s about the work itself (“I think this is a great first start to the sizzle. I like the pacing and tone!”) or about their approach (“I really appreciate you spending so much effort on this cut.”). Then, offer feedback. You may think “I statements” belong here so as to be non-confrontational, but they can actually come off as micromanage-y and evoke the response of, “So why didn’t you just do it yourself then?!” Instead, be direct. Something like, “It’s really important that this sizzle showcases all eight of the characters equally, and it looks like Jane Doe is getting less screen time, while John Doe is dominating the cut.” Or “We need to make sure we hit our deadline for the network. I’ll need to see a rough cut by the end of the day in order to have time to give my notes.” Then, end on something positive -- you can reiterate the previous compliment, add a new one, or offer an encouraging piece of advice. And always say thank you! For example, “As you think about cutting down John’s screen time, make sure you keep the moment that's 30 seconds in -- it’s gold, and I can tell you have a good eye for buttons. Keep up the good work, and I look forward to seeing the next round. Thank you!” or “It’s awesome that you want to get it done perfectly the first time, but no first cut is perfect. I’m impressed with what you’ve come up with, even if it's rough around the edges! Thank you!"
4. Manage the difficult situations. This is where the truly good managers separate themselves from the rest of the pack. As a manager, the most important part of your job is to step in when there’s a difficult situation that your employees can’t handle on their own. This could be a toxic person on the team who needs to experience consequences for their behavior or managing a client who is taking advantage of your employee. If your team is starting to complain about clients, workload, or expectations, it’s up to you to figure out what’s bothering them. Are you advocating for them to get raises now that your business has grown, and their jobs along with it? Are you standing up for them when someone in another department asks them for a “quick favor” that’s beyond their scope of work? Typically, your employees won’t speak up until things get really bad, and by that time, you’ll be seen as part of the problem. On the other hand, if you can anticipate your team’s needs and show them you have their backs, they’ll be happier -- and a happy employee is a productive employee!
5. Remember that your employees are human. You may find it frustrating that Sally needs a day off for food poisoning the same month she's scheduled for a week-long vacation. It might irk you that Mitch's kids keep interrupting him with virtual school questions. But as long as your team isn’t violating your company’s policies in a major way and they get their work done, let them live their lives. A lot of managers give themselves leeway once they reach a position of power and then get angry when their employees have needs outside of work. Some managers are the opposite -- they’re workaholics who expect everyone to put career first. But consider that most people work to live, and if they don’t have a good work/life balance, they’ll find a new job. If you have a good team, retain them by respecting them. And to that end -- company fun should happen on company time. If you want to do team building exercises or holiday parties, good on you! But don’t take away people’s weekends or weeknights with mandatory “fun.”
Overall, an effective manager knows how to read people and empathize with them. When in doubt, turn to the work version of the golden rule: Manage others as you would have them manage you.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
Pop quiz! You're in an interview with your (hopefully) future employer. The hiring manager just asked you to describe how you respond to challenging situations at work. You:
a. Say that you’re a problem solver who meets every challenge head on, considers all the various risks for each possible course of action, makes data-driven decisions, and gets the job done no matter how late you have to work.
b. Share an anecdote from your previous job, in which you found out at the last minute that one of the main locations for an upcoming shoot was no longer viable, so you made a list of other similar locations, secured an appropriate alternative option, and quickly contacted the crew department heads to make sure they knew the change of plans and had the necessary equipment to fit in the new location.
When comparing the two, hopefully it became obvious to you that the correct answer is B. Why? Because as nice as A sounds, it’s kind of meaningless. Anyone can claim to have the skills an employer covets. Sure, you’ll get points for having researched the type of candidate the company is looking for, but that’s about it. But with an answer like B, you’re sharing a real-life example that shows your work ethic and helps an interviewer picture you in a similar situation.
Sharing specific examples is also a good way to convey that you understand the job at hand -- the more relevant your example is to the job you want, the more you’re proving your ability to walk right into the role. However, if you're trying to make a career transition -- for example, from production into marketing -- your best example of responding to a challenge might not be 100% relevant. In this case, tack on an additional explanation as to how your skills translate to the role at hand. Using the example above, you could add, “I know that clients can make last minute changes, and marketing messages may need to pivot for any number of reasons, and I'll be able to call on my problem-solving experience from working in TV production by responding to those sorts of challenges calmly and quickly and ensuring there aren’t any lapses in communication.”
Getting specific will also allow you to build a stronger conversational connection with your interviewer. Remember: The interviewer already knows you’re qualified enough to be considered for the role. Now they’re trying to assess whether you’ll fit in with the team, so your aim should be to create a friendly, comfortable rapport. How many good conversations have you had where you simply listed off general character traits about yourself? Likely not too many. But it’s pretty typical to swap anecdotes when you’re connecting with someone.
The next time you prepare for an interview, think of a few specific experiences you can share for some of the most popular interview questions -- strengths, weaknesses, a big challenge, how you work with a team, a time you showed leadership, and how well you operate under pressure (hint: these experiences might overlap with some of your greatest accomplishments). Practice telling those stories, ideally to another person, but to yourself in the mirror/shower/car is fine, too. It might make all the difference!
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
"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 applied for an internship at my dream company, but not in my dream department. About a week later, another posting went up, this time in a department that's more aligned with my ultimate goals, but I'm not sure if it sends the wrong message if I apply. And if I apply, should I send in a fresh cover letter? I'd love to work for this company one way or another, and it's a fairly small firm (under 30 employees), so I think either internship would be valuable long-term, but I also don't want to nix my chances by submitting for two internships! Help!
-- Doubting a Double Down
Dear Doubting a Double Down,
There's certainly reason to be wary of seeming inauthentic if you apply to multiple jobs in different departments at a company -- for instance, if you say in one cover letter that your goal is to be a marketing executive, but in the other, you write that your dream is to handle post-production services, it'll be clear to the hiring team that you're either lying or not really committed to a path. But that's more of an issue later on in your career once you've established a clear trajectory, or if you're applying to a large company like a studio and inundating their HR portal with hundreds of resumes for unrelated jobs. But in this case, you're applying for an internship, so it's fairly reasonable to assume that you're interested in learning about multiple areas of the industry. Plus, you call this company your "dream" company -- presumably, there's something specific about this firm's work or culture that speaks to you. That's great! Companies want to hire interns (and full-time employees!) that really want to be there, and you've got that box checked.
The question is, how do you convey to the hiring manager what you've conveyed to us? First, you can assume that at such a small company, there's either one internship coordinator or that the departments talk to each other. If you can, reach out to the person who posted the second internship and let them know you recently applied for an internship in Department A, read about the posting in Department B, and would love to be considered for either because you're passionate about the company. Here's where you briefly reference what makes this company your dream company (and we do mean brief; don't expound on all the ways the work they're doing is changing society, because you're not actually privy to the inner workings of the company). If the posting is generic, and you can't find a direct contact, (although, at a small company, you should be able to do some LinkedIn research to find the right person and figure out their direct contact info), tweak your initial cover letter to include your interest in both internships. If there's something specific about your skills that would make you an asset to Department B that you didn't reference in your previous letter, feel free to add that in as well.
-- Angela & Cindy