If you work in entertainment, you’re a storyteller, in one way or another. And when you’re looking for jobs, those storytelling skills should be put to use when you write your resume. Every good resume tells a story – the story of your work history and why it makes sense for a specific employer to hire you. And every good story has a beginning, middle, and end. Keep this in mind as you start to craft your resume – it will help dictate the structure, format, and verbiage you use.
The beginning of your resume is where you introduce yourself. When you meet someone new, you typically shake hands and tell the person your name. You can’t shake hands on paper, but you can put your name across the top in big, bold letters. Announce yourself proudly – you’ve got a lot of great stuff to share! Additionally, an introductory conversation often begins with where you’re from – in a resume, that takes the form of contact info. This should all be in the resume header.
Whatever goes next on your resume is going to be the information that gives the hiring manager context for all the other stuff they’re about to read. The first section after the header varies from person to person, depending on what’s most important to get across. For recent grads, it should be education, and your story will read as “Hi, I’m a recent grad looking for an entry-level position. Look at all the impressive stuff I did while I was in college!” For many people, experience will lead the resume – “Hi, I’ve spent the past 5 years as a development executive at Comedy Central.” Hopefully that first thing has a natural lead-in to whatever job you’re applying for. If it doesn’t, you may want to consider a professional summary that calls attention to your areas of expertise and specializations. A professional summary or list of core skills is also helpful for executives with a dense work history – if the hiring manager only read the professional summary or saw a few words called out in bold, they’d be able to get a sense of what the person brings to the table and can choose to read further if that person sounds like a fit. Think about how you want to frame yourself, and let that dictate the start of your story.
The rest of your resume should unfold naturally based on whatever information you’ve set up at the top. Typically, this takes the form of a timeline that shows your trajectory in reverse chronological order. A hiring manager should be able to see career progression and any key achievements that happened along the way. Within your resume bullet points, you will provide supporting information to back up the argument that you’re right for the job, including the relevant skills you’ve acquired in each role.
And the end of your resume should be the “extras,” stuff that doesn’t need a whole lot of space, like computer skills, languages, and interests. Sometimes this is a spot to get in keywords for applicant tracking systems. But it’s also a place to share information that’s going to round you out as a person and make it seem like there’s more to you than the stuff you’ve done at work – like volunteer work, hobbies, and various achievements. Again, this stuff all depends on the specific person, but it’s a nice way to tag your story.
Keep in mind that your story may need to change slightly depending on the job you apply for. It all goes back to tailoring your resume to the job posting. There’s no way you can fit your entire work history into one or two pages, but by choosing the most relevant information selectively, you can build a profile that positions you for the role you’re interested in. Just remember that the story you need to tell is the one the hiring manager is looking for (in the same way that you’d pitch the type of project you think a development executive is looking for). Be authentic, but present information in a way they’ll be able to understand.
-- 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 screenwriter Jamie Nash, whose credits include V/H/S/2, EXISTS, and SANTA HUNTERS. Jamie also wrote the brand new installment of the Save the Cat! series, Save The Cat! Writes for TV -- a must-read for aspiring TV writers and development executives.
HOLLYWOOD RESUMES: Tell us about your job as a screenwriter. What types of projects have you worked on/do you like to work on? What's your day-to-day like?
JAMIE: I’m weird. I tend to write a whole range of genres and formats. Over the last few months I’ve worked on a biopic, a sports movie, a kids movie, two horror movies, a true crime podcast, and an animated TV show. I even throw in a novel and a non-fiction screenwriting book and other stuff once in a while. Weird. I’m always doing ten things at once — sometimes preparing a pitch, other times drafting a new script or revising a script based on producer notes, or coming up with new ideas to present to industry connections. I tend to focus on one project at a time just so I can scratch it off my to-do list. But there are days where I might be doing one thing in the AM and another in the PM with meetings mixed in during the day.
HR: What do you like most about your job?
JAMIE: I don’t need any permission to write. Anytime I want, whenever I want, whatever I want, I can just open my laptop and go to work. It may never sell or see the light of day, but I can do it, and what I’m doing here is not fundamentally different than what Shonda Rhimes or JJ Abrams or Diablo Cody can do. They just get big paychecks in the mail. But even that might come from something I do right now. It’s probably the only thing in the industry where you don’t have to wait for someone to kick off a project in order to do what you love. And that’s the coolest thing about writing.
HR: What are some of the biggest hurdles to getting a screenwriting job?
JAMIE: Early on, the biggest hurdle is apathy. Everyone is a screenwriter. Everyone has a script or pilot or pitch. Development execs and literary representatives are so overworked with their own projects, it's hard to get even the smallest amount of attention. Most of them aren’t looking for the next great discovery. It’s really frustrating at first, and it takes a long time for opportunity to meet timing where you can leverage relationships to even get a shot to pitch or submit scripts, and then its all about having what they need when they need it and, of course, quality. Later on, the tricky part is that it ebbs and flows. You’re either working on too many projects or not enough. You’re either overbooked or starting to think you may never work again.
HR: If you don't like ______________, you won't like my job.
JAMIE: Taking notes. You’ll get notes from agents, managers, directors, studios, actors, show runners, co-writers, craft service people, your mom, etc., etc. Unlike other forms of writing, you’re often hired to implement other people’s visions -- and even when your original script sells, it becomes "their vision" of your script. It’s a skill you have to learn. Be open to it and always remind yourself everyone wants the movie to be the best possible.
HR: What's something you do in your job that an outsider wouldn't expect -- and maybe you didn't before you started!
JAMIE: The job can be very meeting heavy. When I’m really busy, 30% or more of my week might be phone/zoom/in-person meetings.
HR: Tell us about Save the Cat! Writes for TV. How did you come to write it and who should read it?
JAMIE: Save the Cat! Writes for TV is part of the wildly popular Save the Cat series. I wrote a script with Blake Snyder, author of the original Save the Cat!, and was an early adopter to its methods. I also teach screenwriting at the college level. In recent years, many of my students would want to write pilots, and they were fans of Save The Cat, so it caused me to think deep about how I use the Save the Cat process in my own TV writing work. The book was born out of both of those things. I also analyzed several recent TV pilots before writing and came up with a few new tricks. The book is for writers who want to create original shows or write TV pilots. If you want to sell or pitch a show, or just create an original pilot script as a sample to get staffed, the book will guide you through the process.
HR: What was your first job in Hollywood? How did you get it?
JAMIE: It’s weird for a writer. I optioned a script and got hired to do rewrites. That one was eventually sold/made. The bigger lesson…it was my 12th script probably about 4 years into screenwriting. I technically optioned one right before that. And sold a couple right after. I sort of hit my stride around script #12.
HR: What's a mistake you made early in your career?
JAMIE: I spent too much time on some of my first scripts. On one hand, I think most writers need to learn some hard lessons early on….but the truth is, those first couple of scripts are often unsalvageable. You’re better off writing 3-5 different scripts than writing 50 drafts of 1. If you’re on draft 5 or 6 on your first script…it might be time to start up a new one.
HR: If you could give one piece of advice to someone trying to break in/move up in the industry, what would it be?
JAMIE: Try a bit of everything….within reason. Write a movie. Write a pilot. Try directing. Write an audio drama. Make your own stuff (it’s good for the soul). Enter a couple of contests. Visit some film fests. Jump on Twitter. Read books. Take classes. Try not to spend too much money on anything. Writing is something you should be able to do for free. There are some money-sucks out there, and very few of them are worth it.
HR: Thanks, Jamie!
"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