It’s sad but true – ageism has a big impact on the hiring process, probably more so in Hollywood than in other industries. When the whole job is about trying to create the “next big thing,” there’s a tendency for employers to write off older candidates as out of touch. At the same time, it’s also possible to be “too young” for a role. A hiring manager might assume a young candidate doesn’t have enough experience to succeed in a certain role, when in reality, that person is perfectly capable of the job. To be clear: we're avidly opposed to ageism or discrimination in any and all forms, and if you have the power to reform the system, even in a small way (like by changing your own thinking about candidates when your team is hiring), please use it.
Until the system changes, we want to help you get around it. There are things you can do in your job search and in your resume to shift the odds back into your favor, so hiring managers can see that you're a qualified candidate.
First, let's name the problem more acutely. In general, there’s a widely accepted notion that assistants are in their early or mid-twenties, mid-level professionals are in their 30s, and more senior-level executives, producers, and other professionals are over 40. There are tons and tons of exceptions to this rule at every company and on every show, but when it comes to your resume, you don’t want to look like the exception.
The easiest way to hide your age on your resume is by leaving off your college graduation year (if you didn't go to or graduate from college, you can leave off the education section entirely). Leaving off your graduation year helps both sides of the ageism coin -- if you're older, no one will know, and if you're younger and fast-tracked your way up the ladder, you'll avoid skepticism or discrimination from hiring managers who don't want to hire someone younger than the rest of the team.
You will likely want to include dates in your experience section though. While functional resumes can work for some candidates with very unusual trajectories, most hiring managers (and ATS) prefer to see a chronology. In fact, leaving off dates can sometimes arouse suspicion that you're trying to hide something. That said, you don't need to include everything you've ever done. Try to keep your resume to the last 10-15 years of employment if you're going for mid-level roles, and don't go back more than 20 if you can help it. There are exceptions to this rule -- if you're returning to the workforce after a significant hiatus, and your last relevant experience is from 25 years ago, you may have to include it, but if you have enough work history to cover the last decade or so, stick to that. So much has changed about work even in the last 5 years that it’s likely a job from 25 years ago isn’t going to be too useful in convincing a hiring manager you’re right for whatever job you’re currently applying for anyway.
If you're younger and moving faster than the normal trajectory – say you’ve made it to VP level by 30 – your short chronology may give away your age. While some hiring managers will be impressed by your success, others in your office might be jealous of your quick ascent. In this case, you need to let your experience speak for itself. Make sure your resume is 100% perfect, and take care to highlight your biggest achievements – show your potential employer why you were able to rise through the ranks so quickly. If you’re an undeniably great candidate and come across as a smart and humble person in an interview, they'll likely move past your age.
One situation we come across frequently is older candidates looking for entry-level roles – often these are people starting over in entertainment as a second career. (We don't recommend taking a step backward if you're trying to move to a new side of the industry). Unfortunately, this group has one of the toughest hills to climb for a few reasons. First, hiring managers want to pay entry-level salaries for entry-level roles and often suspect an older person will want a larger salary than the role is budgeted for. Some people are uncomfortable bossing around an assistant older than they are, others are concerned that an older candidate will get bored with thankless assistant responsibilities, etc. It's important to keep this in mind as you assess whether you really want to start over in entertainment, and whether there's a more lateral way into the industry. If you do decide to go the assistant route, identify what sets you apart, and make it very clear in your resume and cover letter -- include transferable skills, either from your previous career or your time out of the workforce as a caregiver. Don't discount the serious life experience you've had and the perspective you've gained; with age comes wisdom! Make sure you clarify your willingness to start from the bottom and passion for the field in your cover letter. (To those hiring: Keep these candidates top of mind! Their bravery and passion will make them excellent workers and a boon to your organization!).
There are also small tweaks you can make to your resume to mitigate ageism. Choose a modern, readable font (not Times New Roman), use a clear format that's not too graphic or Instagram-y, and use a gmail email address instead of .edu or yahoo, hotmail, AOL, or earthlink. Beyond your documents, lean into your network for referrals. When others vouch for you, hiring managers will see more clearly that age isn't a relevant factor.
Most importantly, don't worry too much ageism. You don't want to work for someone who doesn't want to hire you, especially when that someone engages in discrimination. Focus on your achievements, what you bring to the table, and why you'd be great for the role, and the right people will notice.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
If you’re back in the job market after a long hiatus, you’re likely concerned that you don’t know how to look for jobs. Where you should apply? What are employers looking for these days? Where should you even begin?
Take a deep breath. Looking for jobs IS a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be as overwhelming as you might fear! In fact, many of the same skills you’ve deployed in your past roles will come in super handy during your job search. It can help to think of your job search as a work project -- simply navigate the required steps the way you would any other professional task.
For instance, a great job search strategy includes reaching out to your network and asking for help, either for referrals to jobs or introductions to other folks to expand your contact list. It can be very daunting to conduct outreach on behalf of yourself, but you probably reached out to people all the time in previous roles! If you are or were an assistant, you have experience tracking down info for your boss and contacting others to schedule meetings. If you work in production, you’ve probably conducted outreach to crew up a show, source props, secure locations, obtain permits, and rent equipment. If you work in sales or representation, you’ve mastered the art of the warm intro and cold email. As you leverage your network to ask for support in your job search, imagine that you’re reaching out to someone for a business purpose you’re familiar with, and it’ll be that much easier.
There are other skills you already have that will help in your job search too. Researching target companies is just like creating lists of writers/directors or casting targets. If you have strong project management or organizational skills, tap into those to create a job search calendar to triage when you search certain sites and hold yourself accountable when applying for jobs. Following up on the status of your application or job interview is the same as managing any other type of follow-up. And so on!
Once you take the pressure off, it’ll become easier to focus on doing the work of applying for jobs -- that is, reading the posting carefully, creating a targeted resume and cover letter, and asking your network for referrals. Trust us: You got this.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
Detail-oriented. Strong written and verbal communication skills. Go-getter.
These are the soft skills that are most often listed in job postings. They’re also the easiest ones for hiring managers to assess during the hiring process! And no, this is not because you’ve listed them on your resume. In fact, if you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while, you know that we recommend avoiding listing soft skills on your resume, and instead showing how you used those skills through bullet points that reflect tangible accomplishments.
One of the reasons we make that recommendation is because anyone can claim a soft skill, and without evidence to back it up, why would a hiring manager believe you? Beyond that, hiring managers can directly see if you have some of the soft skills they require through the application process. Let's go through a few examples how they assess these three skills.
Hiring managers can tell if you’re detail-oriented very easily. First, did you follow the application instructions in the job posting? If they asked for a cover letter, and you didn’t send one, you obviously missed that detail. If they asked you to include your top three favorite TV shows in the cover letter, and you don’t, they know you don’t pay attention to details or follow instructions. (That kind of call out is actually designed almost exclusively as a soft skills test, which is why it’s listed more in entry-level postings where applicants may not have proven their soft skills professionally yet!). Another way to see if you’re detail-oriented – does your resume match the job posting? Is it clear why you applied? Or did you send a production-oriented resume for a development executive role? A detail-oriented person will read the posting carefully and thoroughly and review their resume to make sure it aligns with the role.
Similarly, communication skills become evident throughout the application process. For example, if a person with strong written communication skills is applying for a job over email, they’ll send a short, well-written cover email instead of a blank email or a one-line “See attached.” When they’re contacted for an interview, they’ll respond professionally, with full, punctuated sentences, and no typos or grammatical errors. If a hiring manager reaches out to set an interview, and you reply to the email, “Yupp Monday 10am is good Thx,” you’re not demonstrating strong written communication skills for a professional environment. It’s also easy for hiring managers to get a sense of your verbal communication skills during the job interview. Sure, they’re looking to see if you’re really a fit based on a deeper dive into your professional background, but they’ll also know in a moment or two whether you are able to communicate your thoughts concisely and articulately.
A skill like “go-getter” is obvious to hiring managers too! Someone who truly takes initiative will do so during their job search. First, they’ll make sure their materials are as strong as can be and tailored to the job posting. Then, they’ll go the extra mile to see if they can get a referral to the position through their network or try to find a recruiter on LinkedIn who they can speak to directly. Even if they can’t find a connection, if they do get an interview, they’ll show proactivity by arriving on time, answering questions that demonstrate they've researched the company and projects, and sending a thank you note within 24 hours.
As you apply for jobs, keep in mind that hiring managers are vetting you beyond what’s written on your resume or said in your interview. One of the biggest missteps candidates can make is claiming a soft skill they don’t have, as it raises red flags about all their other qualifications the moment a hiring manager discovers one is a misrepresentation. Make sure you cultivate these skills (coaching can help!) and demonstrate them throughout the application process.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
Many of our clients approach us when they’re frustrated by a long job search. They’ve been applying for months and getting no calls for interviews. Sometimes, they just need a stronger resume, and once they’ve got the right document in hand, the calls start coming in.
But often, the problem isn’t just their resume; it’s that they aren’t applying for the right jobs.
Applying for jobs isn’t a numbers game. It’s not like there’s a magic percentage of applications you can send in that result in a call for an interview. In fact, approaching the job search by resume bombing any job that’s remotely interesting is going to result in fewer interview calls and more desperation, because your documents won’t be convincing to the hiring manager! Instead, you should apply strategically for jobs that align with your career goals and interests.
How do you determine if you’re applying for the right jobs? First, make sure you identify what you actually want to do next. Are you looking to stay at the same level, or are you looking to level up? What kind of company do you want to work for? What level of work/life balance are you looking for? Do you want to work remotely, in the office, or hybrid? What skills did you enjoy utilizing from your previous jobs, and what kind of work do you never want to do again? Make sure you’re clear on the answers to these questions, so you can vet job postings against them.
Then, you need to make sure to read job postings carefully. Consider that many job titles are alike, while the duties are really different. For instance, a creative producer job at an ad agency isn’t the same as a creative producer job at a film production company, and neither job is the same as an on-air promotions producer at a broadcast network. If you apply for every “producer” role out there without reading through the listing, you’ll likely apply for jobs you’re not qualified for or don’t even want! Read each responsibility and qualification and ask yourself, “Can I do this? And do I want to do this?”
If you’re applying for a job you really want, you’re also more likely to get support from your network. Your friends and contacts will go out on a limb for you if they think you’ll be a good fit for the role, but they’re not going to put their reputations on the line to refer you for a role you might ultimately reject or not qualify for. Beyond that, hiring managers can tell the difference between a resume that was sent off willy-nilly and one that was customized for the job posting and showcases a real interest in the role. Make sure you fit into that latter category.
Spend a little extra time vetting the job posting and updating your application materials accordingly – it will pay off a lot more than taking the time to fire off 3 more resumes for jobs you wouldn’t even accept
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan