Figuring out your salary is the most awkward part of the job application process, and arguably, it's the most important. After all, the main purpose of a job is to earn money -- even if it also comes with the bonus of fulfilling your creative dreams. When it comes to salary negotiations, you don’t want to lose out on a job because you aimed too high with ridiculous demands, but a low salary sets you up for lower earnings for years down the line. Remember, most raises are calculated on a percentage basis, and 10% of nothing is, well, nothing.
In entertainment, there’s very little you can do about your salary in your first entry-level position -- assistants are typically offered a certain rate, especially at agencies, and that’s that. But just because you don’t have much power to negotiate when you start your career doesn’t mean you should hold on to that bad habit forever, nor does it mean you should settle for a job that's massively underpaying you.
Unless a company has uniform starting salaries (for assistants, these will often be public information, as many companies promoted their wage increases in the trades a few years ago in response to #PayUpHollywood and social activism), you should negotiate. And certainly, as you move up in your career, you're likely to come across a version of the question, “What are your salary requirements?” in a job interview. But how exactly do you negotiate your salary, particularly in an industry that knows it's competitive?
First of all, do your research before you apply! In California, Colorado, and New York City, companies are required to publish salary ranges in job postings, so you can read a few postings to get a sense of the market rate. Glassdoor is also a great resource for figuring out average salaries for your title in your area, and it can help give you a more realistic understanding of where you might fall in the listed range (if there is one), since many larger companies comply with the law by posting outlandish ranges (like $50K - $350K). It's also a good idea to talk to your friends and peers about their salaries -- while many of us were taught that this is rude, the truth is that talking about salaries is a way to build equity in the workplace. Once you have the data in hand, you'll be empowered to walk away from an offer that's egregiously below market rate -- and even avoid applying in the first place, if the pay is listed. Underpaying employees isn't usually a sign of a healthy workplace. And if you find that the jobs you're applying for typically pay below your cost of living, you might consider pivoting your job search or adjusting your expectations.
The salary conversation itself depends on whether the range was listed or not, and how big of a range it was. If no range was listed, or the range was too big to be meaningful, you'll probably be asked about your salary requirements during the interview process. Do your best to avoid throwing out a number first. Try to force the interviewer or hiring manager to show their cards, so you know what you have to work with -- when asked about your requirements, pivot with, “Well, I’m actually curious, what is the salary range you anticipated for this position?” It gives you room to bring up other types of negotiations -- maybe for flex time or more benefits.
If the hiring manager doesn’t let you get away with the pivot technique, DO NOT give up and tell them your current salary. In California, it’s actually illegal for them to ask, which gives you a big advantage. Start off with a question about benefits – what’s the vacation policy, 401K, insurance coverage, stock options, bonuses, etc. This will allow you to assess how much you need to make as base salary to maintain (or really, to improve – the goal here is to move up in the world!) your current lifestyle. Then, you can offer a range. The range should start at the lowest number you’re willing to take based on how good the benefits are and go up $10-$25k from there, or whatever’s reasonable based on your research. They might only offer your minimum, but there's always a chance you'll get lucky with an offer that's in the middle or top of your range. The beauty of giving a range is that it helps you avoid giving a number that's lower than what they had in mind -- if you say you were thinking $60K, and they were going to offer $75K, they will probably accept your low standard, costing you a ton of money!
When the salary is listed, this can be a little trickier. You might feel like you can't negotiate, and that by applying, you were already accepting their salary offer. However, even listed salaries are negotiable, within reason! In these cases, you'll likely be presented with an offer that falls within the range or is the stated salary in the posting. If this doesn't align with your expectations -- if you're offered the lower end of the range, or if the rate listed was low to begin with, but not so low that you avoided applying -- ask the hiring manager for a higher number. Explain why you think your expertise demands that higher rate, and cite your research on the market if it applies. If they hold firm on money, you can ask if they can make up the difference in benefits, and suggest specific benefits that would persuade you.
Whenever you are offering a range, make sure the number is enough money that you'll feel good about accepting the offer. If you want at least $70K but can theoretically, if absolutely necessary, trim your budget and make some sacrifices for $60K, don't start your range with $60K! Ask for the $70K you want, and if they respond with "Well, we only budgeted $60K for this role," then you can entertain the "theoretical, if absolutely necessary" lower number. Similarly, when countering a listed rate with a number of your own, offer a number higher than the one you'd settle for, as they are likely to meet you in the middle -- if they list $1800/week, and the lowest you'd feel comfortable with is $2200/week, counter with $2500.
Remember that a good employer will respect that this is an important dialogue, and anyone who treats you rudely during this negotiation will likely take advantage of you in other ways. It's not a shameful secret that people work to make money, or at least, it shouldn't be. It's totally okay to turn down the job offer if you can't find a compensation package that works for you -- don't shortchange yourself. If a company doesn’t hire you because you’re too expensive, you probably wouldn’t want to work there anyway. Decide what you're worth beforehand, and stick to your guns -- you'll thank yourself in the long run.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
The purpose of a cover letter is to give the hiring manager additional context beyond your resume about why you’re interested in a specific role and why you’d be a good fit. It’ll only come across as authentic if you take the time to write a new letter for each job application. But that doesn’t mean you have to reinvent the wheel each time! You can follow a simple structure to clearly explain your intentionality to the hiring manager.
The first paragraph of your cover letter should indicate what role you’re applying for, where you saw the posting, what you’re currently doing or have been doing most recently, and why you’ve applied for this open role. It shouldn’t be longer than a few sentences.
In the main paragraph, highlight the skills and experiences you have that qualify you for the role. Look at the job posting for clues as to what’s most important to the hiring manager, and elaborate on how you developed the relevant skills beyond what’s on your resume. Avoid claiming soft skills without context; instead, share how you developed those soft skills by showcasing achievements where you utilized them. This is also a short paragraph, typically 3-4 sentences.
In the final paragraph, reiterate why your unique background makes you a fit for the role. Then, indicate that you’ve attached your resume or any other relevant materials (like a portfolio), respectfully request an interview, and thank the hiring manager for their time. This is also the paragraph where you’d include any random information the posting calls for, like if they ask for your top three favorite movies or your favorite utensil, which are questions designed to see if you’re following instructions.
That’s it! Follow this flow each time, and you’ll get into a rhythm where writing a strong, custom cover letter for each application is easy!
Self-starter. Strong communication skills. Detail-oriented. Team player. Effective multi-tasker. These are common soft skills listed in job postings, and you may be tempted to include them on your resume as keywords. After all, we always say to use the verbiage from the posting in your resume!
But these words are also meaningless on their own. Anyone can list “self-starter” in a skills section. But how does a hiring manager know it’s true? They can’t, unless you prove it. Luckily, proving skills is easy.
For example, if you want to convey that you’re a self-starter, you can write a bullet point that demonstrates a time you took initiative successfully – “Initiated new competitive tracking database; conducted daily trend research and generated concepts for growing development slate.” That shows you’re a self-starter, while also providing the hiring manager with much-needed context to see what kinds of ideas and projects you bring to the table. Plus, you get some bonus keywords and skills in there without taking up too much space! This is much more effective than listing a random skill with no evidence, because it allows the hiring manager to picture you in your last role and in the open role, as well.
You’ll also be given the opportunity to elaborate on soft skills in an interview. In fact, one of the purposes of an interview is to gut check whether you have the soft skills they’re looking for. You may say you’re an effective communicator, but were your emails to the hiring manager polite and timely? Keep in mind that your resume is only one piece of your job application, and its purpose is to get you in the door, so you and the hiring team can continue to assess whether you’re a fit. Focus on including relevant, tangible skills with achievements and context, and the soft skills will follow.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
What’s better: one versatile resume you can send to any employer, or different resumes for each job you’re applying for? It's a question we get asked all the time. And the answer is never satisfying: It depends. But here are some general guidelines you can rely on.
If you’re looking exclusively for the same type of job -- whether it’s an assistant desk or a drama development executive role -- you can have one resume that you consistently send out. This is especially true if you’re applying for jobs with 2-sentence descriptions on the UTA job list or having friends pass along your resume to their contacts before there’s a publicly available job posting. For any higher-level positions, you might consider tweaking your professional summary to add in something specific that’s worth calling out -- for example, if you’re bilingual in Spanish and up for a development job at Univision, noting that would be super relevant for that one job, but less important for the same job at Starz. Beyond that, you can keep the one resume.
If you’re open to a multitude of positions that are all sort of similar but not exactly the same, you may be able to craft one resume that you can tweak for different jobs. For instance, if you’re applying for marketing roles, you might have one version of your resume that’s tailored more to agency jobs, one that’s geared toward the brand side, one that shows your creative direction experience, and one that highlights your relationships with influencers. The content might be the same across all four, but you’d likely reframe parts of your professional summary, reorganize your areas of expertise/core skills section, and reorder the skills and achievements in your bullet points to align with the priority of the job posting. To take it a step further, you could cross check your resume against each posting and ensure you’re using the right keywords -- if you wrote “third party vendors,” and they only reference “external production teams,” you should make that quick fix. To make this entire process less overwhelming, we recommend having one strong resume that encompasses everything you want to bring to the table and making minor edits as needed before sending it off. Just remember to proofread! It's really easy for typos to sneak in when you are making small tweaks.
There are some times when you’ll want multiple entirely different resumes. If you’re applying for jobs on two totally separate career paths -- for example, freelance story producing and in-house development roles -- you will be best served by having two resumes that each tell the version of your story that will get you hired. If one of the paths you are looking for feels more in line with your current trajectory and the other is a bit more of a transition, then one resume would be a simple recounting of what you’ve done that clearly aligns with the role, and the other would involve leaning into transferable skills. The more different the career paths, the more different the resumes will be. For example, plenty of writers and directors have a creative resume, a credits list, and a separate resume tailored to their day jobs (even if those jobs are within the industry).
The main thing to keep in mind is that the goal for your resume is to tell the story of why you’re right for the job that you applied for. Lean into your story skills to get this right: Jobs that are largely the same will need the same plot points from your career story, jobs that are somewhat similar might need you to repurpose some resume B-roll, and jobs that are totally different will need different arcs altogether.
-- Angela Silak and Cindy Kaplan