As professional resume writers, we've helped plenty of clients with standard career trajectories that fit perfectly into the Hollywood playbook update their resumes. But we’ve also worked with just as many "non-traditional candidates" who don’t quite fit the mold, like those who studied something completely unrelated in school, moms who took time off to raise kids, people making a career transition from a different industry, and the list goes on. When working with non-traditional candidates, we might have to spend a little extra time brainstorming how to spin their skills and experiences into language an entertainment industry hiring manager will understand, but ultimately, their different backgrounds and trajectories make for interesting stories that can enhance their job applications. If your background doesn't fit neatly into the typical Hollywood ladder model, you need to understand the added value you bring to the table and highlight it in your job application materials. And if you’re hiring a new team member, consider looking beyond those candidates who check all the boxes -- you'll be surprised at the talent you can find! Here are three reasons that non-traditional candidates can make great employees:
1. They bring a unique perspective. One of the best things about non-traditional candidates is that they bring skills, experience, and a point of view to a role that you often won’t find in your average applicant. They may have learned an organizational system in a different industry that could help streamline an entertainment process and save the company money. Or they might be very business-minded and supply some broad strategic ideas that could boost business development. Maybe they’ve been a caretaker previously and know how to manage interpersonal relationships in a way that brings the team closer together. And most importantly, their life stories are different. Someone who hasn’t worked in Hollywood and has a distinct worldview will bring a fresh perspective to storytelling. All of these things can add tremendous value to a team.
2. They take risks. It’s terrifying to apply for jobs when you know you’re facing an uphill battle in the hiring process. And even scarier is dropping everything and trying to make a total career switch later in life. People who do this are inevitably willing to take risks. And in Hollywood, that’s what’s needed to keep content fresh and interesting. In an industry of remakes and reboots where “no” is one of the most frequently heard words, it’s the people who take risks and succeed that will ultimately end up on top. And this willingness to take risks brings us to our final point about non-traditional candidates…
3. They really want the job. Why would a person drop everything to work in a cutthroat industry if they weren’t incredibly passionate about it? Non-traditional candidates are excited, eager, and willing to put in tons of hard work to get the job done. No one makes a better employee than someone who really wants to be there. So take them seriously – they probably know more about the industry than you think, and they’re certainly prepared to learn.
The next time you're hiring for a role, don't discount candidates who have a different background from the rest of the applicants in your pile of resumes. Have compassion, and give these deserving applicants a chance. And for those of you who are non-traditional candidates, understand your own worth when applying for jobs. Show the hiring manager why you’re an undeniably strong candidate by presenting not only your transferable skills, but those unique skills and life experiences that will set you apart from other candidates. It might not be the easiest path, but if you don’t give up, you’ll eventually succeed.
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
One of our big beliefs at Hollywood Resumes is that people are people first and workers second; your job is important, but most of us want to achieve some level of work/life balance. And that means having interests outside of the office!
Participating in community organizations or volunteering for local non-profits is a popular outside-of-work hobby. Especially now, so many people are coming together to advocate for racial justice or give back to people suffering from COVID. But is it a good idea to include volunteer work on your resume? If so, how should you do it? The answer depends on the nature of the volunteer work.
If you're a leader in a community organization -- say you run a committee or chaired a fundraising event -- you might consider including your volunteer experience alongside your other professional experience. This is especially true for people who volunteered during a professional gap, as it shows how you spent that time. Treat your volunteer experience like any other job in your chronology, with your title, dates, and bullets indicating your skills and achievements. Think about what skills you utilize in your volunteer roles that transfer to the job you're applying for, in the same way you'd evaluate past professional experience.
However, if your leadership experience doesn't translate to the role you're applying for, would push relevant experience down in the chronology, or is more participatory than leadership-driven (i.e. you serve food at a local shelter every weekend), you can simply list the organization in a profile or skills and interests section at the bottom of the page, or, if it's somewhat relevant to the job posting, you can include it at the tail end of your professional summary. On LinkedIn, you can elaborate more about your role or provide some background on the organization and why it's important to you.
Things get a little tricky if the organization you volunteer with could come across as controversial or lead people to make snap judgements about you. This happens primarily with religious or political organizations, as some people may presume that you are so passionate about your faith or political ideology that you'll bring it up daily in the office and create an uncomfortable HR situation. The good news is that more companies are embracing religious and cultural diversity and leaning into political and social advocacy, so in some cases, it might be a bonus -- it really depends on the company culture. You'll have to evaluate this on a case-by-case basis by considering what you know about the company and the team, how relevant the skills you derived from your volunteer experience are, and how important it is that your employers embrace your extracurricular activities. There's no hard and fast rule, so you may find yourself adding the information or removing it depending on the job you're applying for.
As with everything that goes in your application materials, evaluate how volunteer work contributes to the story you're trying to tell a future employer. If you always go back to your story, you'll know what's relevant to include and what can be left off.
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 had a job interview back in March, two days before the industry shut down and the quarantine went into effect. Now that it's almost four months later, with no real end in sight to the "new normal," should I check back in with the company? Or is it too late? If I do follow up, should I be generic and ask about how they've been faring in the pandemic, or should I be direct and ask if they are hiring again soon?
-- Waiting and Wondering
Dear Waiting and Wondering,
It's not too late! It's possible (but unlikely) that they already filled the role, and it's certainly possible that they decided against filling it altogether or are otherwise in a hiring freeze. But since there's the distinct third possibility that they're starting to adapt their business practices to the new normal for the long haul, they may still be looking to fill the role. You won't know unless you ask! If they are revisiting the hiring process, following up now will let them know you're still interested and available. If the role is filled or non-existent, you'll be opening lines of communication for the future and reiterating your interest in the company. That's no small thing; many job applicants move on to the next available opportunity and apply anywhere that's hiring, but the best way to get the job you really want is to target a few specific companies and let them know you're eager to work for them. And persistence often pays off!
When you follow up, make sure to use the initial email chain you used to set the interview and send your thank you email. That'll help them contextualize who you are and when you last spoke. Be direct and thoughtful. Try something like, "I hope you and your family are staying safe during this uncertain time. I'm checking in to see if you have an updates on the hiring process for X role, as I am still very interested in the opportunity. I understand the process has likely been affected by the pandemic, but I would love to know if the position is still open or if you have any additional insight."
As with all follow-ups, there's a difference between showing interest and being a pest. If they respond that they aren't sure when they will be hiring again, it's okay to check back in in a month or so (depending on how drastically the pandemic surges or abates; if a new safer-at-home order is in place, you can probably assume they still aren't hiring). If the position is filled, a simple "Thank you for letting me know. I'm still excited about the prospect of working for your company and would love to be considered for future roles" will do for now, and you can follow up if another posting goes up or at a natural check-in time, like the holidays. If they don't respond at all, you can ping them again in two weeks, but that's it; avoid following up often if they aren't responding or have indicated that they're not hiring any time soon. Though more regular follow-ups might have been good practice before the pandemic, they may be perceived as annoying now, when most people have a lot on their plates. Take any continued radio silence as an indication that the role is not a priority and wait until a new job posting opens up to check in again. The key is to make sure you come off as interested, respectful, and non-oblivious.
-- Angela & Cindy
"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.
In January, we interviewed a Talent Acquisitions Manager at a global media firm who previously worked at a communications-focused staffing and recruitment agency about resume and LinkedIn best practices. Here, he shares insight into the interview process.
HOLLYWOOD RESUMES: How should a candidate prepare for a phone screen?
RECRUITER: The phone screen is an important step in the interview process. Yes, the future conversations with the hiring manager and interviewers will go more in depth and be more specific to the actual role, but the phone screen is your ticket in. Doing some preparation will set you apart -- research the company, the key players, and the business unit or division you are hoping to join. Be professional and courteous during the conversation. Have questions prepared. Explain why you are looking for a new job and why you are interested in this specific one. And be prepared to talk about salary expectations.
HR: How can you tell if you're doing well in the interview process?
RECRUITER: My general advice is not to stress over it. People seem to stress over how long it has been since the last interview, when should they follow up, if it's worth following up, etc. The thing is that there are many factors going on behind the scenes that are out of the recruiter's control. Maybe they haven't heard back from the hiring team yet, so they don't have an update to share with you. Maybe there's been a budget change. Maybe the role is going on hold.
Unfortunately, recruiters are usually managing many open requisitions at once and are getting pressure from many different hiring managers, so while it would be great if we could provide timely updates and check ins with every candidate in play, it's just not realistic most of the time. And that's where you come in. Be a collaborative partner with the recruiter. Ask them when you can expect to hear from them. For me personally, I love when candidates follow up with me to check in (as long as it's not every day or too frequently!). When I have an email from a candidate sitting in my inbox, it's a great reminder that I owe them a response. As long as you are professional, follow up is welcome. The bottom line is, don't worry too much or stress over things that are out of your control. Be professional, follow up as appropriate, and if ultimately this role is not the right fit, there's something else better waiting for you. While lack of communication from the recruiter is not necessarily a positive sign, it usually isn't a reflection of you. And remember, you're in control of your career -- do you want to work at a company where they don't respect your time and leave you hanging for so long? Probably not. So don't worry too much about it, and focus your time on landing that role of your dreams.
HR: What's the best way to get in touch with a recruiter and manage that relationship?
RECRUITER: If there's a job you are interested in, always apply. Even if you have a connection to the recruiter or hiring team and plan on reaching out directly, or even if you plan on reaching out cold, always apply if it's a role you are interested in, just like everyone else is. Follow up after that is completely fine. Some recruiters may not respond, but some will. And some appreciate it. It may help your chances, it may not. But if you want to do it, by all means, do it. That said, give it some time and be courteous. Send an email as opposed to blowing up the recruiter's phone (particularly if they don't know you yet). Give it about a week before following up again. If you are currently in an interview process, more frequent follow up can be appropriate if you haven't heard anything.
Another great way to get the attention of the recruiter is to keep them posted on your job search and the status of other positions you are interviewing for. That's a great excuse to check in with them, provide some helpful information, and hopefully get an update for yourself. It's also a great way to know how they feel about you -- if they care that there is competition for the role, it probably means they are interested in you as a candidate. If ultimately you don't get the role, you know have a professional relationship with the recruiter, and then check-ins every so often (maybe once a month or a once a quarter) are completely acceptable, or when you see new openings at the company that interest you. But remember, always apply and don't expect special treatment just because you know the recruiter.
HR: How should a candidate handle compensation discussions?
RECRUITER: People can get very uncomfortable when it comes to salary. There is concern that whoever says the first number will not "win" the negotiation. Here's the bottom line: Know the market, and know your worth. If you come to the conversation prepared, having done your research on salaries for similar positions and similar levels of experience, that will go a long way. The recruiter will also respect you for it. However, if you play hardball right upfront, try to avoid the salary conversation, or your expectations are clearly way out of line, that will turn a recruiter off. That tells us it will be difficult to work with you throughout the process, especially should it get to the offer stage. If you're uncomfortable stating a number or range, there's nothing wrong with asking the recruiter what the salary is for the role. Some will share, some will not. If they do not and want to hear from you what your expectations are, that's where your preparation comes in, so you can quote them a number that you will be happy with. The good recruiters will then have an honest conversation with you about whether that will be doable for this role and your level of experience, and if it's not, they will work with you to come up with another number you'd be comfortable with.
It's also okay to ask about benefits and other perks that might help offset a lower salary! You're likely looking for a career move, and the most important thing is doing work you are interested in. Yes, salary is important, but you want to take the full picture into account. Maybe the salary is on the low side, but will this role help advance your career? Will it get you the skills you need to climb the ladder that you want to climb? All of these are important things to consider. At the end of the day, it's your decision as to whether the salary will work for you, and there's nothing wrong with telling a recruiter the salary is too low for you to consider the position.
However, I don't recommend telling the recruiter the salary works for you if you know it ultimately will not. If you go through the process and then it falls apart at the offer stage, you'll have wasted everyone's time, including your own. You will also burn a bridge having lied to them. While some people may think they can prove themselves during the interview and then make the case for more money at the offer stage, the truth is that many companies have clear budgets and salary bands, and making exceptions would cause salary inequality on the teams, which companies want to avoid. Sometimes their hands are indeed tied, and it's always best to have a transparent salary conversation upfront.
Do note, however, that these days you should never be required to share your current salary. It's illegal to ask that in many states, but even if it's not illegal in a particular state, it's a practice companies should be moving away from, as it's a hindrance to equal pay. If a company or recruiter demands to know your current salary, you probably want to run far away; they should be paying you based on the role's requirements and your experience, not what you're making now.
Bottom line: Just like everything else, doing research and being prepared is key, and approaching this from a place of empowerment as opposed to fear or uneasiness will set you up for success and happiness in the role.