Why you shouldn't be afraid of ATS and other AI recruiting tools when applying for Hollywood jobs
It sounds like a bad pitch for a sci-fi movie -- the only way the hero gets her dream job is to win the battle against a resume-reading robot, only to fight a war with an AI-interviewer, before finally meeting a human being (or many!) who will judge her on her skills, personality, and viability.
Yes, recruiting is getting more tech-advanced. But in Hollywood, personal relationships are still critical. So no matter what the internet tells you about hiring practices, in our industry, leveraging your network is more important than finding ways to get around applicant tracking systems (ATS) and AI-powered video interviews. The only reason companies rely on those tools in the first place is to streamline the hiring process and find candidates who won’t be wasting their time, and nothing does that better than a strong referral from someone they trust.
However, that’s not to say that no one in Hollywood uses these tools. They do, and as the line between tech company and entertainment company gets blurred, automated tools may increase in prevalence. But it’s important not to get too worried about how they’ll impact you -- quite often, the best practices for resumes and interviews that you are familiar with already will still apply. But to ease your mind even more, here are a few simple guidelines that can help you get past ATS/AI systems:
Most importantly, remember that your real dream job is the one where you’ll get to work on projects you care about, with people you enjoy being around, for an employer who will value you as a human being. That job will come in due time, even if you have to battle some bots along the way.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
How many resumes do you need?
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 off 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 you’re applying for 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. In this example, one 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.
Should you quit your job?
It's impossible to read the news these days without seeing a headline about all the workers quitting their jobs. We all learned a lot about ourselves over the past year+ of the pandemic, including what we want/need/deserve from our employers. Plus, there's something exciting about the change of pace that comes with quitting after the world was so stagnant for so long.
But keep in mind that Hollywood isn't like other industries. It might be easy for a coder at a tech firm to quit their job and find another, better one. Our industry is fickle, though, and all about relationships. Many people are afraid that quitting will make them look like they aren't tough enough to handle Hollywood, or raise questions about their level of commitment during future interviews. It's one thing to quit if you already have another job lined up (congrats!), but it's a totally different story to walk off the job with the hopes of finding something better, especially if you haven't been at the company for a substantial amount of time. Sometimes, sticking around a little longer will give your career a boost, but in other cases, leaving is certainly the right choice. So how do you decide what's best for you?
First, think hard about why you accepted this job in the first place. Is it a stepping stone that is likely to lead to a position you are going to enjoy? For example, many agents ask for a one-year commitment on the desk and then will offer to help their assistants find their dream jobs. If this is the case, consider sticking it out. Combat burnout by putting your energy into networking and completing tasks at the office that will boost your resume to help pass the time. Another reason you might consider staying is if you're on a show that just isn't the best fit but isn't toxic. Finishing out the shoot can be worthwhile to fortify relationships and maintain your reputation, but you don't have to agree to come back next season if it's just not your thing.
If you're thinking about quitting because you're eager to transition to a new side of the industry, but there's nothing particularly bad about your current job, try to hang in there until you land the new role. We say this mostly because transitions within the industry can take longer than expected, and you want to make sure you can afford to live and can avoid an unnecessary gap on your resume. That said, you should create time to lean into the world you're trying to transition to! Attend workshops and events geared toward that sector, tell everyone you know you want to make the leap, apply regularly, and see if there are any projects you can take on in your current role that can improve your resume for your next step.
With all of this said, if you are in a truly bad situation, we'd suggest leaving. If your boss is one of those crazy Hollywood execs that will scream and throw a stapler at you because they’re angry that you dropped a call, or that their computer is frozen, or that it’s raining, you don't have to deal with abuse. The same thing goes if your paychecks mysteriously stop showing up on time or in full or if your role shifts without fair compensation (think: you're a production coordinator who also gets tasked with COVID safety). You may worry that you’ll burn a bridge by leaving, but think about it — anyone who will abuse you is not going to help you down the line! Even if they like you, they’ll resent you when you leave regardless of when you do it, and all you'll have to show for staying is worsened mental health.
Of course, this is a personal choice — you may want to stay until you find something else because you need the money or because a project you've poured your heart and soul into is about to get released. It's up to you, but however you make the decision, know that quitting will not ruin your chances of ever working in Hollywood again. You’ll need to carefully figure out how to address it in an interview, but sometimes quitting is the best choice. Trust your instincts and look out for yourself. After all, companies look out for themselves all the time, laying off employees without a second thought. You don't owe anyone anything, and your career should serve you.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
Do you find yourself looking at job postings and wondering if you’re good enough to apply? Or scrutinizing every last detail of your resume to the point that you hesitate to send it out? Have you found yourself taking poll after poll of your friends and family to get their take on what you should do and how you should portray yourself, only to second guess your instincts every time you hear competing advice?
If any of these sound like you, you’re overthinking your job search, and that’s not going to serve you well. Take a deep breath. It’s time to refocus so you can get out of this thought trap.
First, take stock of yourself and your career. Without considering any specific position, take a moment to outline what you’re good at and what you like to do. You may want to write in a journal, speak out loud, talk to someone you trust (a friend, family member, coach, or therapist), or simply think. When your inner critic pipes up with a negative thought (“I’m really good at editing...but I don’t have any streaming credits, so why would Netflix hire me?”), do your best to silence it, either by reminding yourself that this inner critic is imaginary, or by acknowledging it, and asking it to please stop interrupting your train of thought.
Once you have a strong sense of what you enjoy and what you bring to the table, you can look at job postings. Read them carefully, and assess objectively if you’re qualified. With a recent rundown of your skills fresh in your mind, you’ll be able to look at a posting and answer honestly if you meet the most important qualifications (those that are listed at the top or frequently throughout the posting). If you can do most of the required tasks (and it’s okay if you don’t meet the qualifications exactly -- 4 years of experience for a role that calls for 5 isn’t going to matter if you can realistically do the job), you should apply!
Onto your resume. Obviously, we believe resumes are crucial to your job search. But they aren’t the be all and end all of the process! There’s no such thing as a perfect resume, because a resume is about YOU and YOUR STORY, and human beings aren’t perfect. Your goal with your resume is to convey to the hiring manager what you just conveyed to yourself: that you’ve read the job posting and have enough skills and passion to do the job as listed. Remember that the hiring manager is skimming hundreds of resumes (Keyword: skimming. Not reading every single word like a lawyer reads a contract.), and she’ll prioritize resumes that are easy to read from a formatting perspective, clear, and relevant to the job posting. She’s also a human being with her own opinions and biases, and there’s no way you can anticipate what those will be.
Which brings us to our next point...the peanut gallery. The more people you ask for feedback, the more opinions you’ll get, and that will lead you to...confusion. Maybe your friend got hired at Netflix with a particular resume format, so you’re inclined to copy theirs. But that’s no guarantee you’ll get in at Netflix! Your friend could have applied for a different level of role, a different department, at a time when a different person was working in HR, with a different career trajectory from you, and different referrals. Or maybe your friend tells you a horror story about the time they were rejected from a job for not including their college start date. That’s likely a story about one hiring manager with a very particular set of rules (most people leave their graduation years off altogether), so you can't base your entire job search of one friend's anecdote. The truth is, the only opinions that matter are those of the hiring team -- and if you know them intimately enough to know their particular opinions, it’ll be your relationship, not your resume, that gets you in for an interview. Without that relationship, the best thing you can do is align your resume to the job posting.
If you’re a true overthinker, and the job search hasn't been going well, you’re probably internally screaming about applicant tracking systems (ATS). WHAT ABOUT THE ROBOTS?!?! Our Hollywood imaginations can make it seem it like AI is taking over and out to destroy us when we’re most vulnerable (i.e. job searching), but that’s not the case. ATS is a type of software that reads resumes and helps recruiters manage an influx of job candidates. There are more than 60 prevalent versions of ATS, and you’ll have no real way of knowing which one a given employer uses, if any, and they’re customizable to suit the employer’s needs. The ATS is there to scan for keywords, so if you’re qualified for the job and wrote a resume that relies on plain text (not graphics) and uses verbiage from the job posting, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about. Plus, it’s always better to stand out from the crowd by getting your resume into the hands of a person directly by using your network. Which is something you’ll be able to do more of when you stop overthinking the job search!
To recap: Apply for jobs that you are interested in and capable of, share your unique story, and show hiring managers how your experience aligns with what you think they are looking for based on the job posting. And that's all you really need to worry about. Stay focused on the big picture -- no one cares if the name on your resume is in black or green or blue -- and you'll have a lot more time to put toward the more important parts of the job search.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
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