If you want to be a TV writer, everyone says you should start as a writers’ assistant. And they’re right. It’s the most linear way to break into the room and gives you undeniable experience learning things you can't pick up from simply writing words on a page -- like pitching ideas, production processes, and how to work as a team. But the world of the writers’ room is its own bubble, and if you don’t find a way in early on, it’s that much harder to break in. Sometimes it feels like it’s even harder to make it as a WA than a writer! And it can be -- there are fewer assistants per show than staff positions, and many people work on more than one show a year.
But don’t despair: If you haven’t been hired as a writers’ assistant, you don’t need to move back home and become an accountant like your parents always hoped. You just need to find another way in. There are many avenues into the room, and what follows are simply suggestions. The caveat to these is: Whatever you do, don’t forget about paying your dues. You’ll need the humility, industry knowledge, and networking contacts for any of these practices to work.
Write something else. If you love writing, you love writing, regardless of whether your work ends up on TV or the big screen or in print. Try establishing yourself as a writer outside of TV. You may find another medium deeply satisfying or achieve enough success that you get summoned back to TV. Your best bet is to shop a feature spec or join a sketch writing team at UCB, since that will get you noticed inside the industry. Another option is to write freelance articles or publish that novel you’ve been writing since college. Focus on building your writing career. If life leads you back to TV, great. If not, at least you’re writing something else you’re passionate about.
Get a job in another side of the industry that interests you. If you love storytelling, you may find joy (and money!) in story producing reality TV or in scripted development. This kind of job can satisfy your creative urges while keeping you in the industry and relevant to your contacts. At a smaller production or management company, employees can even sell their own scripts internally (not often, but it has happened). The key is: If you don’t love the work you’re doing in this creative “day job,” and you’re not finding the time or mental energy to write when you're off work, pick a new path. Some people find a non-creative industry job is the best way to maintain contacts and creative energy. You’ll need to work extra hard to make the jump from one end of the industry into the room, so whatever job you take, make sure you can leave work at work and focus on your own scripts at home.
Make your own content. If you’re also an actor or director or have enough contacts who are, make your own stuff. Write a short or a web series, and start a Kickstarter campaign. You’ll need to dedicate a lot of time to sharing it on social media and drumming up as much attention as you can, but with the rise of digital series, becoming a creator in that space can bring about a TV gig -- or a gig in the new landscape. Sure, there’s a lot of indie web content that doesn’t really find an audience, but if you make something great and focus on promoting it -- for emphasis, let’s highlight that an audience isn’t going to magically find it, you need to promote it wisely -- you may get recognition.
Enter fellowships. The diversity fellowships are a real long shot, but if you can get one and make the most of your time there, it’s a great ticket in. Don’t put all your eggs in this basket -- you’re better off betting your life savings on one roulette number -- but if there’s a show you love that meets the spec criteria, write it!
All of these are as much of a stretch as getting that WA job, and we highly recommend trying for a WA job for a few years if you can. But if that’s not your path, you don’t have to give up hope just yet. Sure, the industry is competitive, but if you’re committed and talented, you’ll find a way to break in.
--Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
We’ve explained before how scheduling your boss’s meetings can help you land a new job. But the very act of scheduling meetings also directly impacts your reputation in the industry, so it’s essential that you do it right -- otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for challenges down the line. So what's the best approach?
First, you’ve got to be friendly. You know firsthand that being an assistant can be stressful, and everyone you come in contact with is in the same boat, so a little kindness can go a long way. For starters, you should always close your your emails with a thank you. Think about the people you've enjoyed communicating with in the past -- aren't these the ones that always say thank you? Also, an exclamation point can go a long way -- in some cases, it can actually be considered rude to sign off with anything else. Putting an exclamation point after a thank you is an easy place to sneak one in, or you could say “Perfect!” or “Great!” after you’ve settled on a meeting time. You’ll come across as more personable and approachable this way, which will translate into more invitations to drinks than your less-friendly counterparts.
Secondly, you need to be fast. Don’t you hate having outstanding items on your to do list? So does everyone else. Respond to emails as quickly as possible -- others will appreciate it more than you know, and you'll minimize the risk of forgetting to set a meeting or waiting too long, which could result in some reprimanding from your boss. Even better -- assistants that reply to emails immediately appear to be smart, efficient, and organized, so when they’re looking for job referrals down the line, their contacts will have positive things to say about them when submitting their resumes. Just be careful that you don’t substitute speed for accuracy -- scheduling mistakes are very obvious and easily tracked via paper trail, and frequent errors can be extremely detrimental to your reputation (and your job stability).
Finally, you should do your best to be accommodating. You have more power over your boss’s schedule than you realize. You don’t want your boss to be the one that’s “impossible to get a meeting with” -- it reflects poorly on him and on you. Even if your boss has an extremely tight schedule, make an effort to show that you’re trying to fit people in, be responsive, and do your best to avoid last-minute cancellations. If you’re a good assistant, you should be able to anticipate when cancellations are likely and give the other person a heads up.
If you can remember these three simple things, you’ll be doing yourself a lot of favors. Other assistants love to gossip about the person who sucks at scheduling meetings, and that’s a big problem -- not only does that person appear inefficient and dumb to his peers, the same negative information will travel up the chain to executives. But an assistant that's always on the ball is well-respected across the industry. So before you send out avails, take a moment and think about how you’re coming across -- if you play it right, this basic task of scheduling meetings can really get your career off to a stellar start.
--Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
With all the concern about maintaining privacy in the age of social media, you may think it’s a good idea to keep your LinkedIn profile private, meaning that other users won’t be able to tell when you’ve clicked on their profiles. But LinkedIn is not like other social media sites – it serves a completely different purpose. Yes, it would be extremely creepy if you could see exactly who was clicking on your Facebook profile each day (and surely you don’t want your ex knowing you still stalk his profile from time to time), but those sites are designed for sharing the more personal details of your life. LinkedIn, however, is meant to be used in a strictly professional manner, and keeping your profile open has some major advantages that you might not be aware of.
First, clicking on the profiles of people at a company you want to work for shows interest in that company. If you’re going into an interview, and the interviewer sees that you’ve clicked on his LinkedIn profile beforehand, it indicates to him that you’ve taken the time to do your research and actually care about the position. As a result, you’ve made a good first impression before ever meeting the person (plus, you may get some inspiration for conversation starters that could help you seem more personable during the interview!). Even before the interview phase, viewing LinkedIn profiles is a good way to get a recruiter’s attention. You never know what a recruiter is looking for at a given point, and by clicking on his profile, you’re giving him a reason to check your profile out, and there’s always a chance you could get a phone interview out of it without much effort at all.
Second, keeping your profile open makes it easier for you to build your professional network. You should actively research the people who are in the types of positions you're looking for or work at the companies you’re interested in. Using LinkedIn is a great way to identify 2nd degree contacts that your friends may be able to introduce you to, and it’s also a way to get on the radar of people you don’t know. Perhaps you click on the profile of someone at a new company you’ve never heard of and don’t know much about, but the person you’ve clicked on views your profile and sees a business opportunity there (could be a new job or also a partnership). They may actually surprise you and request to connect before you’ve even had the chance to send them a message. And if that happens, respond! Build a working professional relationship by following up with a meeting. By leaving your profile open, you’re creating a two-way street that allows others to find you.
The final benefit of having an open profile is that you get to see who has clicked on you. It feels a little bit more fair to let go of a small amount of privacy when you have something big to gain from it. For one, it allows you to rekindle relationships that have fallen by the wayside. Sometimes you’ll see that a contact you haven’t spoken to in a while has clicked on your profile, which gives you a great excuse to send out a message and get drinks. Maintaining your relationships is the best way to get a job in Hollywood, so use LinkedIn as a way to keep track of those you may have forgotten about. Additionally, you may find out about new companies or positions through the people that have clicked on your profile. There’s no way you’ve heard of every company that might have a position that will interest you, but sometimes you’ll discover new ones by monitoring the people who have viewed your profile, and you can easily reach out to them, since they're already aware you exist.
Just remember, you should be using LinkedIn in a professional capacity – not sharing last weekend’s party pics. If you’re careful to post relevant industry-related articles or status updates and use professional language to describe yourself in your profile, you shouldn’t have any reason to worry about keeping your profile open. While you may want to avoid clicking on the profiles of all your previous Tinder dates, your current or prospective business connections won’t be weirded out by seeing that you’ve viewed their profiles. And don’t you want to see who’s been clicking on you anyway? Trust us, the benefits far outweigh any negatives you may dream up.
--Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
Looking for a Hollywood job can seem daunting – you’ve heard everyone complain about how competitive the industry is, and you’re skeptical that you’ll ever get a call for an interview. Well, we’re about to let you in on a little secret: Getting a job in Hollywood really isn’t all that hard to do.
What? No way!
It’s true. And it’s all in how you present yourself. Yes, a posting on the UTA job list will bring in hundreds of resumes, but the vast majority of them will get thrown in the trash because those candidates haven’t figured out how to put together a high quality resume or cover letter. In fact, out of 100 resumes, there are probably only one or two that will warrant an interview. But, if you can make your resume stand out by avoiding typos, highlighting relevant experience, and selecting a clean layout, you might actually get a call. It’s shocking how many people can’t put together a solid job application. Getting past the initial review to the interview phase is the hardest part of the process, but if you can clear this hurdle by making yourself stand out on paper, you’ll have a much higher probability of landing a job.
--Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan