"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.
How to bring up accommodations for COVID-19 risk or other tricky personal circumstances in a job interview
It's always tricky to broach the subject of personal, extenuating circumstances in a job interview, and with the concerns around COVID-19, those fears are more widespread and more pronounced than ever. Perhaps your asthma has never been a concern in your job search, but now, you have to consider your high-risk status when assessing a potential employer's commitment to safety. Is it even safe to go back to work? How can you bring up sensitive topics without losing a job opportunity?
There are bound to be new rules and best practices for hiring managers that will emerge after the pandemic, but while we're in the thick of it, we'll have to rely on past experience. The good news is, you're not alone. Plenty of people have been successfully hired when they've had to bring up an extenuating circumstance, whether it's a one-time thing like their upcoming wedding and honeymoon, a longer-term situation like the beginning of a pregnancy, or an unchanging circumstance like religious observances or a disability.
If your concern is due to a medical condition that's covered under the ADA, you'll be legally entitled to reasonable accommodations. You may consider consulting with an attorney or trained HR professional to better understand the nuances of the ADA (not all high-risk conditions are covered). If you are covered, you should wait until after you've received an offer to discuss the accommodations; an employer cannot rescind the offer once its made, but it's easy (especially in a competitive industry like Hollywood) for silent discrimination to go unchecked because "another candidate was a better fit." It's also reasonable to request a virtual interview at this time (this is a good test of whether a company prioritizes a safe work environment) and completely within bounds to ask about the company's safety protocols in the job interview, even without disclosing your personal medical information.
If your concerns are COVID-related but not covered under the ADA -- let's say you're a caregiver for someone who is at risk or you need to work from home while your child is distance-learning -- it's a little trickier. In this case, you should definitely ask about the company's safety protocols and telework options during your interview. The hiring manager may surprise you and alleviate your concerns without you needing to share your life story! If there is a concern, however, you'll need to tread carefully. Weigh how important this particular job is versus the risk you're taking. If you're completely unimpressed by their safety policies, stay away! If the job seems like a great fit or even a good enough fit with a paycheck that you need right away, explain your circumstance and ask if it's something they'll be able to accommodate. If they can't accommodate, you have two options: walk away and try for the next job, or let them know you'll find a solution and are still ready and available to work. That's a completely personal decision, and only you know the intimate details of your circumstances well enough to make that choice.
If your unique personal situation isn't COVID-related, a similar line of thinking applies. For something like a wedding, it’s as simple as saying, “I’m curious about the company’s vacation policy -- I'm getting married in October and will need a week off. Would it be possible to take a vacation then?” Often, it won't be an issue. In other instances, you might have to take the time off unpaid. If they don't let you take time off unpaid, you'll either have to amend how much time you're taking off for your wedding, or keep looking -- again, a personal decision. But keep in mind that if an employer is completely inflexible about something as eventful as a wedding, it's unlikely they're going to work with you when you want to take other types of vacations.
For a recurring situation, you should outline how you plan to do the job with accommodations -- and remember, this is after you've gotten the offer. Try something like, “I want to let you know that I observe many religious holidays that require me to be out of the office for several extra days of the year. I can send you a schedule of the exact dates, and I’m prepared to make up the hours by staying later during the other days of those weeks. If you’d like to talk to some past employers about how this has worked, I’m happy to provide references.” If they're accommodating, pleasant, and understanding, that's a good sign! Accept the offer and perform the role perfectly, so they know they made the right choice (and also because it's smart to be good at your job!). But if they start howling through the phone about how you’re incredibly shady and can’t believe you trapped them like this, consider declining the offer. That reaction is pretty indicative of a culture of abuse, and that's never worth it, even in a tough economic time. You don't need to add "working for an insufferable, abusive maniac" to an already stressful situation.
Most importantly, remember that you work to live, and if your job is going to get in the way of your health and happiness, it may not be worth it. There are plenty of great companies out there who are doing the right thing and treating their employees like humans, which is the bare minimum that you deserve.
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
We get a lot of questions about keywords in resumes – how can you use keywords to get past applicant tracking systems, and what words are hiring managers going to respond to most? The answer is in the job posting.
When crafting your resume, use the job posting as your guide by copying some of the keywords into your resume strategically. Think about what the most important things a recruiter might filter for are and really hone in on those.
Start broad, using the job title in the posting. If you are applying for an assistant position, you'll want to have the words assistant or assist in your resume. Similarly, if you’re applying for a manager position, you probably want the words manager or manage in there. Most likely, you'll include these keywords in your past titles and chronology bullets, but if you need to get creative because of a career transition, you could fit these keywords into a professional summary or areas of expertise section. In some cases, you could even put the job title in your header.
Next, you'll want to look at the core skills in the posting. The qualifications listed toward the top of a posting tend to be most important, but keep an eye out for specific skills that might be a requirement. If you see that the company is looking for an Excel expert, spell that out, instead of just listing Microsoft Office. Or, if they need someone with excellent writing skills, make sure you have the word write. Be careful about intangible skills though – if the posting is asking for someone who is motivated, it’s unlikely that they’re going to use "motivated" as a search term. You’ll need to prove you’re motivated by showing how you took initiative on projects in your bullet points.
Additionally, you should only use keywords you can actually back up in an interview. You may not have all the qualifications or meet all the requirements listed in the posting, but don't be tempted to claim them just so your resume doesn't get filtered out! It's okay if you're not an exact match -- either the hiring manager is open to candidates who possess only a majority of the skills, or the position really requires specific knowledge that you won't be able to fake in an interview. You don't want to get caught having lied on your resume.
And remember that getting a resume into a real person’s hands is a far more reliable way to get an interview than by submitting through a job portal. So when using important keywords that you’ve pulled from the job posting, make sure they’ll pop out to a human and not only a machine. Lead your bullet points with the same strong action verbs that have been described, or call attention to them in core skills sections (it's worth repeating: only include tangible skills!). The right keywords are not going to get you the job, but they will help direct the eye of a hiring manager and encourage them to call you in for an interview.
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
As you may know, layoffs happen all the time in entertainment. Even before this Coronavirus mess, Hollywood has been going through a transitional period as companies try to accommodate shifting viewership patterns. But getting laid off is a weird feeling – even if your position was eliminated because of a re-org or something else completely outside of your control (who could have ever predicted one of those things would be a global pandemic?), you still might start to question yourself and whether you were the problem. Why did you get laid off over someone else? But don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s normal for those thoughts to creep into your mind, but they aren’t going to help you get to the next phase of your career. Instead, you’ve got to stay positive and view this layoff event as an opportunity.
Your immediate reaction to a layoff might be extreme anger and sadness, or it may be joy and relief, depending on how you were feeling about your job and your personal financial situation. But even if you are on the anger end of the spectrum, there is always a bright side to a layoff.
Layoffs often happen because the company isn’t doing well. Do you want to be part of a company that’s failing? Of course not! Look at this as an opportunity to find something better, at a company with a more secure future. If the layoffs were the result of a merger, the people who were left behind are about to face a really tough transitional period, usually where they have to take on extra work, reorganize their teams and work cohorts, and adjust to new bosses and protocols. When you get laid off, you avoid all that stress. If you’re lucky enough to get severance, you may even be able to spend time taking care of your own personal needs – do more yoga, hang out with your kids, get a dog, whatever makes you happy. Think of it as an extended vacation! And if you don’t get severance, that’s okay – you can put all your focus into finding a job that makes you happy at a company you are excited to work for.
A layoff gives you an opportunity to reassess your career goals and make changes that you may not have otherwise considered. Maybe you were miserable at your job but couldn’t quit for financial reasons. And while it might suck to go on unemployment for a couple of months, you now have no choice but to find something better. You can put those 40+ hours a week you spent working toward finding something new. Think about what you liked about your previous job and what you’d never want to deal with again, and let that dictate your job search. Research various positions and think carefully about whether you want to continue on the same track you were on. It’s okay to change your mind – if you want to switch roles or even industries, now’s the time!
Another interesting thing that happens after a layoff is that people come out of the woodwork to help you. Let people know about your situation, and you’ll be amazed at all the kind words that come your way. Embrace the fact that people want to help you. Let everyone know what you’re looking for next, and rekindle relationships with contacts that you haven’t caught up with in a while. The outpouring of love and support you’ll feel will inevitably make you feel good about yourself and your work, but it also may lead to new opportunities.
That's not to say you can't, won't, or shouldn't feel any bitterness at all -- even if you're happy about your new trajectory, there's still a sting that comes with the change. You are 100% entitled to have whatever feeling that comes to you about your old company. But you must be careful how you address it in an interview. You don’t need to lie and say that everything was wonderful, but try to keep the conversation positive and focused on the future as much as possible instead of giving into the temptation to gossip. It’s an easy trap to fall into, so you have to be extra mindful about how you’re speaking about your former employer.
Ultimately, what happens after your layoff depends on how you handle yourself, and it all comes down to how you frame the situation mentally. If a layoff is something that you’ve gone through recently, we say CONGRATULATIONS! Look at this as an opportunity, not a setback. You’re in control of what’s next, and we’re sure whatever that is going to be great!
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan