"Industry Spotlight" is our monthly 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.
This month, we sat down with an agent in the unscripted talent department of a major talent agency.
HOLLYWOOD RESUMES: In one sentence, how would you define your job?
AGENT: The job of an unscripted talent agent is to source and negotiate career opportunities for clients behind and in front of cameras.
HR: What is your day-to-day like?
AGENT: Managing hundreds of emails and calls between meetings and meals around town.
HR: What do you like most about your job?
AGENT: The ability to add value to a person or project.
HR: How did you get your current job?
AGENT: I worked my way up in the company assisting the head of the department directly and then everyone as department coordinator, where I shared outside information leading to deals that eventually brought in enough money to pay for my position.
HR: What was your first job in Hollywood?
AGENT: Assistant to a younger agent at a boutique talent agency.
HR: What are the skills someone would need to succeed in your position?
AGENT: Elegant aggression and attention to detail.
HR: If you don't like ____________, you won't like my job.
HR: What’s something you do in your job that an outsider wouldn’t expect (and maybe you didn’t expect before you took the job!)?
AGENT: Even though work often follows you home and on vacations, generally you can be your own boss to choose your business and control your schedule.
HR: What’s a mistake you made early on in your career?
AGENT: Working in a previous industry right after college, I burned personal bridges when I felt I was wronged in business. But I later learned to take the high road, as careers can be long and you may need that person later.
HR: If you could give one piece of advice to someone trying to break in/move up in the industry, what would it be?
AGENT: Find the right balance between keeping your head down and doing the work to pay your dues with self-promotion and knowing when your value is more than your current position.
Your resume is supposed to tell the story of your professional life, showing hiring managers how what you've done in the past will help their company in the future. But many job applicants -- even in Hollywood, where crafting stories is the job -- forget one of the basic rules of storytelling: setting the scene. In a resume, that means giving the reader context for each of your positions to show the scope and nature of your role.
First, you'll need to show where you've worked and when you worked there in a clean and simple way. Like a script slug line, section titles will orient the reader. Make sure the company names in your resume are in bold and that you have a clear timeline to go along with them. And in most cases, your title will go below the company name (sometimes there are exceptions for freelancers). Why? Well, "Assistant to CEO" can mean a few different things -- maybe you supported the head of a studio, or maybe you assisted the head of a health insurance company, and one makes you a lot more qualified for a coordinator role in the entertainment industry than the other. A company name and job title can tell the reader a lot with just a quick glance, so this context is essential if you want a hiring manager to read the rest of the resume.
Sure, this formatting seems obvious, but that's just the first step to providing context -- most job applicants stop setting the scene after that initial framing. But that's where the story falls apart! If you want your resume to be great, you need to make sure the hiring manager has enough information to understand how your skills actually played out within your work environment.
We like to use the first bullet point under each company listing in the experience section to give context to the hiring manager. This bullet should be the broadest and reflect your main job function -- sort of an overview of your job. And it will often require some sort of description of the company. For example, if you worked at a small company that no one has ever heard of, you'll want to explain. You might say you worked at a “boutique literary management firm.” With just those four words, the hiring manager can imagine you in a small office with a few co-workers, which means you’ve likely had a job where you wore a ton of hats, had close access to high-level executives, and maybe even had responsibilities beyond the scope of your job title. Additionally, you could also give more information about the type of work the company does, i.e. you worked at an “independent film production company specializing in low-budget horror movies.” Now the reader knows you have expertise in a specific area. This can come in especially handy if you’re applying for jobs in the same space. But even if you’re transitioning into another type of role, you’re still helping the hiring manager picture your work history.
If you worked at a larger company, you’ll want to find other ways to give context. A development executive at HBO doesn’t need to say that they develop content for a premium cable network. Everyone knows what HBO is, so you don’t want to waste valuable space explaining. Instead, give more information about the scope of your job, i.e. “Managed a development slate of 30+ scripted dramas.” Volume can be helpful in your explanation (number of projects, budget ranges, size of events, etc). So can illustrating the type of work you did, whether it's the kind of content (scripted dramas), the type of clients (A-list talent; brands across verticals), or the style of a show (top-rated docuseries). If you work at a well-known company in a lesser-known department you may want to give a little more information about the function of the department before, or in addition to, describing your job.
After your first bullet point, you can break down some of the more important responsibilities and achievements. Even then, you should differentiate between what you were assigned to do and what you actually accomplished -- "managed editors" is fine to say, but "managed a team of 5 editors to deliver episode cuts" is lot better! You could even go one step further, "managed a team of 5 editors to deliver episode cuts for 13-episode season of top-rated reality competition series." The last version explains both responsibilities and results, which will be the most effective way to help an outsider understand your role.
As you can see, there are many ways to give context to hiring managers, and the best resumes don't skip over any of them. Hiring managers have a ton of resumes to review and they don't have time to do guesswork. Connect the dots for them and remove the guesswork, and you'll have a much stronger resume!
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
Today’s Hollywood job market is tricky. Many people are struggling to find work – even extremely experienced and qualified candidates can stay on job hunt for months. It’s easy to get discouraged when this happens and start questioning your capabilities and worth. Maybe you’ve started applying for jobs that are below your current title. Or you’re starting to consider a job that would require a pay cut. If this sounds like you, it’s probably time to take an assessment of your job application process and then spend a bit of time doing some personal reflection.
If you’re having trouble finding a job, take a closer look at your job application materials and make sure you're presenting yourself in the best possible light. Are you afraid that putting down the full scope of your responsibilities or highlighting the scale of your achievements will sound like bragging? Trust us, it won’t. Plus, there are plenty of people who don’t think twice about bragging -- you don't want to undersell yourself comparatively. Give yourself credit for all the great work you’ve done and make sure it’s not getting buried with a bunch of irrelevant stuff -- you don't need to include every single thing you've ever done, but rather the most transferable skills for the jobs you're pursuing.
Even more importantly, don’t dumb your resume down for lower-level jobs! If you’re taking off achievements to make yourself look more appealing for jobs below your pay grade, you’re applying for the wrong jobs. You wouldn’t be happy in those jobs even if you got them. Instead, aim high. Apply for jobs at your level and above your level – you never know when someone will take a chance on you. But you’ll never have that chance if you don’t reach for the stars.
And if you’re considering a pay cut, think really hard about what effect this will have on your lifestyle. We believe there are very few instances when a pay cut makes sense. Are you considering it because you’re frustrated, or is this actually a job you’re extremely passionate about? Chances are, if it’s the right fit, the employer will try to match your current salary. Ask for what you believe you’re worth. And don’t let that number in your head drop because you’ve been looking for a job for a long time.
Even if you’re doing everything right, it might not be that easy to find a job. But that’s a reflection of today’s job market – it has nothing to do with the value you bring to the table. Remember this. Think back on all you’ve accomplished in your career, and remind yourself regularly of the things you’re proud of. Write them down if you need to. Self-affirmation is important during a difficult job search, especially because it will convince you to keep trying for the jobs you really want. And you deserve that job – don’t forget it!
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
There’s a lot of debate around whether or not you should include your graduation year on your resume. Everyone’s story is unique, so this decision must be made on an individual basis -- whether you include the year or not depends on the story you're trying to tell with your resume. Here’s how we see it:
When you’re a few years into your career, your graduation year isn’t particularly relevant – it matters more that you have a degree than when you got that degree. Once you’ve made it past being an assistant, you should most likely leave off your graduation year and let your experience speak for itself. This will be especially helpful for older candidates (45+) who don’t want to date themselves – ageism in Hollywood is very real. On the flip side, there can also be some bias against younger job applicants going for more experienced roles. If you’re in your mid 30s and look a lot younger than your age, you may want to include your graduation year. This will help set the hiring manager’s expectations, and he won’t immediately write you off as a 25-year-old when you walk in the door.
If you are a recent grad, you should list education at the top of your resume and include your graduation year. Why? It helps communicate your resume story instantly, that you’ve finished school and are now looking for an entry-level position. All the work history that comes below education is contextualized by the fact that you were a student at the same time -- including your graduation year is a great way to showcase your ability to manage multiple projects at once! Plus, executives love to hire recent grads as their assistants – they’re seen as hungry and ready to take on the world.
It boils down to this: Is your graduation year relevant to your story? Or will it lead hiring managers to judge you negatively based on your age? Like any element of your resume, consider what you're communicating both explicitly and implicitly, and remember the only rule is to stay true to your own story.
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan