Figuring out your salary is the most awkward part of the job application process, and arguably, it's the most important. After all, the main purpose of a job is to earn money -- even if it also comes with the bonus of fulfilling your creative dreams. When it comes to salary negotiations, you don’t want to lose out on a job because you aimed too high with ridiculous demands, but a low salary sets you up for lower earnings for years down the line. Remember, most raises are calculated on a percentage basis, and 10% of nothing is, well, nothing.
In entertainment, there’s very little you can do about your salary in your first entry-level position -- assistants are typically offered a certain rate, especially at agencies, and that’s that (though collective bargaining and social campaigns like #PayUpHollywood are slowly raising the bar on these rates). But just because you don’t have much power to negotiate when you start your career doesn’t mean you should hold on to that bad habit forever, nor does it mean you should settle for a job that's massively underpaying you.
Unless a company has uniform starting salaries (for assistants, these will often be public information, as many companies promoted their wage increases in the trades in response to social activism), you should negotiate. And certainly, as you move up in your career, you're likely to come across a version of the question, “What are your salary requirements?” in a job interview. But how exactly do you negotiate your salary, particularly in an industry that knows it's competitive?
First of all, do your research before you apply! Glassdoor is a great resource for figuring out average salaries for your title in your area, and Colorado has a new law where employers must publish salaries in job postings, so you can always search for similar jobs in Colorado and do some cost of living calculations to adjust for your area. Figure out what number will be comfortable for you and what's reasonable for the job. This way, if an employer throws out a number that's egregiously below market rate, you'll know to run in the other direction, since underpaying employees isn't usually a sign of a healthy workplace. And if you find that the jobs you're applying for typically pay below your cost of living, you might consider pivoting your job search or adjusting your expectations.
Once you're in the salary conversation, do your best to avoid throwing out a number first. Try to force the interviewer or hiring manager to show their cards, so you know what you have to work with. If HR asks about your salary requirements, pivot with, “Well, I’m actually curious, what is the salary range you anticipated for this position?” If you get an answer that’s way higher than you expected/wanted, that’s great! It gives you room to bring up other types of negotiations -- maybe for flex time or more benefits.
If the hiring manager doesn’t let you get away with the pivot technique, DO NOT give up and tell them your current salary. In California, it’s actually illegal for them to ask, which gives you a big advantage. Start off with a question about benefits – what’s the vacation policy, 401K, insurance coverage, stock options, bonuses, etc. This will allow you to assess how much you need to make as base salary to maintain (or really, to improve – the goal here is to move up in the world!) your current lifestyle. Then, you can offer a range. The range should start at the lowest number you’re willing to take based on how good the benefits are and go up $10-$25k from there, or whatever’s reasonable based on your research. They might only offer your minimum, but there's always a chance you'll get lucky with an offer that's in the middle or top of your range. The beauty of giving a range is that it helps you avoid giving a number that's lower than what they had in mind -- if you say you were thinking $60K, and they were going to offer $75K, they will probably accept your low standard, costing you a ton of money!
We can't stress this enough: Make sure the number at the bottom of your range is enough money that you'll feel good about accepting the offer. If you want at least $70K but can theoretically, if absolutely necessary, trim your budget and make some sacrifices for $60K, don't start your range with $60K! Ask for the $70K you want, and if they respond with "Well, we only budgeted $60K for this role," then you can entertain the "theoretical, if absolutely necessary" lower number. In fact, if your number is a little too high, they might just say, "That's more than we had budgeted" and you can ask what the budget they had in mind is. A good employer will respect that this is an important dialogue, and anyone who treats you rudely during this negotiation will likely take advantage of you in other ways. Remember: It's not a shameful secret that people work to make money, or at least, it shouldn't be.
Sometimes, you'll be asked for your salary requirements in a job application, making it tough to negotiate. However, in some cases you can leave this section blank -- if the rest of your application is great, HR will ask when you get a screening call. If you must write something because the field is required, write a range or a number in the middle of your range with “(negotiable)” or “(flexible)” next to it. Even better, skip the online application entirely, use LinkedIn to find a person in the hiring department, and email them directly (you'll have far more success in your applications if you can get your resume into the hands of an actual human).
And of course, there are times when HR will offer a lowball number, regardless of how you handle the salary question. If this happens to you, counter with your demands, backing them up by reinforcing your qualifications and citing your research. If the company can't meet at least your current salary, you have to decide if you're willing to take a pay cut. And if you do, we hope you have a really good reason -- after all, you're not running a charity. If you really want the job, see if you can get additional non-monetary benefits -- COVID has made many companies increasingly generous around flex schedules, remote work, and vacation time. It's also okay to turn down the job offer if you can't find a compensation package that works for you -- don't shortchange yourself.
The biggest thing to remember is to go in unafraid. If a company doesn’t hire you because you’re too expensive, you probably wouldn’t want to work there anyway. Decide what you're worth beforehand, and stick to your guns -- you'll thank yourself in the long run.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
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
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
Now that remote work is the new norm, it might be tempting to expand your job search beyond your geographic location -- especially if you've been searching for a while to no avail. What would happen, you wonder, if you apply for a job somewhere else?
If the posting is clear that the company is open to remote work, go for it! Similarly, if you know the company has a hybrid schedule and isn't based too far away for you to make it into the office from time to time (think: you're willing to fly to San Jose from LA a couple of times a month, or commute from NYC to Philly twice a week), there's no harm in applying!
However, if the posting doesn't mention remote work or flex schedules -- and especially if the nature of the job would make remote work nearly impossible (i.e. facilities manager) -- you have to consider whether you're willing to relocate for the role. If you are, make it clear in your application that that's the case. If you can clarify for employers that you have a connection to the area -- returning to your hometown, for example. If you’re planning a move regardless of getting a job, even better.
But if you’re not actually considering relocating, it's most likely a waste of time to apply for an in-person job that’s outside of your city! All too often, we see cover letters that say something along the lines of, “Your company sounds interesting, and if you ever have openings in my city, please keep me in mind." But hiring managers have a job to do -- fill the current opening. They aren’t going to remember you down the line if an opportunity does come up in your area. And if they don’t have an office in your area, it’s really unlikely they’re going to have an opportunity for you! They're also probably not going to reconfigure the role for you to be remote, unless they're actively recruiting you, or you know someone at the company who can champion you. Applying blindly and expecting the position to change because your resume is just. so. awesome. is only going to lead to disappointment.
You’re much better off focusing your job search on actionable opportunities. Meet as many people as you can in your area who are hiring in your field -- consider joining the local chapter of a professional association or networking group. Set informational interviews with local companies. If you’re looking for production roles in a smaller market, try to join Facebook groups for people who hire crews and make your location known. Call your local film permit office to see what productions are filming in your area and cold call those production offices. If you spend your time networking and pounding the pavement in a directed way, you’ll have much more success than if you send off a resume to a job you absolutely can’t get.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan