In Hollywood, the absolute best way to increase your odds of getting an interview is to get referred to a position by someone who knows the hiring manager. This is especially true now, when job postings have hundreds, and sometimes even upwards of a thousand applicants. Hiring managers simply cannot read that many resumes, and they'll lean into their networks to cull through the candidates -- even if your resume is perfect, you'll want to make sure they can find it!
In an ideal world, you’ll have put the word out that you are looking for a new job and have conducted numerous informational interviews, and someone will remember you and reach out when a relevant position opens up. But even if that doesn’t happen, you can be proactive and generate referrals for open roles of interest. The idea is that you want to track the path of your resume until you feel pretty confident that someone in the hiring department has reviewed it. Here’s the process we recommend:
Once you have a posting of interest and have submitted your resume through formal channels, do a LinkedIn search for the company, click on “people,” and see if you know anyone that works there. If you do, great! Send them an email and ask if they can pass your resume to the hiring manager. Hopefully they know someone in the department and can put in a good word for you directly. They’ll probably be able to tell you if the role is still open and may even have some info about the hiring timeline. If you’re the type of candidate they are looking for, you will be almost sure to get an interview.
However, if this is a big company, and your contact doesn’t know anyone in the hiring department, you’ll need to take some extra steps. The person you know may be able to refer you through an internal employee portal, but that won’t necessarily get you an interview. In this case, or in the case that you have found a role of interest but don’t know anyone at the company, you need to leverage LinkedIn to find second degree connections. This means that you search for the company, click on “people,” and see who works there that you have a shared connection with. Reach out to your contacts who know people at the company, prioritizing the people that are most likely to want to do you a favor and the people who know someone in or close to the hiring department. If possible, reach out to multiple people to ensure that your resume gets to the hiring manager’s hands. If the hiring manager is hearing your name left and right, they’ll have no choice but to bring you in!
When reaching out to your contacts, it’s important that you reach out via email and not LinkedIn, as LinkedIn messages often get lost. Be really specific about your ask, and provide as much detail as possible, including a link to the original job posting, a job ID if there is one, the name of the person you are trying to get your resume to, and a little bit of detail about why you are interested/right for the role. And don’t forget to attach your resume! This way, your contact can simply forward your email to their contact, who will see your professional, well-written email summarizing your qualifications.
Continue this process until you know that your resume has been viewed by the hiring manager, and hopefully, you'll get that call for an interview. Keep in mind that this process works best if you have dedicated time to building your network and staying active on LinkedIn. Read our many blog posts on networking and LinkedIn if you think either of these areas needs a little love. Good luck!
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
AI is the talk of the town these days. It’s coming for all our jobs, maybe. But is it helpful for our job applications? Should you use ChatGPT to write your resume?
We conducted several experiments with fictionalized candidates and real job postings to test ChatGPT’s capabilities. Obviously, as resume writers, we have a huge stake in this question, so we were very scared of what we’d find. But our ultimate goal is to help Hollywood professionals navigate their careers (in and out of the industry), so if ChatGPT’s resume writing prowess would mean that we’d lean more into the career coaching side of things, we'd be open to that, too.
What we found was that ChatGPT can write a semi-decent resume, but it lacks specificity and won't stand out from the crowd. And it takes some finesse to get a final product that's close to decent. For one of our experiments, we shared a job posting for a branded content producer and wrote about our fictional candidate’s experience by using some of the skills and keywords we’d use ourselves, if we’d been hired to write the candidate’s resume. ChatGPT’s version was pretty good – it spit back a lot of the keywords we input and used mostly strong action verbs. However, the ChatGPT resume included an objective and listed soft skills, which we (and most experts) don’t recommend. And more importantly, it didn’t include any achievements or context and read as very generic – for example:
We then tried an approach more akin to the way our clients approach us initially. Instead of sharing a specific job posting, we shared a broad role category (development executive). We also prompted ChatGPT with a more casual way of explaining our fictional candidate’s background, the way our clients often do in their initial outreach to us and before we ask follow up questions on our calls. This version was much less successful. For example:
Based on our assessment, ChatGPT is not capable of writing a strong resume on its own. But it could be a good starting place for you to write your own materials. You’ll need to spoonfeed it details using the right terminology and do some pretty heavy editing to personalize it and make it read like a human wrote it. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys the revision process but hates staring at a blank page, you might find ChatGPT to be a helpful tool to point you in the right direction.
However, if you’re having trouble figuring out which of your achievements to highlight in your application, or you don’t have the time to redline an AI-generated document, or you’re not confident in your ability to write strong, clear prompts, you may be better off staying away from these tools, at least for now. Their promise of the ability to write an interview-worthy resume in the blink of an eye isn’t fully realized. As human resume writers, we can ask the right probing questions to pinpoint our clients' relevant achievements and write their documents in a way that reflects their and our humanity. If you don’t have the budget for a human resume writer, you may still be better off on your own -- create a skills list (with the brainstorming help of friends and colleagues), follow our tips for writing strong materials, and have a friend look the documents over for typos and clarity.
Remember, the hiring manager wants to hire a human for the open role (for now!). Whether you use ChatGPT as a starting point or not, make sure your unique perspective and background comes through in your application.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
A lot of Hollywood professionals find themselves building a personal website as one of their career branding tools. But do you need one? When are websites most helpful? Is there ever a time when a personal website would harm you?
Generally speaking, personal websites tend to make the most sense for artists -- those who work in areas of the industry where a portfolio is really important. Directors, editors, DPs, set decorators, costumers, hair and makeup artists – these are all roles where your work product is more important than words on a resume, and people will want to see if your aesthetic matches theirs. You don’t have to have a complicated website – in fact, simpler can be better, so it’s easier to update. Think about having a bio, a link to your resume or credits (but be careful about including too much personal information on this publicly available document!), and a reel, clips, or portfolio. Make sure to update your website every few months, or whenever you complete an important, brag-worthy project.
Some writers may choose to have a website, too, but this is a little trickier. A website where you list the scripts you’ve written that have never been sold or produced will make you seem like an amateur. If there’s nothing to add to your website that someone couldn’t find on IMDB, that’s another cue to skip it. But if you write in a variety of mediums, you may want a website where you can link to any articles or books you’ve published. If you offer script reading, script doctoring, or other consulting services, you can put these offerings on your personal website as well.
However, if you are on the executive track, we don't recommend a personal website. It could confuse a recruiter who may think you are trying to start your own business or find work as a freelance consultant. And if you work for a big corporation, their PR team probably wouldn't like you publicly representing the company in your own words. In these cases, LinkedIn is better for communicating your personal brand to the world.
One important thing to keep in mind when creating a personal website is to brand yourself in a way that aligns with the jobs you’re looking for. We often see recent MFA grads who host their work on a website where they brand themselves as a director/producer, but they’re applying for assistant roles at a talent agency. Employers will google you, and they will match your resume and interview answers with the content they see online, so tread carefully. If you tell the recruiter at CAA that you’re super excited about the agent trainee program because your dream is be a talent agent, but she sees that you have a website dedicated to the short film you’ve directed, she’ll be less inclined to hire you. This isn’t only true for entry-level candidates, either – any time you’re pursuing multiple career paths, looking for a day job, or making a career transition, you should re-evaluate how well your website matches your application story.
If you do decide to have a website, in addition to updating it regularly, make sure it’s a reflection of your best work. That low-budget commercial you directed with mediocre sound isn’t going to wow potential clients, even if the brand was impressive. Early projects from your career might not reflect your current aesthetic, or they may age you. When in doubt, avoid putting it all out there for the world to see – you can always send clips or work samples privately that you can tailor to the employer or client who requests it.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
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. 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 a few years ago in response to #PayUpHollywood and 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! In California, Colorado, and New York City, companies are required to publish salary ranges in job postings, so you can read a few postings to get a sense of the market rate. Glassdoor is also a great resource for figuring out average salaries for your title in your area, and it can help give you a more realistic understanding of where you might fall in the listed range (if there is one), since many larger companies comply with the law by posting outlandish ranges (like $50K - $350K). It's also a good idea to talk to your friends and peers about their salaries -- while many of us were taught that this is rude, the truth is that talking about salaries is a way to build equity in the workplace. Once you have the data in hand, you'll be empowered to walk away from an offer that's egregiously below market rate -- and even avoid applying in the first place, if the pay is listed. 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.
The salary conversation itself depends on whether the range was listed or not, and how big of a range it was. If no range was listed, or the range was too big to be meaningful, you'll probably be asked about your salary requirements during the interview process. 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 -- when asked about your requirements, pivot with, “Well, I’m actually curious, what is the salary range you anticipated for this position?” 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!
When the salary is listed, this can be a little trickier. You might feel like you can't negotiate, and that by applying, you were already accepting their salary offer. However, even listed salaries are negotiable, within reason! In these cases, you'll likely be presented with an offer that falls within the range or is the stated salary in the posting. If this doesn't align with your expectations -- if you're offered the lower end of the range, or if the rate listed was low to begin with, but not so low that you avoided applying -- ask the hiring manager for a higher number. Explain why you think your expertise demands that higher rate, and cite your research on the market if it applies. If they hold firm on money, you can ask if they can make up the difference in benefits, and suggest specific benefits that would persuade you.
Whenever you are offering a range, make sure the number 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. Similarly, when countering a listed rate with a number of your own, offer a number higher than the one you'd settle for, as they are likely to meet you in the middle -- if they list $1800/week, and the lowest you'd feel comfortable with is $2200/week, counter with $2500.
Remember that 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. It's not a shameful secret that people work to make money, or at least, it shouldn't be. It's totally okay to turn down the job offer if you can't find a compensation package that works for you -- don't shortchange yourself. 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