A boss who makes you keep your Zoom on all day to make sure you're actually working. A coworker who constantly passes her work along to you and takes all the credit for its completion. A supervisor who gives you zero direction for a project and screams bloody murder at you when you turn in something slightly different from what they imagined.
These are examples of toxic workplaces. And unfortunately, they are endemic in Hollywood.
Though The Hollywood Commission recently reported that a majority of survey respondents have seen less abusive workplace behavior in recent years, instances of abuse are still troublingly common. There are a ton of problems associated with working in a bad environment, but one that's especially concerning is the fear of how to describe your job when you're finally able to leave its clutches. If toxic jobs and job interviews weren't tough on their own, they can be even more stressful when you put them together! But have no fear: We're here for you with some tried and true experience and answers to the three most common questions we get from job candidates seeking freedom:
How do you respond to an interviewer who asks you why you left your last job without badmouthing your boss and/or turning your interview into a therapy session?
Even if your boss is known to have a difficult personality, or your company has the reputation of being a hot mess, you want to come off as even-keeled and professional in your interview. Instead of focusing on the negative and the past, tell the interviewer why you're excited for the opportunity they're presenting. In general, the best interview tactic is to reiterate why you'd be great for the role at hand. Whether you acknowledge that you left (or are planning on leaving) because the previous role "wasn't a fit" or refer to the company's dissolution, make sure the bulk of your answer focuses on what excites you most about the job you're applying for and why you've applied. If your interviewer pushes you to gossip, resist, and consider whether this new job may also be a little toxic.
When asked about challenges you faced at work or a time you had to resolve a conflict at work, how can you answer honestly without disclosing too much about your awful colleagues?
It's super hard to think clearly about difficulties at work when the majority of your time at work was difficult! You're going to need to practice answers to this question before your interview, so your emotions don't get the best of you. If you can, pick a challenge or conflict from a previous role that wasn't toxic -- the point of the question isn't to understand your immediate work history, but rather to get a sense of how you've handled problems throughout your career. If the toxic job is your first or most relevant job, find an innocuous example that isn't going to lead you down the path of badmouthing. For instance, if your micromanaging boss had an anger problem, you can say something like, "My last boss had very specific preferences for how he wanted work turned in, and that meant I often had to redo tasks, especially early on. I learned to get more detailed instructions before starting the project, and when that wasn't an option, I made sure to turn a draft in early so that any revisions wouldn't stop us from meeting a deadline." Inside, you might be seething about that one time he berated you in front of the entire office for using Calibri instead of Helvetica and called you Calibri Cathy for a month, but by practicing a polished, surface-level answer to the question, you'll be able to keep your calm in an interview.
*We highly recommend sharing your actual stories with trusted friends and/or mental health professionals to get the emotional support and validation you need -- that'll also help you control what you say "publicly."
If your current boss would freak out if they knew you were interviewing, do you have to ask your interviewer to keep it on the DL?
Some toxic bosses understand that you are not obligated to suffer under their thumb for the rest of your life. But many will absolutely lose it if you try to leave. They may attempt to sabotage your potential (or even firm!) job offer, threaten to blacklist you if you don't stay until they're ready for you to leave (even if that's beyond an appropriate 2-week notice), fire you on the spot if they hear you've been interviewing, or force you to resign unless you sign a contract that you won't go on any more interviews. None of this is acceptable, and some of it may not be entirely legal, either. But that doesn't make it any less scary! If this happens to you, remember that this kind of behavior is exactly why you need a new job. Do not let your boss's scare tactics intimidate you. It's not really necessary to mention anything to your interviewer, and it could teeter into awkward territory. Instead, know that most hiring managers won't call a reference that isn't listed on your reference list, and it's not a huge red flag if your current boss isn't on there -- in fact, it's a quiet signal that you may not have told your boss you're looking.
But the most important thing here is to focus on getting the new job and not about the repercussions from your terrible boss. You do not need to stay at a job that is so abusive you're afraid to leave it. If possible, try to save up a bit of money so you'll be okay if you don't get the job you're interviewing for and your boss does fire you. If saving isn't an option, commit to yourself that you come first, and you'll find a way to make ends meet with a temp job if you need to. Don't let yourself be held back by an abuser any longer. And if you did get the offer, know that 2-week notice is a courtesy, not a rule, and if your boss tries to sabotage your offer, leave. They will never be helpful to you in the future anyway, and the relationship is not worth preserving; there are good people in Hollywood whose referrals and respect means something, but your boss is not among them.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
In Hollywood, it’s easy to feel like everyone’s against you, especially when preparing for an interview – you’re thinking about all the trick questions you might get asked, worrying that your interviewer has some negative preconceived notions about you, and convincing yourself that she’s just trying to weed you out of a big pool of candidates. But in reality, the hiring manager is on your side! It's sort of the flip-side to finding reasons to say "no" to a candidate's resume to narrow down the list; employers don’t want to spend their days interviewing tons of candidates, so they're looking for a reason to say "yes" quickly.
If you can remember this, you’ll be able to drum up a lot more confidence during your interview. Think about it: This person has already seen your resume (likely more than one person has), and she’s come to the conclusion that you probably have the skills to do the job adequately. She believes in you enough to spend 30 minutes to an hour of her workday getting to know you better. That’s saying something. You are a qualified candidate. Just the fact that you got an interview proves it. This is good news, because all you have to do is confirm the interviewer’s expectation. You’re not working to overcome a negative first impression. This should be enough to calm your nerves.
At this point, the interviewer is trying to assess whether or not she and/or the team can connect with you on a personal level, and her hope is that the answer is a resounding yes! Especially if you've been referred for the role or someone's called on your behalf, the expectation is that she'll like you. Even if she's meeting you blindly, she connected with something on your resume or in your cover letter or LinkedIn profile. It’s kind of like online dating – when you like someone’s profile enough to go out with them on a date, aren’t you’re going into it hoping that it will work out? It’s the same with a job interview. The hiring manager really does want this to work! Keep in mind that if it doesn't work out, it doesn't mean you were unlikeable (just like you might go on dates with perfectly nice people who aren't "the one"), but there's only one person who can ultimately get the job.
When you’re mentally preparing for your interview, take a moment to remind yourself that you’ve gotten the interview because you deserve it, and that the hiring manager wants to like you. You should be going into the meeting with excitement and confidence – you’re meant to be there, so all you have to do is prove to the hiring manager that she was right to bring you in! And everyone likes to be right, right?
-- Angela Silak and Cindy Kaplan
"ASK HR" is our advice column where we answer readers' questions about pressing work dilemmas, job search queries, resumes, and navigating Hollywood. If you have a career-related question, email us, and the answer could appear in a future newsletter! All submissions will remain anonymous.
Dear Hollywood Resumes,
I had a job interview back in March, two days before the industry shut down and the quarantine went into effect. Now that it's almost four months later, with no real end in sight to the "new normal," should I check back in with the company? Or is it too late? If I do follow up, should I be generic and ask about how they've been faring in the pandemic, or should I be direct and ask if they are hiring again soon?
-- Waiting and Wondering
Dear Waiting and Wondering,
It's not too late! It's possible (but unlikely) that they already filled the role, and it's certainly possible that they decided against filling it altogether or are otherwise in a hiring freeze. But since there's the distinct third possibility that they're starting to adapt their business practices to the new normal for the long haul, they may still be looking to fill the role. You won't know unless you ask! If they are revisiting the hiring process, following up now will let them know you're still interested and available. If the role is filled or non-existent, you'll be opening lines of communication for the future and reiterating your interest in the company. That's no small thing; many job applicants move on to the next available opportunity and apply anywhere that's hiring, but the best way to get the job you really want is to target a few specific companies and let them know you're eager to work for them. And persistence often pays off!
When you follow up, make sure to use the initial email chain you used to set the interview and send your thank you email. That'll help them contextualize who you are and when you last spoke. Be direct and thoughtful. Try something like, "I hope you and your family are staying safe during this uncertain time. I'm checking in to see if you have an updates on the hiring process for X role, as I am still very interested in the opportunity. I understand the process has likely been affected by the pandemic, but I would love to know if the position is still open or if you have any additional insight."
As with all follow-ups, there's a difference between showing interest and being a pest. If they respond that they aren't sure when they will be hiring again, it's okay to check back in in a month or so (depending on how drastically the pandemic surges or abates; if a new safer-at-home order is in place, you can probably assume they still aren't hiring). If the position is filled, a simple "Thank you for letting me know. I'm still excited about the prospect of working for your company and would love to be considered for future roles" will do for now, and you can follow up if another posting goes up or at a natural check-in time, like the holidays. If they don't respond at all, you can ping them again in two weeks, but that's it; avoid following up often if they aren't responding or have indicated that they're not hiring any time soon. Though more regular follow-ups might have been good practice before the pandemic, they may be perceived as annoying now, when most people have a lot on their plates. Take any continued radio silence as an indication that the role is not a priority and wait until a new job posting opens up to check in again. The key is to make sure you come off as interested, respectful, and non-oblivious.
-- Angela & Cindy
"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.