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.
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