Imagine you’re a hiring manager interviewing for an open role on your development team. You ask the candidate, “What are some of your biggest strengths?” and they reply, “Well, I’m very creative and have a good eye for story, and I’m really good at giving notes and collaborating with writers.” Not a terrible answer – certainly, those are qualities you’d want in a development executive – but it’s not convincing. Anyone can claim they’re really good at shaping story. But in an interview, you want to dig a little deeper and prove it.
Instead, imagine the candidate had said, “I’m really creative and love helping writers shape their scripts, and I’m able to communicate with writers in a way that brings out their best work. For instance, in my previous role, I was working with a writer to adapt a historical fiction novel. It was an amazing story, but the book was too dense for everything to fit into a feature. We wanted to preserve the themes and overall conflict, but we knew we needed to sacrifice some of the details. The writer was having a really hard time letting some of the scenes from the book go, and the second act was really suffering. I sat down with the writer to understand why they were feeling stuck, and once I understood their block, I suggested some ways we could show the character development they were adamant about including earlier on. By moving that to the first act, we kept the pace moving later in the script and had a better pay-off. Once we tightened the script up, we were able to secure financing and attach Actor X, and the film just wrapped.” Much more convincing, right?
With an anecdote like that, the interviewer gets a better sense of the candidate’s approach and style and can picture how they’d fit in on their team. As you prepare for an interview, think of examples of accomplishments or challenges from different points in your career, and use them in your responses.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
Detail-oriented. Strong written and verbal communication skills. Go-getter.
These are the soft skills that are most often listed in job postings. They’re also the easiest ones for hiring managers to assess during the hiring process! And no, this is not because you’ve listed them on your resume. In fact, if you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while, you know that we recommend avoiding listing soft skills on your resume, and instead showing how you used those skills through bullet points that reflect tangible accomplishments.
One of the reasons we make that recommendation is because anyone can claim a soft skill, and without evidence to back it up, why would a hiring manager believe you? Beyond that, hiring managers can directly see if you have some of the soft skills they require through the application process. Let's go through a few examples how they assess these three skills.
Hiring managers can tell if you’re detail-oriented very easily. First, did you follow the application instructions in the job posting? If they asked for a cover letter, and you didn’t send one, you obviously missed that detail. If they asked you to include your top three favorite TV shows in the cover letter, and you don’t, they know you don’t pay attention to details or follow instructions. (That kind of call out is actually designed almost exclusively as a soft skills test, which is why it’s listed more in entry-level postings where applicants may not have proven their soft skills professionally yet!). Another way to see if you’re detail-oriented – does your resume match the job posting? Is it clear why you applied? Or did you send a production-oriented resume for a development executive role? A detail-oriented person will read the posting carefully and thoroughly and review their resume to make sure it aligns with the role.
Similarly, communication skills become evident throughout the application process. For example, if a person with strong written communication skills is applying for a job over email, they’ll send a short, well-written cover email instead of a blank email or a one-line “See attached.” When they’re contacted for an interview, they’ll respond professionally, with full, punctuated sentences, and no typos or grammatical errors. If a hiring manager reaches out to set an interview, and you reply to the email, “Yupp Monday 10am is good Thx,” you’re not demonstrating strong written communication skills for a professional environment. It’s also easy for hiring managers to get a sense of your verbal communication skills during the job interview. Sure, they’re looking to see if you’re really a fit based on a deeper dive into your professional background, but they’ll also know in a moment or two whether you are able to communicate your thoughts concisely and articulately.
A skill like “go-getter” is obvious to hiring managers too! Someone who truly takes initiative will do so during their job search. First, they’ll make sure their materials are as strong as can be and tailored to the job posting. Then, they’ll go the extra mile to see if they can get a referral to the position through their network or try to find a recruiter on LinkedIn who they can speak to directly. Even if they can’t find a connection, if they do get an interview, they’ll show proactivity by arriving on time, answering questions that demonstrate they've researched the company and projects, and sending a thank you note within 24 hours.
As you apply for jobs, keep in mind that hiring managers are vetting you beyond what’s written on your resume or said in your interview. One of the biggest missteps candidates can make is claiming a soft skill they don’t have, as it raises red flags about all their other qualifications the moment a hiring manager discovers one is a misrepresentation. Make sure you cultivate these skills (coaching can help!) and demonstrate them throughout the application process.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
It’s tempting to take the first job you're offered, especially since the entertainment industry is so competitive. But it’s always okay to decline an offer that you don’t feel is right for you. Here are some factors to consider as you make your decision:
Are you excited by the role? Hopefully, you'll do some soul searching about a role before you apply, reading the job posting carefully to make sure the company and work align with your own values (tip: check out the "Essential Questions to Guide Your Job Search" worksheet in our resource library!). But not all job postings are accurate, and you may learn new information during the interview process. Take a moment to reflect about what your day-to-day will be like once you have a clearer picture of the role. If you’re looking for a quick stepping stone and can gain some valuable skills with a short stint at this company, it might make sense to take the job even if it's not the most exciting role ever. But if you’re looking for long-term stability, consider what will make you happy in the long run. It’s hard to get excited to go to work every day if you’re doing something you don’t believe in.
What's the company/boss's reputation? One of the biggest factors that contributes to happiness (or dissatisfaction) at work is the culture of your team and larger company. There are plenty of places in Hollywood that make awesome content and have a certain cachet but are known for abusive or toxic environments. Do some research to dig up intel about the company culture or your prospective boss, and suss out the team during an interview to see if they seem happy. If you get weird vibes during the interview, you should think twice about accepting the offer. Trust your gut and your research, and if you don't like what you find, stay away!
Are there opportunities for growth? It's pretty common to want to land at a place where you'll have room to grow, whether that's in your title/salary, working at a more reputable or innovative company with exciting projects, or by learning new skills. If you're looking to grow and the job feels like a lateral move or a step down -- like taking a pay cut to go from Director of Development at well-known Prodco A to Director of Development at unestablished Prodco B -- you’re probably better off waiting a little longer for another opportunity where you can actually move up the ladder. It’s also a good idea to ask about room for growth during your interview. If the interviewer makes it clear that they don’t plan to promote unless one of the higher ups who has been there for a decade randomly decides to leave, this probably isn't an ideal situation if your ultimate goal is to stay within the same company for a long time. However, it's totally okay if growth isn't a priority for you right now! If you're comfortable with your title and salary bracket and are looking for something else, like greater work/life balance, you might approach this question differently. Instead, consider...
Does the job align with your lifestyle? Account for work-life balance and your financial situation when evaluating a job offer. If a job requires you to work late every night, and you have a newborn, is this the right situation for you? Will the paycheck be enough to either match or improve your current standard of living -- or if you're comfortable taking a pay cut, do the merits of this specific job and future earning potential align with your needs long-term? Is the commute so bad that it’s going to ruin your mental health, or is the job remote-only, and you're itching to get back to the office? Your job is just one element of your life, so take the time to determine if this role will be a boon for overall well-being or a detriment.
Keep in mind that the "right" answers to these questions will differ from person to person -- only you can decide whether declining a job offer is the correct move. Luckily, even if you end up in a job that isn't the right fit, you can always walk away. Most importantly, if you’re committed to your goals and don’t give up, eventually the right role will come along!
-- Angela Silak & 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 finally got hired at what I thought was a great job, only to find out a few weeks in that the company was a nightmare to work for! I ended up resigning and am now back searching for jobs, but I'm nervous about the same thing happening again. I'm wondering if there's a way to tell whether a company is horrible to work for before you apply.
-- Scared of the Search
Dear Scared of the Search,
Kudos to you for prioritizing your well-being and walking away from a situation that didn't feel right! That takes a lot of bravery and strength.
It's not always possible to know what a company is like until you're already working there, but there are some red flags you can look out for along the way. When you a read a job posting, you should consider if anything sounds sketchy, like a promise of money down the line only after your work is done, an application fee, or other any other financial or invasive personal information request. If you haven't heard of the company previously, Google it to see if you can find a website. No online presence at all is a red flag, and if any articles come up about past lawsuits or allegations, avoid applying.
Even if the company is reputable, there may be other red flags in the job posting. Does it describe a position that sounds like it really should be multiple roles (meaning: can you envision one person being responsible for all of the tasks, or are there so many disparate responsibilities listed that it would be more typical for 2-3 people to share the duties)? Are there any trigger words, like "thick-skinned" and "no ego?" These can often mean you're expected to keep your head down and be yelled at from time to time.
It's also important to read the posting carefully to see whether the role matches what you're looking for, as not all jobs that are wrong for you are objectively bad. Read the company overview section (if there is one) to find out if the organization's values align with yours. Ask yourself if you're interested in spending your day doing the responsibilities listed and if they match your expectations for the position's title. Note whether the posting includes information about limited work/life balance -- sometimes, this is transparent, like "Must work long hours and occasional weekends," and sometimes it's less so, like "Looking for a dedicated team-player to contribute at a high level in our all-hands-on-deck, fast-paced, maximum-output environment." Keep an eye out for culture indicators, like the types of benefits offered; you might be the type of person who wants a relaxed, fun atmosphere with free lunch and a ping pong table and a gym on site, or you want to keep your head down at your desk from 9-5 and leave your socializing and fitness regimens out of the workplace -- sometimes you can find clues about these things in the posting.
Often, you can't determine everything about a company's culture or whether it's bad to work for before sending in your application, especially if it's a large company, and you're trying to assess one small department. Luckily, you have additional opportunities to evaluate during the interview process. Ask questions at the end of your interview, like "What is the company culture like?," "What is your day to day like?," or "What would success look like for a candidate in this role?" If there are yellow flags that come up in your interview, you can also address them -- "I noticed our interviews have all been scheduled for 8pm; is it typical to work into the evenings here?" While it's important to put your best foot forward at an interview and not ruffle feathers, it's equally important to protect yourself and make sure the company is a good fit for you.
Lastly, you can see if any of your contacts have experience working at the company or with anyone on the team and ask them for their insight. You can also check sites like Glassdoor and read reviews, though they're not always 100% accurate. If you're part of a tracking board or other networking group, you can ask if anyone has experience with X company and would be willing to chat with you, but know that these groups are often quite large and not as private as they may seem.
All this due diligence can be helpful, but it's not foolproof, as companies will sometimes act very differently in an interview than in practice, you might not meet some of the more problematic managers or get enough insight into problematic practices in the interview process, and your contacts may have had different experiences with the firm than you'll have. Ultimately, you'll just have to trust your gut, and know that if you end up somewhere that's not right, you can always do what you've already done: have the strength to quit.
-- Angela & Cindy