"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
The new normal means that you're more likely than ever to have your next interview take place over a video conference software like Skype or Zoom. It can be a lot harder to connect with an interviewer through a computer screen, plus there's the possibility of technology failing, so it's understandable that a lot of job seekers are panicked. But don't fret! Prepare for an interview as you normally would by researching the position and company and practicing answers to common interview questions, and take these extra steps to make sure everything goes smoothly over video conference:
Test your tech.
Although it's impossible to avoid all technical difficulties you may encounter during a virtual interview, do your best to limit them them. First, make sure you have downloaded the proper software. Then, find a spot in your home with a strong wifi signal and test your computer with a friend the night before the interview (notice the word computer here -- you don't want to do an interview on a phone or tablet, unless you have a very secure stand and are using a reliable app). If you're having connection issues, or the image keeps freezing, do some troubleshooting to fix the problem. Even if everything tests out perfectly, glitches can happen -- keep a second device nearby during your interview as backup. Be gracious, apologetic if necessary, and show the interviewer how well you function under pressure!
Perfect your set-up.
It’s no secret that people don’t look their best over webcam, but you should try to appear as polished as possible during the interview. First, look for a simple backdrop. Find a solid wall to sit in front of, so your interviewer won't get distracted by background clutter. Though virtual backgrounds on Zoom can be fun and offer some privacy, a plain wall is a better bet -- you want the focus to be on you. Next, find a good camera angle. Your interviewer does not want to look up at your nostrils or down at your hairline, so make sure your eye line matches the camera -- you can stack books or boxes under a laptop to get the necessary lift. Also, remember to test your set-up at the same time of day your interview is scheduled to ensure you have the proper lighting.
It should go without saying that you should focus on the interview. Close out of any chat software or other computer programs open on your computer and silence your phone. You should also choose a quiet, interruption-free zone for your setup -- even a walk-in closet or a bathroom (if the walls are decent) could work if you're short on space with everyone stuck at home! Two common distraction culprits: dogs and kids. Put your dog in the crate with a frozen treat and find a way to keep the kids occupied. Do whatever you need to do to give your virtual interview the same level of attention you would if you were in person.
Dress to impress.
A virtual interview is still an interview, which means you need to dress like you would if you were meeting in person. Sure, it feels funny to sit on your couch in a suit and tie, but if that’s what you’d wear to an in-person interview, it’s what you should wear now. For women, make sure your top isn't low cut -- this is good advice generally, but you'll want to be even more modest over video conference; a neckline that's perfectly professional in real life may be cut off in your video frame and give the illusion that you're not quite dressed. Though it may be tempting to skip formal bottoms, most people find that it's easier to get into the interview mindset when they're fully dressed, and it's better safe than sorry. Looking the part will help you feel the part -- you’ll be more confident and professional, and that will be reflected on screen.
Be on time.
In an in-person interview, being late is a huge problem, but it’s even worse in a virtual interview. Don't force the hiring manager to stare at her screen waiting for you to sign on. If you make her wait too long, she’ll choose to move on to another task, and you’ll have missed your opportunity. But this is an easy mistake to avoid. Sign on at least ten minutes before your scheduled interview time and accept the invitation from your interviewer (or confirm they’ve accepted yours, depending on what was arranged). When the interviewer initiates the connection, you'll be ready and waiting.
Maintain eye contact.
It's really hard not to look at the little box with your face when you're on a video call. It's like avoiding scratching a persistent itch. But avoid it at all costs! For one thing, your interviewer will notice your self-occupation, and you might even find your mind wandering away from the conversation. More importantly, you want to establish a personal connection with your interviewer, which means aiming for eye contact. If you look directly at your camera, you'll appear as though you're making eye contact, even though you're actually looking above your interviewer's video window. Try to answer any questions while focusing on your camera. When your interviewer is speaking, it's okay to look at their face on the screen. If you make the chat window full screen, you'll be able to balance the back and forth eye movement more smoothly.
Aside from all of this, the rest of the interview should be the same as if you were in an office. And when it's done, follow up with a thank you email and proceed as normal. Because, after all, this is the new normal. If you're able to master the art of virtual interviewing, you'll have a leg up over the competition.
--Angela Silak and Cindy Kaplan
You finally get an interview at your dream company, and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel -- a way out of a job that’s run its course. And then the interviewer asks you the one question you’ve been dreading: “What do you love most about your current job?”
How can you answer this? If you loved your job, you probably wouldn’t want to leave, right? Even in the best case scenario, where you like your job and are just ready for your next step, it’s hard to explain why you love your current job while communicating that you’re even more excited about the potential opportunity.
The trick is to pick an aspect of your current job that will serve you well in the new role. Think about what drew you to apply for the job at hand and which of your skills will make you an asset to the team. For example, if you’re an assistant at an agency applying for a coordinator job at a production company, instead of thinking about how much you hate your type A boss and the bro culture of the agency, describe how much you love reading clients’ materials, writing coverage, and tracking the industry. That will demonstrate you’re able to do the job and will enjoy coming to work every day.
Remember that the purpose of the interviewer asking this question is to see whether you’d be happy on the team -- and it’s an opportunity for you to suss out the same thing. In the above example, let’s say the interviewer responds by saying that the coordinator role is less about development and more about supporting current shows and securing resources for physical production. If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, you can express that you’re excited about the opportunity to learn more about that part of the process and see if you can thread in an additional related skill you acquired at the agency that will help you succeed.
But if you learn that a role isn't want you'd hoped for during an interview, it’s okay to express how you feel about it. Continue making a good impression during the rest of the interview. You may decide that the position isn't for you (and the hiring manager might agree), but when the right position pops up at the company, the interviewer might give you a recommendation. After all, you should be looking for a job that you love, one you can easily talk passionately about once you’re in the role.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan