Ask anyone how to get a job in entertainment, and they'll tell you to start as an assistant, preferably at a talent agency.
But is that good advice?
Sometimes. But for many, a different route may be a better approach. Let us break it down for you...
If you're seeking your first entertainment job at the beginning of your career, getting a job as some type of assistant is the most straightforward path to success. In particular, working at an agency will help you form relationships with a "class" of peers who grow in their careers alongside you, hone your skills on a rigorously-paced desk, and expose you to the nuances of multiple aspects of the business -- that's why it's such a popular suggestion. But plenty of people launch their careers in Hollywood without doing a year on an agency desk. We're proof! Especially now, when agencies aren't hiring floater pools, there's no reason to focus your search exclusively on agency desks unless, of course, you want to be an agent.
That said, not all assistant jobs are the same, and they won't all lead you down the same path. If you want to work in development at a network, you'll likely need to prove yourself as an assistant for a year at a smaller company -- a network executive's assistant is expected to understand the business of Hollywood and have mastered the basic assistant tasks. If you ultimately want to be an editor, a post-PA job will be more beneficial to you than a year at an agency, and similarly, a writers' PA job will get you to a staff writing job faster than a production company desk will. As we always say, target your job search. Focus on those assistant positions that will get you closer to your long-term goal faster.
But what about those who have been working in entertainment for many years and are looking to make a career transition to a new side of the industry? Is an assistant position the right move? No! If you have several years of entertainment experience under your belt, you should not be seeking assistant jobs! Unfortunately, we work with many clients who have been told they need to start their careers all over again as an assistant in order to make a career transition. But that's simply bad advice. You don't need to throw 10 years of field producing experience out the window and start as an agency assistant in order to become a development executive. In fact, no one will take you seriously if you attempt that; they'll think your resume got lost in the wrong pile. It's not always easy to move from one side of the industry to another, but you can do it by highlighting the added value your unique background will bring to a role and taking the time to craft a strong job search strategy.
Similarly, if you've held jobs in adjacent industries and want to break into entertainment, you don't necessarily need to start anew. For example, someone who has been working in event planning can probably get a job as a production coordinator or production manager for event broadcasts, instead of starting as a PA. Or, an ad agency executive may be able to transition to a role in integrated marketing at a network. Before you discard your past experience, consider how it may translate to the new role you're looking for.
There are cases when your experience simply won't cut it for higher level entertainment roles, and in those instances, you'll need to think about what you value most in your career -- is a pay cut worth it to pursue your passion? If the assistant path doesn't align with your lifestyle, consider if there's a blended role that may be more satisfying (i.e. if you've worked in social media marketing and want to get into scripted development, a job at a branded content firm may scratch your creative itch without requiring you to relive your 20s). But if you're truly committed to a 100% career overhaul, go for it!
The next time someone tells you to start out as an assistant, consider whether they fully understand your current situation. A lot of people assume that everyone has to take the same path to success, and this often results in generic advice. But your career trajectory may look different, and that's ok! Just remember that starting as an assistant can be a great way to get your foot in the door -- but if your foot is already in the door, you should probably keep walking through.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
Applying for a job in the best of times can be scary, and in these very-much-not-the-best-times, it can be downright terrifying! But what if we told you you might be your own worst enemy right now? And that once you stop getting in your own way, you'll have a much smoother go of it?
Here are three things that cause job seekers to inadvertently hold themselves back (and some tips for getting around them!):
1. OVERTHINKING YOUR RESUME STRATEGY
Do you find yourself harping on whether your resume should have color, use a fancy format, or implement a grand graphic design? Are you considering leaving dates off of your resume for fear of being rejected because of your age? Are you utterly convinced the hiring manager won't take you seriously because you've been freelancing for 15 years? If these and other concerns keep you up at night, you're not alone. There's tons of resume advice out there, and not all of it is good OR relevant when transitioning into, within, or out of the entertainment industry. Plus, it's human nature to try to control the little things (like your resume details) when you can't control the bigger things (like when the role that's perfect for you will open up).
But the truth is, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to crafting a resume. There are a few basic principles you should follow, but since every candidate is unique, every resume is unique. Your resume needs to be the best reflection of your capabilities to do the job you're applying for. That means you must tell your story clearly, concisely, and concretely; your resume needs a beginning, middle, and end and should give the hiring manager a clear picture of where you've worked, in what capacity, and what skills you developed there. Don't worry too much about the hiring manager's biases; if you're including relevant skills, contextualizing your experience, and using the language of the job posting to generally guide your resume content, you'll be ahead of the curve. Focus only on telling the clear story of why your work history makes you a fit for the role, and you'll be able to put the puzzle pieces of your format together.
And if you're still worried that you don't have the "right" experience for the job, remember that those little things that depart from the hiring manager's expectations are often what make you stand out from other candidates. If you can bring a unique perspective to the table, consider it a bonus!
2. OVER-WRITING YOUR RESUME
Are having trouble fitting your resume on one page (or two if you're applying for an executive-level role)? Do you get nervous that the one thing the hiring manager is really looking for will be the one accomplishment you leave out? Do you find yourself doing complex math problems just so you can show the incremental growth of a show's ratings from before your time working on it to now?
If so, stop. Your resume is not intended to be a lengthy history of everything you've ever done. It's an overview with the goal of selling yourself as the right candidate for the role. How do you sell yourself? By responding to the buyer's needs. In this instance, that means tailoring your resume to the job posting and listing only the skills you have that align with what they're looking for. You have a cheat sheet for this test: If a skill is listed in the job posting, it's relevant, and if it isn't listed, it's not. That doesn't mean you need to repeat every single skill listed, either. Often, a job posting includes soft skills like communication and time management that you can illustrate in the context of other bullets. Focus on the requirements and any skills that come up multiple times -- those are the main skills the hiring manager is looking for.
And when it comes to listing accomplishments, don't go overboard. The hiring manager doesn't want to scan meaningless numbers, but rather, she wants to get a picture of how successful you were in your last role. Did you have a high volume of work? Did you develop a new initiative for the company? Did you work with any notable brands or on major projects? You know what you're most proud of at work without pulling out a calculator, so write that.
3. OVER-APPLYING FOR ROLES
If you're applying for 50 jobs a day -- or even 10! -- you're doing it wrong. Especially in this job market, it's unlikely that there are more than one or two new postings for the role you really want that will show up in a day. And here's the thing: Hiring managers want to hire someone who wants the job, not someone who knows how to submit an application quickly.
Slow down, and narrow your search. "Something in marketing" is not narrow, while "content writer for digital marketing firm" is. You should also create a targeted list of companies you're interested in. As long as you can articulate a specific goal, you're on the right track. Then, focus your networking efforts on people at those companies and in those roles. Tell everyone you know what you're looking for (be specific!) and ask them for help. When you see a posting you want to apply to, find someone -- or multiple someones -- who can refer you. Reach out to the recruiter on LinkedIn and express your interest. Make it clear that you really want this particular job. Yes, each application will take more time, but your application to interview ratio will be more favorable.
Following these tips won't make the job application process super duper fun, but it will make it more fruitful and less stressful. And if you still need support, ask for it! Have friends hold you accountable. Get a second set of eyes on your resume, whether it's a professional look from us or from a trusted peer. You don't have to go at this alone.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
As professional resume writers, we've helped plenty of clients with standard career trajectories that fit perfectly into the Hollywood playbook update their resumes. But we’ve also worked with just as many "non-traditional candidates" who don’t quite fit the mold, like those who studied something completely unrelated in school, moms who took time off to raise kids, people making a career transition from a different industry, and the list goes on. When working with non-traditional candidates, we might have to spend a little extra time brainstorming how to spin their skills and experiences into language an entertainment industry hiring manager will understand, but ultimately, their different backgrounds and trajectories make for interesting stories that can enhance their job applications. If your background doesn't fit neatly into the typical Hollywood ladder model, you need to understand the added value you bring to the table and highlight it in your job application materials. And if you’re hiring a new team member, consider looking beyond those candidates who check all the boxes -- you'll be surprised at the talent you can find! Here are three reasons that non-traditional candidates can make great employees:
1. They bring a unique perspective. One of the best things about non-traditional candidates is that they bring skills, experience, and a point of view to a role that you often won’t find in your average applicant. They may have learned an organizational system in a different industry that could help streamline an entertainment process and save the company money. Or they might be very business-minded and supply some broad strategic ideas that could boost business development. Maybe they’ve been a caretaker previously and know how to manage interpersonal relationships in a way that brings the team closer together. And most importantly, their life stories are different. Someone who hasn’t worked in Hollywood and has a distinct worldview will bring a fresh perspective to storytelling. All of these things can add tremendous value to a team.
2. They take risks. It’s terrifying to apply for jobs when you know you’re facing an uphill battle in the hiring process. And even scarier is dropping everything and trying to make a total career switch later in life. People who do this are inevitably willing to take risks. And in Hollywood, that’s what’s needed to keep content fresh and interesting. In an industry of remakes and reboots where “no” is one of the most frequently heard words, it’s the people who take risks and succeed that will ultimately end up on top. And this willingness to take risks brings us to our final point about non-traditional candidates…
3. They really want the job. Why would a person drop everything to work in a cutthroat industry if they weren’t incredibly passionate about it? Non-traditional candidates are excited, eager, and willing to put in tons of hard work to get the job done. No one makes a better employee than someone who really wants to be there. So take them seriously – they probably know more about the industry than you think, and they’re certainly prepared to learn.
The next time you're hiring for a role, don't discount candidates who have a different background from the rest of the applicants in your pile of resumes. Have compassion, and give these deserving applicants a chance. And for those of you who are non-traditional candidates, understand your own worth when applying for jobs. Show the hiring manager why you’re an undeniably strong candidate by presenting not only your transferable skills, but those unique skills and life experiences that will set you apart from other candidates. It might not be the easiest path, but if you don’t give up, you’ll eventually succeed.
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
Congratulations, 2020 graduates! Though your ceremonies may not be traditional, and the future feels uncertain, you deserve to relish in the fact that you completed a major milestone in your education. But we know that beneath the pride, there's anxiety about what's next. You're entering the job market in an unprecedented global pandemic, there's an economic downturn, and the media is forecasting only very bleak news. What's there to celebrate? What should you do? How do you navigate a world in which the rules you prepared for have suddenly changed?
Our advice this week will be more personal than usual, because we can relate. We both graduated from college into The Great Recession -- Cindy in 2008 and Angela in 2009. We'd entered college with one expectation for how to find a job after graduation and were faced with an entirely different reality when we were ready to enter the workforce. Neither of us had connections in the entertainment industry, and the competition was more fierce than usual. We each took a different approach; Cindy spent a year interning while living at home in New York and interned/PA'ed again after moving to LA, while Angela enrolled in grad school at USC and completed internships as part of her degree. Meanwhile, our peers took a multitude of different paths, depending on their connections, financial resources, and previous work experience. We all had to navigate a new economic landscape. But over a decade later, we've learned the most crucial lesson: No matter what path you need to take now, you will be okay.
There's no one-size-fits-all approach to figuring out what to do next. You might have the economic freedom to hold out for the perfect first job, or you might have to take the first job you can get. You may not be able to move to LA immediately like you'd planned. That's okay. Don't compare yourself to other people who may have what looks like an easier time than you do. Don't worry that you'll never catch up. You can't control those external factors, so your time will be better spent focusing on the things you can control, like honing your skills, assessing what your true goals are, and building a job search strategy that meets your specific needs.
Trust that everything will work out in the end, as long as you continue to self-assess and consider what you truly want for yourself. Keep in mind that while transitioning into an unfamiliar role can be hard, it's completely doable! And remember that you'll always have a shorthand to explain to future employers why the beginning of your career may not be standard. In fact, your resilience as a 2020 graduate will make you an asset -- you're currently learning critical life and job skills, like creative problem-solving, adapting to new technological realities, and pivoting to find new solutions.
It can be hard to swallow optimism in the face of trying times, but trust us: You will find success on the other side of this. That's not a platitude; it's our truth.
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan