In Hollywood, the term “entry-level job” generally refers to an assistant position. Hollywood assistants do mostly secretarial work – answering phones, managing calendars, and booking travel – with the added excitement of trying to magically predict every need their (often very demanding) bosses can dream up. It’s not a glamorous position, but it’s the first stepping stone to a career in Hollywood.
The entertainment industry has a strong “pay your dues” type of culture, where you’re expected to complete menial tasks for minimal pay in order to prove you’re tough enough to move up the ladder. But once you’ve put in your time, a promotion is no guarantee. Assistants are required to become experts in administrative duties, but in order to graduate to the elusive “coordinator” title, they have to showcase a different skill set. To make things worse, there are far more available assistant positions than there are openings for more senior roles. Aside from the lucky few who get promoted within their companies, assistants generally have to revamp their resumes entirely to convince a new employer they’ve got what it takes. These three tips will help take that resume to the next level.
1. Ditch the admin stuff
One of the biggest problems assistants face when trying to break out of administrative roles is that often, their primary responsibilities are simple, menial tasks -- the kind of tasks that every assistant can’t wait to let go of after a promotion. These responsibilities are likely to shift dramatically at the coordinator level and beyond, and therefore become less important on a resume. If the job title on your resume says “assistant,” we can safely assume you answered phones and scheduled meetings, but what else can you do? If you want more responsibilities, you need to show you can handle them, so forget about the years you’ve spent faxing and filing. It’s time to move on.
2. Prove yourself by showcasing relevant skills
So you’ve deleted every bullet point that makes you sound like a secretary — now what? Are you worried your resume is going to feel empty? This is where you’ve got to acknowledge what you’re really capable of. You may have spent most of your days filling out expense reports, but hopefully you made an effort to go beyond the call of duty, at least some of the time, and this is what you’ll pull from to fill in those blank spaces. [Some advice: As an assistant, look at what the higher-ups are doing and try to mimic them. Even if it’s on a smaller scale and few people listen to your opinions, you’ll be developing valuable skills that will come in handy later.] When trying to craft your resume, use the job posting as a guide. What exactly are they asking for? Someone with a deep understanding of story structure? Good thing you spent time reading all those scripts you printed and copied! You may even be able to translate some administrative duties into the more advanced skills employers are looking for. For example, if the listing asks for an excellent communicator who can collaborate with multiple departments to guide projects along, reword your “phone answering” bullet point to demonstrate your experience liaising with a variety of individuals and teams. In short, you can prove you’ve got the skills by making sure the resume matches the posting.
3. Own your responsibilities
Even though you know deep down that you have the skills to grow in the industry, you may have lost some of your confidence during the humbling assistant experience. While that’s understandable, don’t let your resume reflect it. In order to snag that more advanced position, you have to own the responsibilities you list. If every bullet point begins with the word “assisted,” you’ve got a problem. While it’s great to show that you can collaborate with a team (and ideally at least one of your bullet points will highlight this skill), you don’t want to make it sound like you need help with every task. Hiring managers want employees who can work independently and manage projects without hand-holding, and if it appears like you’ve never taken ownership of a project in your current position, they may feel you haven’t fully developed the qualities they’re looking for. To make yourself a more compelling candidate, list your responsibilities in a way that shows you’re capable of doing them alone. If you were a member of an event planning team, you can write “planned and executed events” on your resume. Just because other people were doing the job with you doesn’t mean that you didn’t contribute in a big way (but make sure you never take credit for something you didn’t work on at all). If you’re confident that you can lead a project, it’s okay to list it that way on your resume. You’re not lying by leaving out the others who were involved — remember, this job application is about YOU.
--Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
Your resume is supposed to tell the story of your professional life, showing hiring managers how what you've done in the past will help their company in the future. But many job applicants -- even in Hollywood, where crafting stories is the job -- forget one of the basic rules of storytelling: setting the scene. In a resume, that means giving the reader context for each of your positions to show the scope and nature of your role.
First, you'll need to show where you've worked and when you worked there in a clean and simple way. Like a script slug line, section titles will orient the reader. Make sure the company names in your resume are in bold and that you have a clear timeline to go along with them. And in most cases, your title will go below the company name (sometimes there are exceptions for freelancers). Why? Well, "Assistant to CEO" can mean a few different things -- maybe you supported the head of a studio, or maybe you assisted the head of a health insurance company, and one makes you a lot more qualified for a coordinator role in the entertainment industry than the other. A company name and job title can tell the reader a lot with just a quick glance, so this context is essential if you want a hiring manager to read the rest of the resume.
Sure, this formatting seems obvious, but that's just the first step to providing context -- most job applicants stop setting the scene after that initial framing. But that's where the story falls apart! If you want your resume to be great, you need to make sure the hiring manager has enough information to understand how your skills actually played out within your work environment.
We like to use the first bullet point under each company listing in the experience section to give context to the hiring manager. This bullet should be the broadest and reflect your main job function -- sort of an overview of your job. And it will often require some sort of description of the company. For example, if you worked at a small company that no one has ever heard of, you'll want to explain. You might say you worked at a “boutique literary management firm.” With just those four words, the hiring manager can imagine you in a small office with a few co-workers, which means you’ve likely had a job where you wore a ton of hats, had close access to high-level executives, and maybe even had responsibilities beyond the scope of your job title. Additionally, you could also give more information about the type of work the company does, i.e. you worked at an “independent film production company specializing in low-budget horror movies.” Now the reader knows you have expertise in a specific area. This can come in especially handy if you’re applying for jobs in the same space. But even if you’re transitioning into another type of role, you’re still helping the hiring manager picture your work history.
If you worked at a larger company, you’ll want to find other ways to give context. A development executive at HBO doesn’t need to say that they develop content for a premium cable network. Everyone knows what HBO is, so you don’t want to waste valuable space explaining. Instead, give more information about the scope of your job, i.e. “Managed a development slate of 30+ scripted dramas.” Volume can be helpful in your explanation (number of projects, budget ranges, size of events, etc). So can illustrating the type of work you did, whether it's the kind of content (scripted dramas), the type of clients (A-list talent; brands across verticals), or the style of a show (top-rated docuseries). If you work at a well-known company in a lesser-known department you may want to give a little more information about the function of the department before, or in addition to, describing your job.
After your first bullet point, you can break down some of the more important responsibilities and achievements. Even then, you should differentiate between what you were assigned to do and what you actually accomplished -- "managed editors" is fine to say, but "managed a team of 5 editors to deliver episode cuts" is lot better! You could even go one step further, "managed a team of 5 editors to deliver episode cuts for 13-episode season of top-rated reality competition series." The last version explains both responsibilities and results, which will be the most effective way to help an outsider understand your role.
As you can see, there are many ways to give context to hiring managers, and the best resumes don't skip over any of them. Hiring managers have a ton of resumes to review and they don't have time to do guesswork. Connect the dots for them and remove the guesswork, and you'll have a much stronger resume!
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
There’s a lot of debate around whether or not you should include your graduation year on your resume. Everyone’s story is unique, so this decision must be made on an individual basis -- whether you include the year or not depends on the story you're trying to tell with your resume. Here’s how we see it:
When you’re a few years into your career, your graduation year isn’t particularly relevant – it matters more that you have a degree than when you got that degree. Once you’ve made it past being an assistant, you should most likely leave off your graduation year and let your experience speak for itself. This will be especially helpful for older candidates (45+) who don’t want to date themselves – ageism in Hollywood is very real. On the flip side, there can also be some bias against younger job applicants going for more experienced roles. If you’re in your mid 30s and look a lot younger than your age, you may want to include your graduation year. This will help set the hiring manager’s expectations, and he won’t immediately write you off as a 25-year-old when you walk in the door.
If you are a recent grad, you should list education at the top of your resume and include your graduation year. Why? It helps communicate your resume story instantly, that you’ve finished school and are now looking for an entry-level position. All the work history that comes below education is contextualized by the fact that you were a student at the same time -- including your graduation year is a great way to showcase your ability to manage multiple projects at once! Plus, executives love to hire recent grads as their assistants – they’re seen as hungry and ready to take on the world.
It boils down to this: Is your graduation year relevant to your story? Or will it lead hiring managers to judge you negatively based on your age? Like any element of your resume, consider what you're communicating both explicitly and implicitly, and remember the only rule is to stay true to your own story.
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
People like to ask us if it’s cheating to have a professional resume writer write their resumes. Obviously, we don’t think so. Unless you’re applying for a job where you’d need to write or evaluate resumes (like a college career center or HR), your potential employer isn’t hiring you because of how well you wrote your resume -- she’s hiring you because of the skills listed on your resume. And if someone else can help you package those skills in a way that will catch a recruiter’s eye, well, why wouldn't you go for it?
The truth is, someone else probably can help you present your skills better than if you were to write your resume yourself. It’s really hard to accurately assess your own skills and talk about your achievements at work -- people tend to either undersell themselves because they’ve been trained to be humble, or oversell themselves out of a misguided notion that cockiness is everything. Plus, a lot of what you do all day at work is so obvious to you that you may forget to include it in your resume, even though a recruiter may need that context.
That’s why it’s a good idea to sit down with someone who isn’t familiar with your day-to-day to talk through your skills. An unbiased outsider can ask the right questions to get you thinking about your achievements -- how many clients did you sign? How well did the shows you developed perform in the ratings? Did you take on any higher level duties while you were an assistant? They can also clarify some of the murkier aspects of your resume -- what do you mean by “updated social media?” What kind of company is your start-up? Who did you liaise with internally and externally?
The other benefit to having help with your resume is that it can often be a confidence booster. When you’re bogged down by job applications and rejections, it’s easy to get depressed and think you simply don’t have what it takes. But by talking through your accomplishments with an outsider, you’ll be able to verbalize what you’ve done and take ownership of your performance -- and get a head start finding anecdotes or background for some of the popular questions about strengths, weaknesses, and challenges. Usually, our clients feel prouder of their work histories after they’ve had a chance to tell their stories. But even if you realize you’re answering more questions with “No, I never did that” or “No, I wouldn’t want to do that,” you’ll also be in a better position -- you’ll be able to reassess the kinds of roles you’re applying for and figure out the right next step, instead of wasting time applying for jobs that aren't a right fit.
There’s enough stress when it comes to the job search, and your time is better spent focusing on identifying your dream companies and networking your way into them than struggling through multiple drafts of your resume. Consider letting a professional resume writer prepare you for when you make those fruitful connections.
--Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.