If you’re looking for a job at a higher level than your current role, trying to break into the industry from a different field, hoping to move from one area of entertainment to another, or aiming to leave the industry altogether, you’ll need a resume that communicates that you’re capable of doing the job you’re applying for. The resume you used to get your last job isn’t going to cut it! But if you follow these key tips, you’ll be able to convince a hiring manager to bring you in for an interview.
First, read the job posting closely. You’ll need to assess if you actually are qualified for the position (overqualified does not count as qualified). Read each element of the job posting as if it were a question; “Communicate with multiple players to manage project execution” becomes, “Can you communicate with multiple players to manage project execution?” If your answer is “Yes!,” consider why. Map that “yes” back to a skill you acquired at a previous position, and make sure that skill becomes a bullet on your resume. If your answer is “No,” that’s okay, as long as you have affirmative responses to the majority of the qualifications. If you don’t even understand the terminology in the posting, reassess if this is the best job for you right now, or if you should take some professional development courses to learn more about the field.
Once you’ve determined which of your skills translate to the open role, you’ll need to make sure they’re highlighted on your resume. Your first bullet in each section should set the stage for each of your past roles to add context for the hiring manager (this is especially important if you’ve worked at smaller companies or are transitioning to a new industry). The remainder of the bullets should track back to the job posting and use as much verbiage from the posting as possible. Even if the majority of your job was spent doing something else, focus only on the relevant skills that apply to the open position. Your resume isn’t a biography, but rather a marketing document designed to highlight the value you can bring to the new company.
You may also consider adding a professional summary or core skills list to your resume to highlight key elements of your background, particularly if you’re further along in your career or are making a huge transition. (If you're applying for entry-level roles, these sections aren't necessary and mostly just waste valuable space).
A professional summary is a paragraph at the top of your resume that provides a quick overview of your experience and strengths and creates a story for why your multitude of skills makes you an excellent candidate. To write a professional summary, think about how you would define yourself -- if you can brand yourself with a known title (like development executive or reality TV producer) that's great, but if not, you can list a few specializations and the types of companies you've worked for. Then think about the primary qualifications the posting suggests an ideal candidate would possess and use that to fill in the last 2-3 sentences. It’s a good idea to tweak this section, even slightly, for each posting to highlight the most important skills you bring to the table and what sets you apart from other candidates.
A core skills/area of expertise section can also help boost your resume, since it’ll give you an opportunity to use more keywords and showcase expertise you gained from multiple positions. This could be presented as a simple list of skills at the top of your resume, or it could be a few broader skills with some bullets describing them. For example, you can title a section “Project Management” and highlight how you managed budgets and deadlines as a line producer on set in bullet points below. If you’re going for Project Manager roles outside the industry, you’ll have that critical phrase on your resume, even though your title of “Line Producer” doesn’t directly translate. Just be careful not to include soft skills in this list -- things like “excellent communicator” or “team player” are easy to say and hard to prove. If you list a skill in this section, make sure it’s backed up by a tangible description in your resume.
You might also consider a functional resume, especially if you’ve had a lot of freelance positions and are looking for a corporate role in a different area of the industry or a different industry altogether. This resume focuses more on general areas of expertise and achievements than a chronology. This is often a last resort, since employers like to see a clear timeline, but it can help keep your resume from becoming four pages long or too repetitive. In particular, a functional resume can be a helpful alternative if you’ve worked on multiple projects in a year, returned to a series for multiple seasons, or if you’ve consulted for a variety of clients in a similar capacity.
Regardless of how you tackle it, make sure your resume is tailored to the job posting. Show the hiring managers exactly what they're hoping to see, and leave off the extra stuff. You might have to dig deep to remember experiences and skills that will translate to the new role, but if you can mimic the job posting as much as possible, you'll have the best shot at getting through that first hurdle of making a successful transition.
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
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