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
You're ready to shake things up in your career, but you don't know exactly what you want to do next. All you know is you're done freelancing. As long as it's in-house, stable, and comes with benefits, you're interested.
Many of our clients feel this way and plan to put feelers out across the industry to land their next jobs. Although a more targeted approach will likely yield better results -- for instance, identifying a few companies that really interest you, or narrowing down job titles to those that include the skills you most enjoy -- it's completely understandable that you might want to test multiple waters as you make that career transition. But if you choose this path, you're going to need to spend a little more time than usual on your job applications.
Well, when you apply for a wide variety of jobs, you shouldn't be using the same resume for every application. Different positions require different skills, so you'll want to alter your resume accordingly. Look at the skills each posting asks for, and find the experiences you've had in the past that match what's listed. Think about everything you've done previously that qualifies you for the role, even if it wasn't a major aspect of your job, and include it on your resume.
You don't need to start from scratch every time. Instead, create a resume that encompasses all the different skills you bring to the table and orient it so it aligns with the jobs you're most excited about -- your professional summary (if you have one) and primary bullet points should match that particular type of role. This way, you'll have one resume for the bulk of your applications, and you may just need to do a quick keyword pass or remove one or two irrelevant bullet points each time.
But when you apply for a job that's a little different, you should revise your professional summary and reorganize (or rewrite) your bullets to match the specific nature of the role -- for example, if you're mostly applying for in-house producer roles at a network, but an open creative director role at a branded content firm catches your eye, you'd tweak your professional summary to include references to work you've done with brands and rearrange your bullet points to highlight skills related to integrations and branded content.
If you're applying equally to wildly disparate jobs -- like a post-production supervisor and a marketing director -- you'll need two separate resumes as your base. It may seem like a lot of work, but it's better to spend a few hours crafting multiple resumes (or hire us to do it!) than to spend weeks or months applying for jobs and getting nowhere. A generic resume simply won't work in this case. For one, you'll be up against a bunch of more traditional candidates who have the exact experience the hiring manager is looking for. You're not going to be able to compete with them if you're forcing the hiring manager to do a ton of extra work to identify the skills they're looking for in your resume (trust us, they won't bother). Plus, hiring managers can tell when your resume is one-size-fits-all, and that doesn't convey passion for that company or role, nor will it convince them that you're a multi-talented hyphenate they'd be honored to have on payroll.
The bottom line: You'll have much better luck in the job hunt if your resume is targeted, focused, and tells a clear story to the hiring manager about why you're the right fit for that particular job. So take the extra time to tailor your resume to the job posting -- it will make your job search that much shorter!
-- Angela Silak and 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've been on the hunt for an entry-level Hollywood job since before COVID hit. I'd been volunteering for a local film festival, but the event was cancelled due to the pandemic, and many of the industry jobs I applied to postponed their hiring processes. I took a job at a fast food restaurant to pay the bills in the meantime. Is it worth including this job on my resume? How will hiring managers perceive this experience?
-- Dollar Menu Dilemma
Dear Dollar Menu Dilemma,
Ordinarily, it's perfectly reasonable to cover a gap on your resume with a non-industry job, even if the job is in the service industry. There are a ton of transferable skills between food service and entertainment, especially when you're looking for an entry-level role -- a lot of an assistant's job comes down to customer service, whether it's handling clients or dealing with a boss who has an endless list of requests.
However, the pandemic is an unusual circumstance. Hiring managers know that there's unprecedented unemployment and underemployment right now, and the memory of the pandemic won't fade even when the economy ticks back up. You're better off starting your resume with the film festival job, since that's industry related. A hiring manager will see that your tenure with the festival ended in the spring and won't bat an eye -- of course the event was cancelled, and of course you haven't secured a new position in this time. If you were to open your resume with your fast food job, the hiring manager may not look further down your resume to see your relevant roles. In this case, it's smarter to have a gap.
If you're asked in an interview what you've been doing since March, feel free to share that you're currently working in food service to pay the bills. There's no shame in that. You can also mention any non-work activities you've been up to, like volunteering, attending virtual industry events, and engaging in social activism. Be confident as you explain how you've spent your time, and use this opportunity to convey that you're a go-getter who doesn't just watch the world from the sidelines.
-- Angela & Cindy
The difference between a great resume and a passable resume often comes down to the verbs you use in your bullet points. Strong action verbs are key to conveying your skills and experience. This is pretty basic; however, many candidates think they're using strong action verbs when they're not.
For instance, "responsible for," "tasked with," "participated in," "charged with," and "worked on" are not strong action verbs. Starting a bullet with these terms indicates what was expected of you, but not what you did or achieved.
Instead, use the cheat sheet below to find action verbs for your resume -- note that some verbs can be used in different contexts to mean different things, but do your best to avoid repeating verbs in your resume.
To show leadership: led, managed, supervised, oversaw, spearheaded, initiated, hired, recruited, shepherded, drove, directed, trained, delegated, guided, piloted, conducted
To show written communication skills: wrote, drafted, created, noted, transcribed, edited, proofread, communicated
To show verbal communication skills: corresponded, pitched, presented, demonstrated, interviewed, solicited, communicated
To show interpersonal skills: interfaced, collaborated, liaised, negotiated, cultivated, fostered, partnered, communicated
To show creative skills: developed, produced, edited, created, ideated, brainstormed, innovated, conceptualized, designed, generated, crafted, constructed, formulated
To show organizational skills: organized, maintained, handled, coordinated, tracked, monitored, logged, compiled, updated, assembled
To show administrative support skills: assisted, provided, supported, coordinated, facilitated, performed, prepared, covered
To show project management skills: planned, executed, managed, handled, oversaw, allocated, secured, sourced, scouted, built, obtained, facilitated, streamlined, procured, budgeted
To show research/analytical skills: researched, assessed, analyzed, reviewed, evaluated, critiqued, identified, pinpointed
To show achievements/results: grew, increased, initiated, spearheaded, negotiated, boosted, generated, launched, exceeded, sold, signed, implemented, established, delivered, completed
As you write your resume, make sure you're using words that reflect the specific nature of your experience. Take ownership of your contributions to your previous company -- tell the hiring manager what you accomplished and how!
-- Angela Silak and Cindy Kaplan