Figuring out your salary is the most awkward part of the job application process, and arguably, it's the most important. After all, the main purpose of a job is to earn money -- even if it also comes with the bonus of fulfilling your creative dreams. When it comes to salary negotiations, you don’t want to lose out on a job because you aimed too high with ridiculous demands, but a low salary sets you up for lower earnings for years down the line. Remember, most raises are calculated on a percentage basis, and 10% of nothing is, well, nothing.
In entertainment, there’s very little you can do about your salary in your first entry-level position -- assistants are typically offered a certain rate, especially at agencies, and that’s that (though collective bargaining and social campaigns like #PayUpHollywood are slowly raising the bar on these rates). But just because you don’t have much power to negotiate when you start your career doesn’t mean you should hold on to that bad habit forever, nor does it mean you should settle for a job that's massively underpaying you.
Unless a company has uniform starting salaries (for assistants, these will often be public information, as many companies promoted their wage increases in the trades in response to social activism), you should negotiate. And certainly, as you move up in your career, you're likely to come across a version of the question, “What are your salary requirements?” in a job interview. But how exactly do you negotiate your salary, particularly in an industry that knows it's competitive?
First of all, do your research before you apply! Glassdoor is a great resource for figuring out average salaries for your title in your area, and Colorado has a new law where employers must publish salaries in job postings, so you can always search for similar jobs in Colorado and do some cost of living calculations to adjust for your area. Figure out what number will be comfortable for you and what's reasonable for the job. This way, if an employer throws out a number that's egregiously below market rate, you'll know to run in the other direction, since underpaying employees isn't usually a sign of a healthy workplace. And if you find that the jobs you're applying for typically pay below your cost of living, you might consider pivoting your job search or adjusting your expectations.
Once you're in the salary conversation, do your best to avoid throwing out a number first. Try to force the interviewer or hiring manager to show their cards, so you know what you have to work with. If HR asks about your salary requirements, pivot with, “Well, I’m actually curious, what is the salary range you anticipated for this position?” If you get an answer that’s way higher than you expected/wanted, that’s great! It gives you room to bring up other types of negotiations -- maybe for flex time or more benefits.
If the hiring manager doesn’t let you get away with the pivot technique, DO NOT give up and tell them your current salary. In California, it’s actually illegal for them to ask, which gives you a big advantage. Start off with a question about benefits – what’s the vacation policy, 401K, insurance coverage, stock options, bonuses, etc. This will allow you to assess how much you need to make as base salary to maintain (or really, to improve – the goal here is to move up in the world!) your current lifestyle. Then, you can offer a range. The range should start at the lowest number you’re willing to take based on how good the benefits are and go up $10-$25k from there, or whatever’s reasonable based on your research. They might only offer your minimum, but there's always a chance you'll get lucky with an offer that's in the middle or top of your range. The beauty of giving a range is that it helps you avoid giving a number that's lower than what they had in mind -- if you say you were thinking $60K, and they were going to offer $75K, they will probably accept your low standard, costing you a ton of money!
We can't stress this enough: Make sure the number at the bottom of your range is enough money that you'll feel good about accepting the offer. If you want at least $70K but can theoretically, if absolutely necessary, trim your budget and make some sacrifices for $60K, don't start your range with $60K! Ask for the $70K you want, and if they respond with "Well, we only budgeted $60K for this role," then you can entertain the "theoretical, if absolutely necessary" lower number. In fact, if your number is a little too high, they might just say, "That's more than we had budgeted" and you can ask what the budget they had in mind is. A good employer will respect that this is an important dialogue, and anyone who treats you rudely during this negotiation will likely take advantage of you in other ways. Remember: It's not a shameful secret that people work to make money, or at least, it shouldn't be.
Sometimes, you'll be asked for your salary requirements in a job application, making it tough to negotiate. However, in some cases you can leave this section blank -- if the rest of your application is great, HR will ask when you get a screening call. If you must write something because the field is required, write a range or a number in the middle of your range with “(negotiable)” or “(flexible)” next to it. Even better, skip the online application entirely, use LinkedIn to find a person in the hiring department, and email them directly (you'll have far more success in your applications if you can get your resume into the hands of an actual human).
And of course, there are times when HR will offer a lowball number, regardless of how you handle the salary question. If this happens to you, counter with your demands, backing them up by reinforcing your qualifications and citing your research. If the company can't meet at least your current salary, you have to decide if you're willing to take a pay cut. And if you do, we hope you have a really good reason -- after all, you're not running a charity. If you really want the job, see if you can get additional non-monetary benefits -- COVID has made many companies increasingly generous around flex schedules, remote work, and vacation time. It's also okay to turn down the job offer if you can't find a compensation package that works for you -- don't shortchange yourself.
The biggest thing to remember is to go in unafraid. If a company doesn’t hire you because you’re too expensive, you probably wouldn’t want to work there anyway. Decide what you're worth beforehand, and stick to your guns -- you'll thank yourself in the long run.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
If you’ve been working remotely since stay-at-home orders began, you’re probably a pro at some of the basics by now. But if your company is planning to keep its work-from-home setup for the foreseeable future or move to a hybrid model where you and your boss might not get much face time, you might be wondering how you’ll navigate big picture changes, like getting promoted or asking for a raise. How can you make the case for your professional advancement when you’re out of sight, out of mind?
Every office culture is different, but some of the basics apply across the board. For instance, it’s unlikely your boss will just offer you a promotion or a raise out of the blue. The onus is on you to ask for it. How?
First, assess yourself. Why do you deserve a promotion? If the answer is that you’ve worked in the role for a while, that’s not good enough. Consider what the value-add would be to the company if you were to get promoted. Are you doing higher-level work already, so a formal recognition would be an appropriate course of action that will not only retain you but also free up your time to do more of that valuable work once you don’t have to focus on lower-level work? Great! You’re ready for a promotion. But if you haven’t shown capability for a promotion yet, you’ll need to get on that ASAP. Take initiative by volunteering for more projects, offering creative feedback and notes, and finding ways to prove your value. Consider if there’s anything you can do that would streamline an inefficient work process or a new avenue you can identify to mine story ideas or an opportunity to expand the company’s network, and go for it.
But it’s usually not enough to do the work and sit back hoping someone will take notice. That’s true in an office, and all the more so in a remote environment. You have to make sure your boss knows you’re doing all this awesome work. Check in regularly, whether that’s presenting updates at your weekly department meetings or sending recap emails at the end of the day, week, or month, as appropriate. Working remotely means more managing up -- make sure you are keeping your boss informed of your progress on projects so that she can look good in front of her boss by showcasing how great her team is.
Additionally, log all your achievements so you can present them to your boss when you ask for the promotion. If you do email check-ins with your boss, this is easy -- just compile them and clean them up. Otherwise, keep a running document on your computer where you note what you’re working on and what you’ve achieved. When it’s time to ask for the promotion, you can email this document to your boss for review so they have a visual representation of how great you are -- plus, if they need to make the case to HR or their boss, they’ll have the ammo in hand.
When it comes to making the actual ask, you’ll have to be strategic. Gone are the days where you can gauge your boss’s mood, knock on her door, and ask for a sit-down. Well, sort of. If you have a regular one-on-one, email your boss in advance and ask if you can put some time on the agenda to discuss your performance. This will help your boss prepare for the meeting -- you don’t want her out walking the dog on a call when you’re trying to have a big conversation! Ideally, you’ll pick a check-in that is otherwise unclogged -- it’s not a good idea to schedule this conversation when you have a big deadline or lengthy agenda.
If you don’t have a regular one-on-one, that’s okay! You’ll similarly want to email your boss and ask if you can have a conversation about your performance. Be polite, and ask for a time that’s convenient for her (or if you’re an assistant, take a peek at her schedule and find a time to suggest).
Once you have the call set, treat it like a job interview. Imagine if you were in the office asking for a promotion -- you’d make an extra effort to look nice that day! This is even more important when you’re at home. Get dressed (head-to-toe, even if it’s just a phone call) and close yourself off from distracting roommates, kids, or pets. That will help you appreciate the moment, feel confident, and focus on asking for what you want.
Keep in mind that just because you ask for a promotion doesn’t guarantee you’ll get it. But putting off asking for it until “the right time” or “you’re back in the office” or “the economy bounces back” is a surefire way to guarantee you won’t. So what are you waiting for?
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
"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.
Today’s Hollywood job market is tricky. Many people are struggling to find work – even extremely experienced and qualified candidates can stay on job hunt for months. It’s easy to get discouraged when this happens and start questioning your capabilities and worth. Maybe you’ve started applying for jobs that are below your current title. Or you’re starting to consider a job that would require a pay cut. If this sounds like you, it’s probably time to take an assessment of your job application process and then spend a bit of time doing some personal reflection.
If you’re having trouble finding a job, take a closer look at your job application materials and make sure you're presenting yourself in the best possible light. Are you afraid that putting down the full scope of your responsibilities or highlighting the scale of your achievements will sound like bragging? Trust us, it won’t. Plus, there are plenty of people who don’t think twice about bragging -- you don't want to undersell yourself comparatively. Give yourself credit for all the great work you’ve done and make sure it’s not getting buried with a bunch of irrelevant stuff -- you don't need to include every single thing you've ever done, but rather the most transferable skills for the jobs you're pursuing.
Even more importantly, don’t dumb your resume down for lower-level jobs! If you’re taking off achievements to make yourself look more appealing for jobs below your pay grade, you’re applying for the wrong jobs. You wouldn’t be happy in those jobs even if you got them. Instead, aim high. Apply for jobs at your level and above your level – you never know when someone will take a chance on you. But you’ll never have that chance if you don’t reach for the stars.
And if you’re considering a pay cut, think really hard about what effect this will have on your lifestyle. We believe there are very few instances when a pay cut makes sense. Are you considering it because you’re frustrated, or is this actually a job you’re extremely passionate about? Chances are, if it’s the right fit, the employer will try to match your current salary. Ask for what you believe you’re worth. And don’t let that number in your head drop because you’ve been looking for a job for a long time.
Even if you’re doing everything right, it might not be that easy to find a job. But that’s a reflection of today’s job market – it has nothing to do with the value you bring to the table. Remember this. Think back on all you’ve accomplished in your career, and remind yourself regularly of the things you’re proud of. Write them down if you need to. Self-affirmation is important during a difficult job search, especially because it will convince you to keep trying for the jobs you really want. And you deserve that job – don’t forget it!
--Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan