When you first start out in Hollywood, chances are you’re an assistant of some sort, whether that’s supporting an executive on a desk or supporting a production. And being an assistant is a great way to get your foot in the door! But too many people get caught with one foot through the threshold and that’s it…stuck in Hollywood assistant-dom for years with no real advancement.
We don’t want that for you! Your Hollywood dream job lies beyond the admin stuff, and we want to help you get there. Our latest e-book, The Hollywood Assistant Guide: How to Roll Calls, Manage Calendars, Write Script Coverage and Maintain Organization on a Busy Entertainment Desk, will help you become a great assistant. And once you master the art of being a great assistant, you can hone your skills further to get that well-earned promotion. Here’s how:
Showcase your taste. When you’ve got a strong understanding of the basics -- phones, scheduling, tracking -- you’ll have earned the right to engage with your boss on larger creative conversations. A good boss will want to give you opportunities to weigh in with script notes, take the first stab at a treatment, make initial talent selects, pitch a joke or two in the writers’ room, or suggest a workaround for an issue on set. Take advantage of these opportunities, politely and humbly, and consider asking for more chances to expand your creative input. Maybe you can hip pocket a client, bring monthly suggestions of books for potential acquisition, or simply join higher-level meetings.
Initiate solutions. There are a million things that are backlogged in every office. Consider what processes you can improve or what tasks you can take off your boss’s plate. Take initiative to make things better and more efficient. For example, if your boss has been meaning to expand their list of writers of historically underrepresented groups but doesn’t have a minute to do the required research, offer to take that project on by curating a list of scripts from contests, fellowships, or peer recommendations. If your production office has a sloppy crew database because no one’s had the time to update it for the last few production cycles, create an easily-maintainable system.
Talk to your boss. Very few bosses have the capacity to remember to advocate for you – which means you have to advocate for yourself. Your boss may not be keeping a close eye on the calendar the way you are and has no idea your year on their desk is almost up. Make a list of your achievements and added responsibilities since you first started and ask your boss to have a discussion about your future. Explain to your boss what your goals are and ask for a promotion and/or growth plan. If you’re on a show or movie, talk to the line producer about how you’d love to be considered for coordinator positions on their next project, and mention this to other crew members in your department as well. The answer might be “no” if you ask, but it’s almost definitely “no” if you don’t ask.
Move on if you can’t move up. It’s possible there’s no room for growth at your current company, or that your boss will refuse to promote you (and even gets upset by the ask). If this happens, it’s time to get out! You don’t owe anyone loyalty but yourself. It’s understood that people won’t stay assistants forever, so you should feel completely comfortable and qualm-free about looking elsewhere to level up. There are some higher-ups who will consider it a personal affront that you dared to leave their desk, but trust us from experience – they’re not worth your time. These people will not help you down the line, and they will only hold you back. You’ve done a great job as their assistant, which was the maximum you owed them, even if they tell you otherwise. Tell your contacts you’re looking for a new role at a higher level, and adapt your materials to highlight the more advanced skills you took on in your role.
Be patient. There are more assistant roles in Hollywood than higher-level roles, and as you level up throughout your career, you’ll notice things thin out at the top. Not everyone can be CEO. It’s perfectly natural to have a longer job search when you’re looking for a more competitive position than when you were trying to get your foot in the door at whatever agency mailroom had an opening. Accept this and remain confident in your job search. If you’re strategic – targeting specific roles and specific companies, leaning into your network to generate new connections and referrals to jobs, tailoring your materials to each open position – you will get there, even if it takes a little while.
You can get and do deserve your Hollywood dream job and to move beyond the desk or past PA roles. Put in the effort to be the best you can be in your current role, build on that, and take control of your career so you can make it to the next step. And we’re here to support you every step of the way.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
If you’re actively on the hunt for a new job, you know you need an updated resume and LinkedIn profile. But what about when you’re settled into a role? On one hand, you know you should tailor your resume to the specific roles you’re targeting, which is hard to do if you don’t have a role in mind. On the other hand, you know Hollywood hires quickly, and you don’t want to be caught without a great resume when your dream job opens up!
There are a few different ways to approach this. If you’re primarily freelancing and hopping from show to show, you should update your credits list, IMDB, and/or StaffMeUp profile as soon as you get a new gig, so you can pass your most recent document along after wrap. Your LinkedIn profile should be stable, with a strong evergreen summary that includes your key projects (you can update those as you get more recent credits), and you can list all your freelance experience together, so you don’t find yourself constantly adding jobs every time you start a new gig.
If you’re not actively searching but casually open to opportunities should the right one come along, you should have an updated resume that’s geared to the types of roles you’d pivot for. For example, if you’re a development executive at a production company, but you’d jump ship if you had the opportunity to work at a network, make sure your LinkedIn is polished so recruiters can find you. Just don't be too overt about the job search, so your current colleagues and boss won’t think you have one foot out the door. Keep your descriptions in line with your current role and professional persona, while highlighting the key skills you bring to the table to increase searchability. On your resume, add your current role and update the job description as you garner more achievements, work on new projects, or expand your duties. You’ll want to keep the bullets tailored to the roles you’d leave for, so when something opens up, all you have to do is convert to PDF and press send.
If you’re happy where you are with no plans to leave, and you’re not even sure what you’d do if you were to embark on a job search, you should use your LinkedIn and resume differently. Your LinkedIn should tell the story of who you are in your current role and reflect an interest in building relationships for your current company. For your resume, we recommend creating an overview document that you can pull from when you are ready for the job search. Include everything you’ve done in current or past roles, even if you’re not sure if they’re relevant. This way, you can select bullets to match a particular job description when the time comes. It’s a good idea to update this document every few months or every time you finish a major project, so you don’t forget your accomplishments. This can also be helpful in case there’s a swift change in your employment status. You don’t want to find yourself with a resume that’s five years old when you’re suddenly laid off and need to find a job stat. Don’t worry too much about this document, though – it doesn't need to be perfect. You just want to have a handy record of your experience that you can easily pull from, so if and when you do decide to start on the job search, you’re ahead of the game.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
When you first come to Hollywood, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, you probably have an idea of where you want to be “in ten years” and the good sense to know you’re not going to start at the top. You get advice to start at the bottom of the totem pole, as an assistant or a PA, which you happily do. One job leads to another, and before you know it, you’re ten years in, and you’re not where you imagined you’d be. Or, you’re exactly where you imagined you’d be, only...it’s not what you expected.
This is perfectly normal! Our industry is so competitive that it can sometimes feel like simply having a job is enough. The pace is so fast and the hours so long that you don’t organically have time to think about your career satisfaction. But it’s important to take the time for a self assessment. You only get one life, and there are too many sacrifices we make for our jobs to keep doing them without a level of intentionality. So take a moment. Close your eyes, take a breath, and contemplate: Are you doing what you want to be doing? Does your work align with your personal values? Your work/life balance goals? Your financial needs? Your skills?
If so, great! Keep on keeping on! Make sure you set a time to check in with yourself again in 6 months, and regularly after that, to see if you’re still on the right track.
But if you’re yearning for something more, listen to that voice. It’s time to start thinking about what you want to be doing, and why. If you still haven’t achieved that initial ten year goal, take a moment to decide if it even is still your goal. Have you learned anything about yourself in the last ten years that's made you reconsider? If so, that’s okay! People change. They learn things about themselves, their personal needs evolve, and the world’s not the same as it was a decade ago. That’s life. You don’t have to stay committed to your initial goal; you only have to stay committed to yourself and your joy. Think about what your interests, skills, and values are NOW, and what paths might align with that. And then set some new targets.
However, if your heart still pounds in your chest with excitement when you picture that dream job, it’s time to take the reins and pursue it. It’s okay if along the way, different opportunities or obligations presented themselves, and your career took some interesting twists and turns. There’s no shame if your path isn’t linear. But you don’t have to be trapped, either. There’s no time like the present to invest in yourself and relentlessly pursue your dream.
If you’re working your initial dream job and not finding fulfillment, it’s likely that something’s changed for you since you started your career journey. Maybe the company culture isn’t what you expected, and the same job somewhere else would be just fine. Or maybe your interests have changed. Or the job you fantasized about all those years ago is just...different than you imagined. Consider what you like about your day-to-day work and what aspects you find grating. Are there other careers out there that might check more of your boxes?
The important thing is to be intentional with your next step and honest about what you want to get out of your career. Then, commit yourself to that vision by strategically looking for jobs that align with your goals. Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t listen to people who try to pigeonhole you. You probably won’t get your dream job overnight, especially if it’s a pretty big transition. But you definitely won’t get your dream job if you don’t aim for it.
-- Angela Silak and Cindy Kaplan
Work changed A LOT over the last two years, and like most things in these “unprecedented times,” it continues to change. As we look forward to 2022, here are some career resolutions for this new era of work.
I resolve to strive for work/life balance, as I understand it. Work/life balance can mean a lot of different things. Maybe it involves working remotely full-time, or a hybrid at-home/in-office set-up, or establishing hard boundaries between home and the office with a return to full-time, in-person work. It can mean sacrificing some of the comforts of life for a huge work opportunity or scaling back on your hours to spend more time with family. There’s no right answer for how to juggle your priorities. You don’t have to quit your job and join The Great Resignation if you’re happy where you are, but if you do want to explore a major career shift, go for it! The important thing is to take stock of how you feel about your career and make sure it’s fitting into your expectations for your life. We know the world can turn on a dime tomorrow, so ask yourself: What can I do to be more fulfilled in my work/life balance today?
I resolve to own my uniqueness. Every career trajectory is different, and that’s especially true for the entertainment industry. You’ve probably heard that you need to break into the industry as an assistant at an agency and work your way up the ladder. Many folks with years of work experience continue to get that advice whenever they consider a shift to a new side of the industry. This kind of blanket advice isn’t helpful…or true. Plenty of people (ourselves included!) have successful careers without working at a major agency, and you certainly don’t have to throw out years of experience because you’ve changed your goals. Instead, take ownership of your skills and lean into your path. If you’re first starting out, an agency can be a great place to cut your teeth, but a small production company might suit your personality better, and that’s okay! If you’ve been working for several years, think about the expertise and perspective you can offer a future employer and focus on pitching yourself as the accomplished professional you are. Having a successful entertainment career isn’t a futile task where you keep falling back down to the mailroom. Instead, it’s knowing who you are, what you bring to the table, and how to communicate that to your colleagues, network, and potential employers.
I resolve to stand up for myself. There’s plenty of workplace abuse in Hollywood, but in recent years, the culture is shifting to tolerate it less. We’re by no means clear of toxic environments yet, but it’s no longer true that you have to grin and bear it or suffer your reputation being destroyed. Enough is enough. If you are working for a boss who harasses or berates you, or for a production that doesn’t prioritize your safety, or for a company that grossly underpays you, or in an environment that’s demeaning, or find yourself in any situation where you think, “I can’t wait for Deadline to break this story of abuse,” you do not have to stay. You can always find another job, but you do not get another life. Even if your situation is not dire, but it’s simply not serving you anymore (e.g. you’re not growing, you’re bored, you’re burned out), you don’t owe it to anyone to stick it out. You don’t have to quit immediately (unless you are really in danger), but you do owe it to yourself and the people who care about you to prioritize your physical, mental, and emotional health.
I resolve to ask for help and pay it forward. Sure, our business is competitive. But it’s also collaborative. In fact, that’s one of the top attributes our clients call out as the reason they enjoy working in entertainment: working with other passionate people to create something together. This sense of collaboration extends beyond the set, beyond the development meetings, beyond the notes calls. As you grow your career, find your collaborators – the people who you can lean on and the ones who can count on you. Ask for help when you need it, whether it’s for a job, or an introduction, or a script to read, or an email address your boss needs. And offer it in return, not just to your closest allies, but to anyone who’s passionate enough to ask and professional enough to respect your boundaries. It will benefit you and the industry as a whole!
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan