It’s sad but true – ageism has a big impact on the hiring process, probably more so in Hollywood than in other industries. When the whole job is about trying to create the “next big thing,” there’s a tendency for employers to write off older candidates as out of touch. At the same time, it’s also possible to be “too young” for a role. A hiring manager might assume a young candidate doesn’t have enough experience to succeed in a certain role, when in reality, that person is perfectly capable of the job. To be clear: we're avidly opposed to ageism or discrimination in any and all forms, and if you have the power to reform the system, even in a small way (like by changing your own thinking about candidates when your team is hiring), please use it.
Until the system changes, we want to help you get around it. There are things you can do in your job search and in your resume to shift the odds back into your favor, so hiring managers can see that you're a qualified candidate.
First, let's name the problem more acutely. In general, there’s a widely accepted notion that assistants are in their early or mid-twenties, mid-level professionals are in their 30s, and more senior-level executives, producers, and other professionals are over 40. There are tons and tons of exceptions to this rule at every company and on every show, but when it comes to your resume, you don’t want to look like the exception.
The easiest way to hide your age on your resume is by leaving off your college graduation year (if you didn't go to or graduate from college, you can leave off the education section entirely). Leaving off your graduation year helps both sides of the ageism coin -- if you're older, no one will know, and if you're younger and fast-tracked your way up the ladder, you'll avoid skepticism or discrimination from hiring managers who don't want to hire someone younger than the rest of the team.
You will likely want to include dates in your experience section though. While functional resumes can work for some candidates with very unusual trajectories, most hiring managers (and ATS) prefer to see a chronology. In fact, leaving off dates can sometimes arouse suspicion that you're trying to hide something. That said, you don't need to include everything you've ever done. Try to keep your resume to the last 10-15 years of employment if you're going for mid-level roles, and don't go back more than 20 if you can help it. There are exceptions to this rule -- if you're returning to the workforce after a significant hiatus, and your last relevant experience is from 25 years ago, you may have to include it, but if you have enough work history to cover the last decade or so, stick to that. So much has changed about work even in the last 5 years that it’s likely a job from 25 years ago isn’t going to be too useful in convincing a hiring manager you’re right for whatever job you’re currently applying for anyway.
If you're younger and moving faster than the normal trajectory – say you’ve made it to VP level by 30 – your short chronology may give away your age. While some hiring managers will be impressed by your success, others in your office might be jealous of your quick ascent. In this case, you need to let your experience speak for itself. Make sure your resume is 100% perfect, and take care to highlight your biggest achievements – show your potential employer why you were able to rise through the ranks so quickly. If you’re an undeniably great candidate and come across as a smart and humble person in an interview, they'll likely move past your age.
One situation we come across frequently is older candidates looking for entry-level roles – often these are people starting over in entertainment as a second career. (We don't recommend taking a step backward if you're trying to move to a new side of the industry). Unfortunately, this group has one of the toughest hills to climb for a few reasons. First, hiring managers want to pay entry-level salaries for entry-level roles and often suspect an older person will want a larger salary than the role is budgeted for. Some people are uncomfortable bossing around an assistant older than they are, others are concerned that an older candidate will get bored with thankless assistant responsibilities, etc. It's important to keep this in mind as you assess whether you really want to start over in entertainment, and whether there's a more lateral way into the industry. If you do decide to go the assistant route, identify what sets you apart, and make it very clear in your resume and cover letter -- include transferable skills, either from your previous career or your time out of the workforce as a caregiver. Don't discount the serious life experience you've had and the perspective you've gained; with age comes wisdom! Make sure you clarify your willingness to start from the bottom and passion for the field in your cover letter. (To those hiring: Keep these candidates top of mind! Their bravery and passion will make them excellent workers and a boon to your organization!).
There are also small tweaks you can make to your resume to mitigate ageism. Choose a modern, readable font (not Times New Roman), use a clear format that's not too graphic or Instagram-y, and use a gmail email address instead of .edu or yahoo, hotmail, AOL, or earthlink. Beyond your documents, lean into your network for referrals. When others vouch for you, hiring managers will see more clearly that age isn't a relevant factor.
Most importantly, don't worry too much ageism. You don't want to work for someone who doesn't want to hire you, especially when that someone engages in discrimination. Focus on your achievements, what you bring to the table, and why you'd be great for the role, and the right people will notice.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan