Ask anyone how to get a job in entertainment, and they'll tell you to start as an assistant, preferably at a talent agency.
But is that good advice?
Sometimes. But for many, a different route may be a better approach. Let us break it down for you...
If you're seeking your first entertainment job at the beginning of your career, getting a job as some type of assistant is the most straightforward path to success. In particular, working at an agency will help you form relationships with a "class" of peers who grow in their careers alongside you, hone your skills on a rigorously-paced desk, and expose you to the nuances of multiple aspects of the business -- that's why it's such a popular suggestion. But plenty of people launch their careers in Hollywood without doing a year on an agency desk. We're proof! Especially now, when agencies aren't hiring floater pools, there's no reason to focus your search exclusively on agency desks unless, of course, you want to be an agent.
That said, not all assistant jobs are the same, and they won't all lead you down the same path. If you want to work in development at a network, you'll likely need to prove yourself as an assistant for a year at a smaller company -- a network executive's assistant is expected to understand the business of Hollywood and have mastered the basic assistant tasks. If you ultimately want to be an editor, a post-PA job will be more beneficial to you than a year at an agency, and similarly, a writers' PA job will get you to a staff writing job faster than a production company desk will. As we always say, target your job search. Focus on those assistant positions that will get you closer to your long-term goal faster.
But what about those who have been working in entertainment for many years and are looking to make a career transition to a new side of the industry? Is an assistant position the right move? No! If you have several years of entertainment experience under your belt, you should not be seeking assistant jobs! Unfortunately, we work with many clients who have been told they need to start their careers all over again as an assistant in order to make a career transition. But that's simply bad advice. You don't need to throw 10 years of field producing experience out the window and start as an agency assistant in order to become a development executive. In fact, no one will take you seriously if you attempt that; they'll think your resume got lost in the wrong pile. It's not always easy to move from one side of the industry to another, but you can do it by highlighting the added value your unique background will bring to a role and taking the time to craft a strong job search strategy.
Similarly, if you've held jobs in adjacent industries and want to break into entertainment, you don't necessarily need to start anew. For example, someone who has been working in event planning can probably get a job as a production coordinator or production manager for event broadcasts, instead of starting as a PA. Or, an ad agency executive may be able to transition to a role in integrated marketing at a network. Before you discard your past experience, consider how it may translate to the new role you're looking for.
There are cases when your experience simply won't cut it for higher level entertainment roles, and in those instances, you'll need to think about what you value most in your career -- is a pay cut worth it to pursue your passion? If the assistant path doesn't align with your lifestyle, consider if there's a blended role that may be more satisfying (i.e. if you've worked in social media marketing and want to get into scripted development, a job at a branded content firm may scratch your creative itch without requiring you to relive your 20s). But if you're truly committed to a 100% career overhaul, go for it!
The next time someone tells you to start out as an assistant, consider whether they fully understand your current situation. A lot of people assume that everyone has to take the same path to success, and this often results in generic advice. But your career trajectory may look different, and that's ok! Just remember that starting as an assistant can be a great way to get your foot in the door -- but if your foot is already in the door, you should probably keep walking through.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan