"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
As professional resume writers, we've helped plenty of clients with standard career trajectories that fit perfectly into the Hollywood playbook update their resumes. But we’ve also worked with just as many "non-traditional candidates" who don’t quite fit the mold, like those who studied something completely unrelated in school, moms who took time off to raise kids, people making a career transition from a different industry, and the list goes on. When working with non-traditional candidates, we might have to spend a little extra time brainstorming how to spin their skills and experiences into language an entertainment industry hiring manager will understand, but ultimately, their different backgrounds and trajectories make for interesting stories that can enhance their job applications. If your background doesn't fit neatly into the typical Hollywood ladder model, you need to understand the added value you bring to the table and highlight it in your job application materials. And if you’re hiring a new team member, consider looking beyond those candidates who check all the boxes -- you'll be surprised at the talent you can find! Here are three reasons that non-traditional candidates can make great employees:
1. They bring a unique perspective. One of the best things about non-traditional candidates is that they bring skills, experience, and a point of view to a role that you often won’t find in your average applicant. They may have learned an organizational system in a different industry that could help streamline an entertainment process and save the company money. Or they might be very business-minded and supply some broad strategic ideas that could boost business development. Maybe they’ve been a caretaker previously and know how to manage interpersonal relationships in a way that brings the team closer together. And most importantly, their life stories are different. Someone who hasn’t worked in Hollywood and has a distinct worldview will bring a fresh perspective to storytelling. All of these things can add tremendous value to a team.
2. They take risks. It’s terrifying to apply for jobs when you know you’re facing an uphill battle in the hiring process. And even scarier is dropping everything and trying to make a total career switch later in life. People who do this are inevitably willing to take risks. And in Hollywood, that’s what’s needed to keep content fresh and interesting. In an industry of remakes and reboots where “no” is one of the most frequently heard words, it’s the people who take risks and succeed that will ultimately end up on top. And this willingness to take risks brings us to our final point about non-traditional candidates…
3. They really want the job. Why would a person drop everything to work in a cutthroat industry if they weren’t incredibly passionate about it? Non-traditional candidates are excited, eager, and willing to put in tons of hard work to get the job done. No one makes a better employee than someone who really wants to be there. So take them seriously – they probably know more about the industry than you think, and they’re certainly prepared to learn.
The next time you're hiring for a role, don't discount candidates who have a different background from the rest of the applicants in your pile of resumes. Have compassion, and give these deserving applicants a chance. And for those of you who are non-traditional candidates, understand your own worth when applying for jobs. Show the hiring manager why you’re an undeniably strong candidate by presenting not only your transferable skills, but those unique skills and life experiences that will set you apart from other candidates. It might not be the easiest path, but if you don’t give up, you’ll eventually succeed.
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
One of our big beliefs at Hollywood Resumes is that people are people first and workers second; your job is important, but most of us want to achieve some level of work/life balance. And that means having interests outside of the office!
Participating in community organizations or volunteering for local non-profits is a popular outside-of-work hobby. Especially now, so many people are coming together to advocate for racial justice or give back to people suffering from COVID. But is it a good idea to include volunteer work on your resume? If so, how should you do it? The answer depends on the nature of the volunteer work.
If you're a leader in a community organization -- say you run a committee or chaired a fundraising event -- you might consider including your volunteer experience alongside your other professional experience. This is especially true for people who volunteered during a professional gap, as it shows how you spent that time. Treat your volunteer experience like any other job in your chronology, with your title, dates, and bullets indicating your skills and achievements. Think about what skills you utilize in your volunteer roles that transfer to the job you're applying for, in the same way you'd evaluate past professional experience.
However, if your leadership experience doesn't translate to the role you're applying for, would push relevant experience down in the chronology, or is more participatory than leadership-driven (i.e. you serve food at a local shelter every weekend), you can simply list the organization in a profile or skills and interests section at the bottom of the page, or, if it's somewhat relevant to the job posting, you can include it at the tail end of your professional summary. On LinkedIn, you can elaborate more about your role or provide some background on the organization and why it's important to you.
Things get a little tricky if the organization you volunteer with could come across as controversial or lead people to make snap judgements about you. This happens primarily with religious or political organizations, as some people may presume that you are so passionate about your faith or political ideology that you'll bring it up daily in the office and create an uncomfortable HR situation. The good news is that more companies are embracing religious and cultural diversity and leaning into political and social advocacy, so in some cases, it might be a bonus -- it really depends on the company culture. You'll have to evaluate this on a case-by-case basis by considering what you know about the company and the team, how relevant the skills you derived from your volunteer experience are, and how important it is that your employers embrace your extracurricular activities. There's no hard and fast rule, so you may find yourself adding the information or removing it depending on the job you're applying for.
As with everything that goes in your application materials, evaluate how volunteer work contributes to the story you're trying to tell a future employer. If you always go back to your story, you'll know what's relevant to include and what can be left off.
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan