How many of us have heard the tired adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know?” That, and “the only way to get your foot in the door is by being a talent agency assistant” are the first pieces of advice given to every Hollywood hopeful, and you’ll hear echoes of them even as you climb the ladder.
But only one of them is true. Since this newsletter is about networking myths, you might be surprised to learn that the first one is the true one.
Indeed, networking is critical to success in Hollywood. But how networking works is often misrepresented. For example, there are other ways to grow your network that don't involve working at an agency (and we're living proof that you don't need to start at an agency to have a successful Hollywood career!). Here are three misconceptions about networking that our clients struggle with and how to reframe them:
1. Networking requires hustling. Hustling can take many forms – joining a ton of professional organizations, attending lots of events, scheduling lunches and drinks every day, etc. If you have the energy for that, great. But many of us don’t, either because we’re introverted, exhausted from work, or busy with personal, family, or community needs. There are plenty of ways to build your network that are far less intense. First of all, “network” is just a fancy word for the people you know, and you likely meet people all the time! Your current and former coworkers and colleagues from external partner teams are all part of your network, and you don’t need to be best friends with them outside of work to ask for a job referral or warm intro – you just need to be a consummate professional, friendly, and good at your job when collaborating with them on a project. Your industry friends who you already choose get together with on weekends are also in your network -- and a critical element, at that. The people you meet in yoga class, or through volunteer work, or at your kid’s school are all in your network. Build natural relationships with the people already in your sphere, and try to give to them as much as you’d ask for. Steve from your gym mentions that his daughter is looking for internships? Offer to do an informational interview. Your coworker Kelly had a medical emergency and needs you to write the first draft of the presentation? Do it with a smile and text her that you hope she heals soon. And when it comes time for you to need a favor, don’t fall prey to myth #2…
2. Asking for help is a sign of weakness. Asking for help is vulnerable, but that’s not a bad thing! We work in a social industry that’s known for people hiring their friends and those who come as “trusted” recommendations. Getting a job through a referral isn’t a reflection of your lack of merit or your inability to succeed standing on your own two feet. Rather, it’s a reflection that you understand the system of Hollywood and are well-liked enough that people want to help you. Even if you believe this system is flawed, it’s okay to work within it while you work to change it.
3. Your network is tapped out, and/or you don’t know anyone who’s in a position to help you. Have you ever thought “None of my friends can help me!” or “I can’t ask anyone for a favor, because they won’t help!”? This kind of thinking is super common, but it’s your inner critic talking, not reality. Not only does this kind of thinking minimize your value, it also minimizes your friends’ generosity. To reframe this negative voice, consider what your response would be if a friend, former colleague, or Steve from the gym reached out to you. Would you help them if you could? If so, why should you expect that they’d be less giving toward you? Perhaps they’ll even be delighted to hear from you and excited to support you – plenty of people enjoy paying it forward, and even from a purely selfish standpoint; it helps them “bank” a favor with you. Even if you think your friends don’t know anyone, let them be the ones to tell you that – maybe the editor you worked with on your last show happens to have kept in touch with someone from his internship back in college who’s now the head of the department you’re hoping to work for at your dream company! People’s careers move in all sorts of directions, people’s circles are wider than you might think, and most people are willing to help others.
The bottom line is: Networking doesn’t have to be icky, hard, exhausting, or limiting. If you approach the process as engaging in symbiotic relationships with the people around you – aka being a good human, colleague, and friend – it will come a lot more naturally and yield better results.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan