Here’s some collected advice from my own observations, recruiters, colleagues, and students.
- Relax if you can. If you stay in the field, the feeling of insecurity, inadequacy, nausea, and fear will be with your forever. Get used to it or over it now.
- Do research! People love when you're up to date on history of the company, recent news, etc. Watch people’s past projects before you meet then. So few do.
- Clean up your social media before applying. No party shots, no rants, no idiot friends. Better yet, make things private. Your personal media is part of your networking.
- Research people and companies. Show the people that respect when you are conversing or applying. You can use the information as a jumping off point to engage in a real conversation, not trivia you just toss out in an attempt to get bonus points.
- Many times, I see people talk themselves out of applying because it’s not quite right for them in some way — wrong area of work, not quite the right time, maybe something better out there etc. The industry will do fine eliminating you from positions. Don’t help it.
- Have your business card and resume ready! If you're crewing up for a shoot and you ask for someone's resume, you don't want to hear excuses as to why they don't have a resume or reel ready.
- If part of the application, have finished work ready to go. Polished and ready to be seen. Some folks have portfolio sites ready to go. Screenwriters, have your work ready to send. No one wants to hear that you are almost done.
- Some places require course credit for a position. If you can’t get credit from your school or find it is expensive, try community colleges.
- Some companies start posting their summer internship positions as early as December, and it does help to apply early. I know students who have applied to places over winter break and heard back by Jan/Feb.
- There's a lot less competition for spots in the fall and spring. Consider that.
- Applying to companies is a full-time job if you are serious. Many people apply to a few and wait or take the process slow and often don’t find success. Being aggressive makes the difference.
- Some apply to more than a hundred places. One success is all it takes.
- There is a legitimate conflict over aiming for exactly what you want or taking a broader aim. Remember two things — often the hardest part is getting started and most people will change professions multiple times over their careers.
- It really is about connections. If you feel like you don’t have many, time to find networking groups. It’s not hard to do in entertainment/media. That being said, never ever be afraid to apply cold. There’s a lot more places you don’t know than you do.
- Any relevant experience is good experience. Be cautious about what you are getting into, but if the position makes sense just to get the experience, it may lead to something better.
- At larger corporate places, don't apply to 5 different positions unless they're related. It makes you look unfocused or confused.
- Show that you're passionate (but not crazy).
- Places often fill positions as they go. Apply asap.
- There are levels of being referred. Many times, it’s just an email that suggests a person sent to check someone out. Or someone telling you to use his or her name when applying. At larger places, there are formal systems for referring people. In any case, someone referring you can be critical, and you should thoroughly appreciate it. It can be from an old friend or someone you just met. But respect it. If you are emailing from a referral, put “Referred by (and the person’s name)” right in the subject line. Email during the day, preferably a weekday soon after you were referred. Wait too long and it won’t do any good. For jobs, there are rare cases of a formal letter being needed, but overall I have just sent a couple of them. After contacting someone through a referral, check back in with that person who referred you again. Let them know the connection happened and thank them.
- If you use someone’s name when applying, make sure it’s okay to and that it will help. You’ll understand this more as you go.
- Internships can be key. Some places strongly prefer that you had prior internships before you get their internships. If you don’t have any, don’t think your career is over before you can even start it. Your first job will matter more than any prior internship, and you may get that for a completely random reason.
- More people are starting internships early in college now, even after their first year of college.
- Many people do 3 or 4 positions, often unpaid, over 1-2 years before landing a paid job. Sorry.
Resumes & Covers
- One page resume and cover for early in your career. That’s it.
- Send as a PDF.
- Work hard on your covers. Give them to others to check for you. Take them time and tailor them for a specific job. General ones stand out and not in a good way.
- While content matters, please make all your materials visually appealing. One study says people spend 5-7 seconds reading them, so first look matters.
- No typos. Seriously. One mistake and you may be done.
- As a general rule, start with “I am a student at…” Then “I seek…” and then tell them the position you want. Second paragraph contains details that will interest them in you. Remember, this is not about what they can do for you but you for them. Then wrap up in the third paragraph.
- Some folks leave off address now. It can be a problem if the commute seems long.
- As for style, you want to show personality and interest but not overwhelm. Different places and people have different thresholds for this. It’s helpful to find out as much as you can about a place before you apply.
- You can follow up to confirm that they received it.
- Headlines get more attention than the story. Especially when a recruiter is sourcing hundreds of resumes (which is usually the case). Format to make the best things stand out in the first 5 seconds.
- People like success. If you are part of a successful project in any way (what happened with it, others involved etc), make that clear.
- Resume gets you the interview, not the job.
- Keywords catch a recruiter’s attention. In many companies a recruiter is not the actual hiring manager and might not know the position as well. They generally have buzzwords they want to see that relate to skills or known entities. Take a “Film Production” job as an example. You’d want to cite words that are related, loud and clear: Editing, Pre-ProductionPost Production, Storyboard, Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere, Avid, Pro-tools, Audio Editing etc. Be specific.
- Text should be considered prime real estate. A cluttered resume fluffed just to look “experienced” can also hurt you. 1 page is the standard is possible.
- Name dropping helps: There might be an amazing internship with an unknown company and I would say go for it (especially for getting experience), but ultimately names they know help.
- Promotions and longevity is huge, especially with students. If you can be promoted or have several roles under one company/org name, you look superior and desirable.
- If you don’t have much industry experience, don’t’ worry. Many film jobs involve skills you use at other jobs (phones, filing, scheduling), so include them.
- Some places are very open to accomplished people from other areas of study or life experience. Don’t be afraid to use your success stories. I had one student who trained in ballet for years and was very light in film experience. I told her to include the dance, and she effectively used that to network. Her dance experience showed her character. Being very accomplished in something impresses a lot of people. One friend of mine got her start because she ran marathons. That caught a recruiter’s eye, and she thought it showed that my friend had discipline. She’s now the executive producer of an internationally known television show. Also, some people like to include something distinctive in their skill session to catch people’s eye. It can be a conversation starter. One student I knew was very skilled in wushu and put them down on her resume. She said people always asked about. I got my first break as a 23 year old to work with David R. Russell because a producer saw I had Chicago Cubs in my interests. He hired me then, telling me he liked seeing that. He said it meant I knew how to suffer and was then perfect for the industry.
- Don’t want to work for free? I don’t blame you. Then don’t. Do people realize this stinks? Has everyone done it? Yes. Will they feel sorry for you? No. You should appreciate even a free internship. If you don’t, it may be a sign you shouldn’t take it. Hollywood has been changing due to the Black Swan case. Long story. Just Google it. Most major places have dropped their free internship programs and in some cases replaced them with paid spots. Smaller companies and practitioners still use free interns, though. Many of these are 2 or 3 days a week positions.
- Don’t complain. Ever. No one cares. And then they’ll hate you. It’s that simple.
- I strongly suggest you take the job on offering or very soon after. On more than one occasion, I had a student ask to think about it only to find the offer was then pulled.
- Respond quickly to any correspondence. Same day if possible. With hours if you can. And definitely within 24 hours.
- Your behavior is always being monitored. And never come across as unprepared.
- A common complaint I hear from people hiring is that students and recent grads can come across as too casual and familiar. I hear this even from people just a few years out of school themselves. You are not contacting a friend. This is about becoming a professional. Act like it.
- Have opinions, but be respectful. You're trying to prove you're someone who will go the distance in this industry. Most people burn out quickly. Why are you any different from anyone else that just graduated?
- Always err on the side of respect, but also don't come across as too robotic. This takes practice though, as well as experience figuring out what is the appropriate action to take.
- Be brief.
- If emailing, use a clear subject line. Be direct.
- Grammer mistake? You're likely done. For many people, it means you're sloppy and would be so working for them.
- Your contacts are not your friends. Your friends are your friends. Your contacts you may call friends.
- Be grateful. Not hearing back in the norm. Any communication should be met with enthusiasm.
- Trying to decide when to push a connection for something is one of the more delicate skills you will have to learn.
- In many ways, it's easier to break a contact than make one. One slip-up can do it. Seriously.
- You can't always ask for favors. Sometimes, you have to do them.
- Many dislike Facebook or LinkedIn requests when they have never met you or had any sort of contact with you. Message first, have a conversation, then see from there.
- If you're going ask someone for a bunch of answers, you should offer to pay for their coffee or lunch or whatever you're taking them out for! It's hard being a broke recent grad but it's such a nice gesture. Make the offer. It may not be accepted but it be remembered.
- It often takes longer to get places (and park) in LA. Leave plenty of time. Yes, you may have to kill time when you get their early, but that’s a lot better than being late.
- Dress decently.
- Do not ask for a job or a favor! Ask for advice.
- Do not talk badly of others. People generally don’t trust those who do that. They fear someday you will do it about them. Also, there’s always a chance they know the person. It’s a small world out there.
- Do not expect people to go out of their way to meet with you. Make it easier for them. Go to their work. Better for you as you may meet others.
- Follow up! Others will be and may take your job! And you care more about them than they do about you. If they refer you to someone, follow up after that meeting, let them know it happened, and thank them again. Yes, this matters.
The little things matter a lot. Take care of the details and the larger matters will take care of themselves. How you network and apply for a job often determines if you will get it. I can tell from a short email if someone gets it. So can most people working.
Guides to Check
From Fox. A great list of tips and some examples of resumes. See how the good ones use specifics about projects and work they've done.