How to Prepare for an Entry-Level Job in Entertainment
In my personal consulting business, and as someone who’s worked in the Career Center at a top 50 University, there is one basic question I get over and over from students and recent grads seeking employment in the entertainment and media production fields: How do I get ahead? Sadly, in an industry and a city that is staggeringly competitive, many people ask this question too late, either as seniors in college or once they’ve already graduated from somewhere else and moved to Los Angeles.
This week, I want to share with you a few tips on things you can do before you move to LA (if you’re out of state) and/or while you’re still in college, to give yourself the most advantages possible for job searching prospects. As an added bonus, the information you gain from doing these things will keep you from looking like a newbie.
Things to Do While Still in College/Before You Move to LA
Do as many internships as you can! I cannot stress this enough!!! Getting an internship is competitive to be sure, particularly if you’re only a freshman or sophomore, or if you’re applying at a major studio. So look at other options outside of your desired area or at smaller companies. Look into interning in casting offices or talent agencies. Even if you want to work in physical production, this experience will help you to get more desirable internships and jobs later on. This may seem like a no-brainer, but there are plenty of people who spend their entire college careers only working on school related projects. And while practicing technical skills in an educational setting can be helpful, as a recruiter, it doesn’t help me get you a job if that’s all the experience you have. In many cases, at major studios, students without previous outside internship experience aren’t even considered for in house internship programs. It’s tough, but it’s the first standard for cuts when you have 800 applications to get through. The same goes for folks coming from outside of LA. If you move here with no related experience, it’s going to be very difficult for you to break into the industry. Particularly if you have already graduated and don’t qualify for most educational internship programs.
Save as much money as you can and make a budget. Be a grown up and DO it. Learn about how much things cost so you won’t be surprised when you get here. Know how much you need to live, so when you get offered a job, you can decide if it’s feasible for you to take it! 10 years later, I realize that even though my first job was with a major studio and the name on my resume definitely helped me along the way—I went into debt, despite having 3 other roommates at the time. I didn’t make enough to cover my costs and student loan payments. Living paycheck to paycheck is much easier when you have minimal amounts of debt!
Do your research ahead of time. Know the players in your field. Important names, companies, etc. In the age of information there is no reason NOT to know these things. Read the trades (Variety, Hollywood Reporter, etc). You don’t have to be absolutely certain about what your ultimate goal is, but you should have an idea to start out with. If you have several ideas–pick one and move forward until you decide you don’t want to move in that direction any longer. Don’t ask someone else to decide for you. No one else can do that. The worst thing you can do is get stuck vacillating back and forth between options. Pick one and move forward! For example, if you want to work in advertising, ask yourself, “Do I want to work for an internal division of a larger corporation or studio? Or do I want to work for an ad agency with multiple accounts? Do I want to specialize in a certain kind of advertising (products versus people/PR, entertainment, sports?).” These are not hard questions, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t stop to ask them.
Learn what the standard requirements are for specialized industries. Read job postings or ask friends or other entry level candidates who have been in LA longer than you have. If you don’t have one of those skills—find a way to learn it! Everyone says, “But I’m very teachable and I can learn quickly!” That may be true, but when there’s another candidate who already knows how to run that program, then they win. For example, in Casting you should know: Breakdown Services, posting sides, editing and watermarking scripts, LA Casting, running camera for Producer Sessions and taking client pitches from managers and agents. Marketing/Advertising: I have NEVER seen anyone in this field get a competitive internship without extensive knowledge in Photoshop and Illustrator, at a minimum. If you know In Design, HTML and other fancy computer programs, that will only help you. For most entry level jobs you will need to: drive a car (and have insurance), use microsoft office (including Outlook), know how to roll calls and run heavy office phones, book domestic and international travel arrangements, remember 20 coffee orders at a time, and do extensive daily and production scheduling for 1-5 people. If you don’t know what these terms mean, Google or ASK someone who does know!
Use the Alumni search function on Linked-In. Just learned about this recently and it’s amazing! From the top of your tool bar on your profile page click “Interests” then “Education” from there you can click on your institution’s name and narrow down graduates by industry, company, year of graduation, job title, etc. For my alma matter, Pepperdine (which is relatively small compared to most) there are over 33,000 connections listed on Linked-in. Imagine how many potential connections YOU have if you went to a large state school! Don’t connect with alumns and ask for a job first thing. Connect to learn more about the industry. Schedule in person or Skype informational interviews if you can. If the interviewer thinks you’re ready–he/she will most likely OFFER to help you in your search. If they don’t offer, you may not be ready.
If you can manage to keep these things in mind from your freshman year in college, you’ll be in much better shape upon graduation. And if you do multiple internships (and do a killer job), you’ll have a great network of folks in the industry who will help you in your job search, if one of them doesn’t offer you a job directly. Every job I’ve ever had is directly connected to someone I met through my first job as a Production Assistant. And I got that job through my college internship.
Yes, the entertainment industry can be extremely difficult to break into–so give yourself as many advantages as you can! I’ve yet to meet a single person who worked as hard as he/she could and was willing to embrace every opportunity who has not managed to work successfully in the industry. It might take a little longer than you’d like (and not be as financially lucrative) but you CAN be one of those people–and live a creatively fulfilling life!