I had the privilege of speaking on a panel for Syracuse University recently and it was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in a long time. I was able to chat with college juniors and seniors studying out here in LA for the semester as they geared up to apply for their first jobs. If these kids are any indication of our future, I left feeling like will be in great hands. They’re smart, they’re positive thinkers and they want to make a difference. Since I haven’t shared too much about my work life outside of RELish with you here, this particular panel inspired me to open up a bit more about it. So without further ado, today, I’m sharing my favorite secrets on how to nail your first job in Hollywood. If you read this and you do end up making it, I ask only that you continue to pay it forward, that you always stay humble and most importantly, that you hire Naiya as your assistant someday.
For those of you who may not know, I’m a full-time working mama who works in unscripted television and digital media in Los Angeles. I am both a Development Executive (I develop television series) and an Executive Producer (I produce them on set and in the edit bay).
It may sound sort of fancy but I promise you, it definitely hasn’t been the easiest journey. It’s been over a decade since I packed up two suitcases from my home in upstate New York and drove out to LA with a college friend after graduating from Syracuse University. I had less than $1000 in my bank account and I didn’t have a car of my own but I somehow mustered up the courage to try to make it in the entertainment industry. Ever since, my career has taken so many twists and turns that I feel like I’ve already lived nine lives. But as a creative soul, no matter how crazy my days may get, I truly can’t imagine any other type of career path for myself.
If you’re trying to nail your first job in Hollywood or if you’re looking for a fresh start in your current career, it is my hope that the following tips will help make your path a little less bumpy. Sharing 5 secrets that have really helped me in my career so far. Excited to also share some photos today featuring a new digital project my friend Candice Bernstein and I are currently working on. More info to follow on that soon!
Secrets To Nailing Your First Job In Hollywood
1) Sit Down, Be Humble
Staying humble when you’re searching for your first job in Hollywood is of the utmost importance. This is mainly because humble people out here in the entertainment industry are basically extinct and if you are one of them, you will be special.
This town is known for chewing people up and spitting them back out. It’s known for egotistical backstabbers who are out only for their own success.
And while there are numerous people who make it out here based upon killing off their competition and screwing them over, I promise, this is a slippery slope and it rarely ends well. Do not become one of these people.
Instead, when you try to secure your first job (and beyond), lead with confidence, know what you want but always know that you are only just learning. Don’t allow your ego to speak for you in interviews.
Instead, be kind, be inquisitive, be hungry to learn. Responsibility and ownership of projects will come but right now, it’s your time to stay focused on soaking up all the knowledge. This will attract the right types of mentors who will guide you without jealousy and your talents will shine through.
2) Find Your Lane & Become An Expert
It’s so important to have an intention when you’re looking for your first job–especially in Hollywood. Where do you see yourself in five years? What’s your favorite part of the entertainment business? Do you love music, scripted television, digital media, film, documentaries or reality shows? If you had to pick only one of these worlds for the rest of your career, which world would you choose?
One of the most surprising things to me about the entertainment business is how separate all of the different worlds are. While all of the different worlds attract creative people, it’s very difficult to be a creative person who is able to span more than one or two of them throughout your career. This oftentimes drives me crazy but that’s a whole other story.
Instead, the industry is built upon relationships and it’s often assumed that you can only create enough relationships and be an expert in one of these fields at a time.
Likewise, if your dream is to be in unscripted television, for example, it’s important that you jump into this world as quickly as you can. Unscripted producers and executives mainly know other people in the unscripted world and they rarely cross paths with people in film or in scripted television. There are certainly outliers to this rule but the further along you get in your career, the harder it becomes to do it all and take another leap.
Early on, try to pick a lane that most inspires you, stick to it and become an expert in it.
3) Networking = Survival
Once you pick a lane you love, it’s time to start meeting people and getting your foot in the door.
Networking and really getting to know the major players in your industry will help set you up for success in Hollywood. For starters, use social media to your advantage. Reach out to people on LinkedIn and on other networking sites and start communicating with them with a clear purpose.
Try to write the most professional message you can. Explain who you are, why you’re reaching out and tell the person you’re reaching out to what inspires you most about their career. Have they worked on a show or film you love? People love to hear compliments but it’s important to always make sure these are purely genuine. It’s easy to read right through a phony email and you definitely don’t want to waste anyone’s time.
From there, you can ask them if you can set a “general meeting” to learn more bout their career path and how they got started in the business. The term “general meeting” is code for a meeting that can actually get set if you email people with a great degree of professionalism, interest and enthusiasm.
In my experience, general meetings lead to networking, which lead to relationships, which ultimately lead to jobs. You have to massage the relationships and organically keep them going but in the end, they are really beneficial.
People are much more less apt to set pitch meetings or lunches because these somehow feel more time-intensive and in-depth.
4) Study the Business
Aside from actually meeting people in person, it’s important to know who is making it in the industry, their path to success, the projects that are currently working and those which are currently being developed. You will learn a lot of this once you’re completely immersed in the entertainment world too but for now, start getting up to speed.
If you want to make it in Hollywood, it’s time to start getting acclimated to what’s happening within the world you want to be in.
For instance, if you want to be in film, what films are currently in production at which studios? This will help you to know the kinds of projects that are currently trending, the actors who are currently tied up in them and the scripts that are being bought.
If you want to be in reality television development, which series are currently on air that you’re loving right now? What’s inspiring you most, who is producing it and are there any new formats you can think of that feel like they could be in the zeitgeist too?
From here, start reading the industry trades at least a few times a week (Variety is my favorite) and try to get onto some email list-serves (I love Cynopsis). If you start your day skimming through the latest and greatest, the stories and the major players will start to stick.
5) You Don’t Have To Hold Out For A Full-Time Job
I know how hard it is starting out to pay for your own insurance and to take “gigs” rather than full-time “jobs” but in this particular job market, it’s important to be resilient and scrappy.
The entertainment industry is continuing to move in a direction in which full-time “staff” jobs are far and few between. When I first started out, this was not as much the case but now, freelance jobs are much more plentiful. Freelance positions are also a great way to get your foot in the door because you can prove yourself and carve out a full-time role for yourself.
If you wait around for a full-time job, you could be waiting countless months so it’s important to work as much as you can while you wait for that door to open.
Likewise, don’t be afraid to try your hand at a bunch of different gigs. It’s actually a great way to learn what you do and don’t want to do without being married to a position. Freelancing is also perfect means for trying out secret #2 above–finding your lane and becoming an expert at it.
That said, if you really need a full-time job, agencies like CAA, APA, WME, Paradigm and many others are constantly looking for recent college grads as assistants. These positions are invaluable because you will be working in the hub of the entertainment industry. Agencies are where all of the big Hollywood deals happen.
This is where actors, writers, directors, producers and everyone in between are repped. You will be answering phones in this type of position and you will not be making very much money but you will be making big connections and learning priceless info about how the industry works.
6) Don’t Forget Self-Care
Hollywood can be exhausting. The first few years I was out here, I don’t think I ever took a breath. It’s a constant rat race and you always feel like you have to keep up.
I can’t stress the importance of self-care and taking time to enjoy the city outside of the industry as much as possible–especially while you’re looking for your first job.
There are so many fun thing to do for free: hike Runyon Canyon or Griffith Observatory. Brave the traffic to drive to the ocean and ride bikes on the pier. Splurge a little and get a $39.99 hour-long Thai massage because you can.
In order to make it in the entertainment industry, it’s just as important to keep your mind and body healthy as it is to work your butt off.
Photography: Katrina Jayne