Today's question comes from Corey and Kevin. Corey asks …
I'm about to graduate in December with a broadcasting degree, but I live in Texas. Do you have any advice on how to start looking for a job working as an assistant or in an agency mailroom while living across the country?
And Kevin, separately, writes …
I have tried applying to jobs before [moving to L.A.] (4entertainmentjobs.com has taken up more of my time than I care to admit), but it seems if you don’t already have an L.A. address they won't even look at your résumé or take your call.
Well, guys … you've hit on an unfortunate truth about breaking into Hollywood: it's nearly impossible to get your first gig, or any entry-level job, until you're actually in Los Angeles.
In many other industries, people apply for a job, get hired, then move to the new city to start their position in a few weeks. Not in Hollywood.
If you're not actively living in Los Angeles, most employers won't even consider interviewing you for a job.
As much as it sucks, there are some real-world reasons for why this happens. And understanding them may not make it easier to get a job, but it does make it a bit easier to strategize your move.
Local competition is fierce.
While employers at networks, studios, or agencies definitely want the most qualified person for any job, L.A. is teeming with thousands upon thousands of eager and ambitious candidates. Not everyone is equally qualified or talented, but mailroom and assistant positions — while gateways to much more powerful jobs — don't necessarily require a ton of specialized aptitude. They require strong reading comprehension skills, a work ethic, thick skin, friendly demeanor, great networking skills, and the ability to learn and retain skills and information quickly. Those are skills that employers don't need to search the countryside for, especially with hordes of aspirants in their own backyard. So while you may be the most qualified person for the job — and you may want it more than anyone else — it's probably not worth the time and energy to find you if you're not already here.
Employers often expect you to start immediately.
Turnover is high in entry-level jobs, especially in mailrooms of agencies or large corporations. Many people quit, others get promoted internally or hired away by other companies. So when employers have an opening, they want it filled now. … Which means candidates often get a call asking them to come in for an interview in two days … or tomorrow … or even today. Agents and execs rarely set up an interview for two weeks in the future … and when they make a hire, they expect the person to start asap. It's not unusual to get a call one day, interview the next, and start one or two days later. If the new employee is at another job, the new boss might allow her to give her current boss two weeks' notice, but he might not. (I got hired onto a new show, and the new producer said they'd let me give my current job one week's notice, no more.)
Obviously, if you're not already in Los Angeles, it's tough to be here for an interview at the drop of a hat … and it's even tougher to pack up, move, and start a whole new job in a matter of days. Thus, resumes with out-of-town addresses usually go directly into the wastebasket; they send a signal that you're not available to start work, or interview, immediately.
Employers need you to have some basic knowledge of Los Angeles.
Many entry-level jobs — production assistants, runners, interns, personal assistants — require you to run errands or solve problems that take you out of the office. You may have to pick up office supplies or coffees. You may have to take your boss's car to get washed, deliver a package, or find and make a reservation at a particular kind of restaurant ("Something ethnic, but not Indian, upscale, but not stuffy … and with gluten-free vegan options"). Or … you may need to do all of these tasks … within an hour.
Consequently, employers want someone who knows his or her way around, someone they can trust to accomplish these kinds of tasks quickly and efficiently. And while someone who just moved to L.A. may have no real knowledge of the city (and you can't tell this from a resume), someone who's not even in Los Angeles almost definitely has no real knowledge of the city.
So … what can you do?
Many people are nervous about moving to a new city without some kind of job to support them … an understandable fear, but — quite honestly — one you're just gonna have to get over if you truly want to make the leap and take TV-writing seriously as a career. (After all, as a TV writer — even a successful one — you will spend many months unemployed … so if the notion of unemployment scared you — this probably isn't the right profession for you.)
There are a couple things you can do to help your out-of-town job-hunting:
1) Get an L.A. address and phone number.
Rent an L.A. post office box and get a cell phone or Google Voice number with an L.A. area code. Use these for your resume; they'll at least give the impression that you're in L.A. … then when/if you get a call for an interview, be willing and able to get here on a moment's notice.
2) Get an industry-related job wherever you are.
I've said this before and I'll say it again. If you truly want to make a career switch, get a job in the industry wherever you are. Work at a TV station, organize a film festival, manage a movie theater. I give more suggestions about this in my December 17, 2010, post ("How To Break In If You're NOT in L.A.") … but you can find job most cities have jobs that will allow you to A) learn a bit about the industry, and B) allow you to have contact with and meet some players in L.A.
3) Do some research on industry job-hunting sites.
As you learned, Kevin, many employers on these sites won't bother with you if you don't already live in L.A. (plus, many postings are outdated even by the time they're published -- I don't know any major companies that really rely on these sites to find employees), but they're still a good way to do some recon, check out the lay of the land, and see what kinds of jobs are available: what are their requirements, which companies seem to be looking, etc. My April 12, 2011, post ("Getting Your First Job in Hollywood") has a good list of job-hunting websites and resources.
And lastly …
4) Prime any L.A. or industry contacts before you make the trip.
While you probably won't be considered for any jobs before you settle in L.A., contact any local friends, colleagues, or acquaintances you have before moving. Arrange an informational meeting on the phone; pick their brain for tips and advice. Ask them to look over your resume or keep an ear open for available jobs. Most importantly, just let them know you're coming, so the job-hunting and networking can begin as soon as you arrive.
Anyway, Corey and Kevin … I hope this helps … and I look forward to seeing you both out here soon!