First-time Job Hunting Tips for the Creative Industry

Until recently, I’ve pretty much always been on the “interviewee” side of the job interview equation.  But my current job (which recently had its grant extended for a second year, yay!) started the process of hiring a student assistant video editor. This is both exciting (because help!), but also a bit nerve wracking because it meant that I would be looking at resumes, interviewing candidates, and deciding who I would trust to work with me on this project.

It’s a weird and awkward process, and I don’t envy anyone who has to do it. But since I know what it’s like to spend several years job hunting as well as trying to break into an entry level position, I thought I might round up some observations for first-time job hunters. I know the insight I gained from interviewing would have helped me immensely when I was in their shoes!

Getting the Interview

The one time I was previously involved in the hiring process, I didn’t have to pick through resumes. My supervisor had done that for me and we just interviewed the 8 or so candidates together. So my perusal of resumes was to get the basics. I wasn’t really weeding anyone out that way.

But for my most recent experience, we ended up with about 35 resumes. And while my supervisor and I both went through the resumes, it really fell to me to decide who to interview because I’m the technical expert on the project. And that was a little daunting of a task.

I found through my resume sifting that I favor a few things:

  1. A unique layout → I definitely gravitated toward resumes that weren’t “average” looking. I know this doesn’t apply to all fields, but in a creative field, an interesting looking resume is a must if you want to stand out.
  2. Having a reel/website/work samples → Since I needed to know their skill level in After Effects, it was much easier to skim through their work visually rather than trying to parse it out by just their resume.
  3. A skills list → Having worked in After Effects was really important and because there were so many resumes it was easier to throw out resumes that didn’t prominently list After Effects as a skill. It might have been reasoned that they’d worked with the program from something else in their resume, but if the job posting says you need X skills, make sure you list those skills out if you have them.
  4. A cover letter/statement of interest → A resume is important, but I was much more apt to linger on a resume if they had also included a cover letter or a note in the “additional information” section explaining why they wanted the position. Only about 10 of the 35 applicants did this, and almost all of the applicants we interviewed did.
  5. No extraneous/unrelated job history → While it looks like a “full” resume from a glance, if you’re trying to get a job as a video editor, I don’t need to know that you worked at JCPenney or a summer camp. I know it shows that you can hold a job and maybe that you have leadership skills, but I feel a bit tricked when I read through your work experience and none of it pertains to video production. I would rather see no “traditional” work experience section and instead a section on projects you’ve worked on and explanations for what you did. (One of the applicants we interviewed had just that.)

Acing the Interview

I’ll be honest with you and say that after our four interviews, we weren’t really any closer to knowing who to pick.  Not because they were bad interviews, but because with students and an entry-level position like this, everything feels about the same.

It really came down to “who did I like best?” That’s a hard thing for me. It’s far too subjective. And I spend too much time second-guessing myself and my motives to make a decision like that.  But I did notice a few things that ultimately helped me decide:

  1. Being overconfident and overqualified can be a detriment →  We ended up not choosing the applicant I thought would be a shoo-in because they were SO qualified. Not that they were really THAT much more qualified than the other candidates but they had an actual reel (which as a college student, I knew I needed to have, but never seemed to find the time to make) and had demonstrable evidence of doing lots of different editing and motion graphics for several projects and companies. I had no doubt that they would do whatever I asked them and do it well.  But because they could show their experience doing so MANY things, something felt lacking.
  2. Vague statements about why you left a previous job are unsettling → My supervisor helped make the first cut because she found concern in one interviewee’s vagueness about their previous employment “just not working out.”  Honestly, this didn’t really bother me much until my supervisor pointed it out and then it became a glaring problem that ultimately took them out of the running.  The vagueness around the statement made us think, “Would this job, ‘just not work out’ for them too? Would we be left in the lurch?”  This is a good place to point out that you should avoid giving vague statements like this. We asked if this previous job would affect their work hours and they answered with the “it didn’t work out” statement. A much better way to have handled this would have been to give us just a bit more information as to why or how it didn’t work. Over-explaining things like this is NOT a bad thing!
  3. Being “too busy” may make your interviewers question how high of priority this job is → I’m so guilty of this. I like to show ALL the things I’m doing because to me, it shows initiative and work ethic, but in this case, we found it made us question this applicant’s priorities. Would we be ditched for a more interesting looking internship when the going got tough?
  4. Make sure you say you want the job and why, it may be just what sets you apart → The applicant we ended up offering the job to was not the one during the interview that I thought we would pick. They were rather shy, even if very qualified.  But what ended up standing out over everyone was that they expressed that they WANTED the job very much and how the job fit in with their professional goals. It’s funny that something as simple as “Hey! I want to do this job!” would make a difference. You’d think that coming to the interview would make that obvious. But there’s something heartening to an interviewer to hear it genuinely spoken.

For first-time job hunters in the creative industry, I know it’s incredibly hard to stand out and get the job. (Been there! Done that!) Sometimes you have to take jobs that don’t exactly fit with your long-term goals in order to get your foot in the door. But if you’re at least using and improving some of your skills, it’s 100% worth it. I hope that some of these resume and interview tips will strike a chord with you and help you improve your next job hunt! I know I wish I’d know some of these things before!



On Writing Resumes

Resumes 1I’ve determined recently that I don’t know how to be a grown-up. I wish they’d required a class in high school or college called “Grown-Upping 101.” That would have been extremely useful now. Instead, you’re left to gather important information haphazardly as you go along. Sure you could read books and study cases online, but you almost need to take a class on how to determine what is worthwhile information on grown-upping and what is just a sneaky way of someone trying to steal your money.

If you’ve read my blog “Waiting on the World’s Approval” then you know I’m job searching. But then I’ve been saying I’ve been job searching for about a year and a half now. The only thing that really changes is my level of desperation and feelings of defeat and hopelessness. However, now I have reached a peak point of desperation where my life in general, not just my job, are not to my liking, and to get to the place I want to be, it requires a new job in a new place. So here I am writing resumes and cover letters and salary histories and demo reels and work portfolios.

       I hate it.

Resumes 2            Everyone I talk to says they hate it too so at least I’m not in the minority, but I also feel like I’m bad at it. Like I’m an incredibly creative person, but resumes and job searching call for a certain level of formality that I can never quite decipher. But on the flipside of that, for someone working in the entertainment industry like me (or at least the fringes of it), I can’t just list my experience and personal information in Times New Roman black and white text. I mean, I could, but I feel like my likelihood of getting a call back would diminish even more.

So then how do you create job-catching resumes and applications without driving yourself insane? Everyone online has their own answer. Do this. Don’t do this. Use this font because it’s professional. NEVER use Comic Sans on anything. (Okay, that’s actually good advice). Make sure you ALWAYS include this (which varies from source to source). Don’t be too girly. Don’t use red because it’s intimidating. Don’t be too bland.

Ugh! There’s no end to the “advice.” One of the few things I’ve really taken away is that you have to decide what you want to stress and commit to it. A jack-of-all trades resume isn’t really all that helpful. You have to show that you have a very specific skill set that basically matches exactly what they’re looking for to even get a call back. What happened to hiring people who might not have everything they’re looking for but have a proven record of learning fast and exceling at whatever they do?

Also, writing multiple resumes—basically a different one for each job—is necessary. This one I can’t argue with that much. If you have a wide range of skills, tailoring them specifically to each job makes sense. But I tend to run into the issue of time constraints and lack of confidence in what I’m adding to my resume. When I have to redo my resume every time I apply, I get burned out and discouraged really fast.

Resumes 3My overall problem is that I hate job searching. I hate resume writing. It destroys any bit of self-confidence I had previously built up for myself. And I can only do it for so long without any responses before I go insane (aka quit job searching). And that’s the opposite of what I want to do! I need to get into a rhythm and keep applying until I successfully find something! Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way. Resume writing and job searching is always going to be a struggle for me. It’s always going to be a vicious cycle of building my confidence up only to tear it down only to need it built up again to successfully snag a job. I feel like I go in endless circles. THERE IS NO ESCAPE!

I mean I hope there is an escape. Life is much more awful than I realized if there isn’t. But it still feels hopeless at times. So how do you survive? How do you deal with job searching and resume writing? How do you not go insane?