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Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Assistant Files

In the last Assistant File we talked about interpreting the code phrases used in industry assistant-wanted ads. In this one I'm going to give you some tips on acing the interview process.

You see, I - like many assistants who've worked in the industry for any length of time - have functioned as a one-Andy HR department, and have hired my own replacement, simply presenting two final pre-approved options for The Boss to choose between.

(Or, to be honest, to fuss and moan about, because most bosses, even though they are theoretically aware that you are not going to stick around and answer their phone for years and years, simply cannot believe that you are leaving them. Some of them actually use phrases along the lines of "I can't believe that you're leaving me!" or "I thought better of you, I really did!" or "A good assistant would never have done this.")

All this boils down to the fact that many long-time assistants have done a lot more interviewing than you might expect from people who are glorified helper monkeys. And here, for what it's worth, are my takeaways:

*DO have an email address that is some version of Do NOT have an email address like NUMBER1PHIL@AOL.COM or AWESOMEASSISTANT4U@HOTMAIL.COM or SEXXYSEXXYSUE@YMAIL.COM.

*DO have your contact info immediately accessible in your cover letter. Do NOT include email addresses that will bounce back or phone numbers of cell phones that are disconnected for lack of payment. When I call to chat with you about your resume, if this isn't a good time, say so. I'm going to be asking you probing questions about past insane jobs you've had, so if you're at work and can't talk, don't be stilted and weird, ask if you can call me back over lunch.

*DO dress up a little bit. If you're a boy, nobody is going to make fun of you for wearing a suit and tie. If you're a girl, wear something your conservative aunt would approve of. No open toes, no cleavage. This isn't a date. Do NOT wear jeans. Come on. Entertainment is mostly a pretty casual environment (barring agencies. Agencies are like Mad Men.) but the understanding for job interviews is that you show up at your most formal, not like you just got back from Senor Frog's.

*DO explain in your cover letter why you want this particular job, particularly if you're trying to break in. Do NOT say stuff like "I'm just trying to get my first job in entertainment. I'll take anything. But I'm really looking to jump ship to talent management." Industry jobs get insane numbers of resumes, so if your background isn't something I can grasp at a glance - say, if your work experience is all in real estate and you're applying to be a development assistant - you can't expect that you're going to get a call unless you have a terrific pitch for why I ought to consider you over the dozens of people with exact-match backgrounds.

*DO lie. (A little.) Tell me you're detail-oriented, terrific with difficult people, organized like a mofo, willing to go the extra mile, work-obsessed, happy to commit for two years: As an assistant, I know full well that those little white lies really boil down to "I will work hard and give this a for-real shot." Which is really all one can expect. Do NOT lie in real ways that I can spot. Like if you say that you work at Company X but really you got fired from that desk six months ago and I know people there. And do NOT be too honest. Don't say things like "How much overtime can I count on, moneywise?" or "I take a tango class on Tuesdays so I'd need to leave early every week, I hope that's not a problem," in the actual interview. This is Hollywood. Everyone's pretending they don't need the money and love the job so much they'd work for free.

*DO, if it's relevant to the position (the ad said something about "personalities" or "thick skin," or the outgoing assistant uses code phrases like "Boss expects excellence") mention any past work experience with a "demanding" boss. Do NOT badmouth said boss. There's a fine line between letting me know that you worked for a crazy bitch and handled it fine because you're a rock star, and actually calling your old boss a crazy bitch.

*DO be polite and attentive during the interview. I know a monkey could do this job, you know a monkey could do this job. You still need to pretend to be thoughtful and impressed when I'm telling you about the long hours and the stress and the lack of getting to go to the bathroom. I just want you to know what you're getting into so I don't foist a lemon off on Boss. Do NOT blow past me with stories about how you had a sooooo much more stressful job than this. That's not going to impress me, it's going to make me think that you're a jerk.

*DO follow up after the interview. A thank-you note or email is not just polite, it helps me remember who you were. And feel free to call or email about a week later if you haven't heard back. Do NOT call me twice a day, every day, because you thought you were such a terrific fit. I know I said that interviewing isn't like dating...but really, it is. If I want to see you again, I'll call you. In the meantime, be cool. You don't need the money, remember?

If you follow the above tips, you may not get the job - this is after all a ridiculously competitive industry - but you at least stand a shot of being taken seriously and having your resume go in the keeper file, instead of having me make fun of you in an Assistant File later.


Andy Sachs

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