I’ve had this conversation time and time again with clients, job candidates, younger friends…
They went to an entertainment personnel agency and during the interview, the agent asked what kind of job they were looking for. They were very clear, they tell me. They told the agent they wanted to work at a film production company. Or a TV network. Or a music management company. They wanted to work in the story department. They didn’t want an admin job. They wanted a management trainee position.
The agent nodded and smiled. She seemed to understand. But then she sent my client, job candidate, or young friend to a post production house to interview for an admin job. “Just go on the interview,” the agent prodded. “I think they’ll really like you.”
Harrumphhhh! Frustrating, right?
Here’s the deal about personnel agencies: Most of them are run by perfectly lovely, good-hearted people who want their candidates to be in personally fulfilling jobs with lots of growth potential.
However, the agencies only get paid when they fill the position their client has contacted them to fill. They routinely spend hours finding qualified people for the position, prepping them, setting up interviews, following up, etc., only to have Bob in accounting’s niece could end up with the job. In this case, the personnel agency gets nothing.
Not a dime.
Not a thank you.
Okay, read on…
As a hiring exec, I would sometimes find myself sitting across from candidates who would tell me that they didn’t want the job I was interviewing them for. Some were nice and apologetic about it and it remained our little secret they told me. Some were downright rude, as if I was somehow at fault.
I knew that if I told the agency that their candidate had told me she didn’t want the job, that candidate might not be sent on another interview by that agency. So, the nice job candidates got leads for other jobs they would want. The rude ones got blackballed by their agency. (There’s a lesson in here somewhere. Hmmm…)
So, why would an agency risk pissing off their client by sending candidates who definitely do NOT want the position the client is scrambling to fill?
Well, there’s two key pieces of information here:
1. What are you qualified for?
A good candidate is like chum to these agents. You show up with your well-written resume reflecting a top education, a strong internship, a few money jobs while in school. You dress well. You are articulate. They know they’ll be able to place you. Their clients are going to love you.
But just because your resume is great doesn’t mean you are qualified for a junior executive position. Admin might be only job you qualify for that can get you in the door. They will tell you this gently or let you figure it out. Hopefully, you do figure it out before you’ve ruled yourself out of a good job with your “no admin” policy (or piss me off).
Okay, so you’ll do an admin job in the story department at a film production company. Or a TV network. Or a managment company. In no time, you’ll be promoted, right? You might even tell your personnel agent this plan. After all, now they just need to place you in that just right admin job and you’ll be one of their successful placement stories.
Not so fast.
2. Who are their clients?
A personnel agency can only place you in open positions that their clients bring them to fill. If you want to work at a production company and that agency doesn’t work with any production companies, there is no way they are going to be able to put you in your desired position. Period.
So, why do they keep sending you to post houses and talent agencies and foreign sales companies? Because that’s who their clients are. And since they only get paid when they place a candidate in a client’s open position, they need to keep that interview seat filled so someone else’s candidate (or Bob’s niece) doesn’t dazzle them and snag the gig.
But, if you are a strong candidate in general (regardless of what youwant) often “Just go on the interview” will lead to “Oh, they loved you. It’s such a great place to work, too. The last person we placed in this position moved on to work at a film production company.”
So, then the job offer comes in and you either take it because you need a job and/or you don’t want to piss off the agency, or you piss off the agency and they don’t place you and make some comment about your reputation that has you worried you’ll never eat lunch in this town again.
Well, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s no central database which contains your “official record” in the industry so don’t worry too much about larger consequences, but it is best to avoid this waste-of-time exercise and I’m going to tell you how:
Do some research.
If you want to work for a film production company, call those film production companies. Tell the receptionist that you are looking for a job and you want to know if they use a personnel agency to fill positions (make sure you tell them that you are looking for a job. If you don’t, they will think you are cold-calling from a personnel agency trying to get their business and they may not be forthcoming with the information).
If the receptionist forwards you to the personnel department, say the same thing: “I’m looking for a job and I’m wondering if you use a personnel agency to fill positions.” They will probably tell you, if they do use a personnel agency, what the name of it is (they might even ask you what kind of job you are looking for and ask you to send a resume, but that’s another story).
Call several companies you want to work for and get a list of two or three target personnel agencies, if you can.
Market yourself well.
Make sure your resume is well-written, your cover letter compelling, your interview outfit neat, attractive, and appropriate, and your demeanor forthright but gracious.
Don’t tell the agency you’ve targetted them because of a specific client. Just tell them you’d really like to work at a film production company. If they tell you that the company you called is a client, smile and say, “That’s great. I’d love to work there.” Watch them make a note in your file to that effect.
Okay, in English that means that I’m telling you to sign up with more than one agency. Agencies prefer that you only sign with them and might even imply that exclusivity is a condition of working with them. But that’s crazy and you aren’t signing a contract so just nod and smile (remember when your grandmother told you not to put all your eggs in one basket and you were like “Whatever grandma”? This is what she was talking about).
Your grandmother probably put it more colorfully, but it’s pretty simple. If you want to work at a film production company and you can get into some related company and start networking as a person in the industry who has a job, that might be a way to go. Don’t go too far afield, unless you really need the money, but one thing often leads to another in this biz.
One final note: Though there is no central database for your entertainment career reputation, the industry is connected by millions of invisible spider webs, so even if your personnel agent sends you to a post house and then a foreign sales company and then a talent agency when you want a production company, be nice about it.
Remember they have mortgages and/or families and/or lap dogs with expensive tastes in doggie chow. If you preserve the relationship, even if you feel you have been wronged, they might just call you when they do land the production company account and there is a non-admin job availabile in the story department.
Jenny Yerrick Martin, founder of YourIndustryInsider.com, has amassed 20+ years as an entertainment industry professional including almost 15 as a hiring executive and five as a career consultant. She’s become an indispensable resource for people who want to break into entertainment, as well as those in entertainment looking to reach the next level or course-correct in their already-established careers.
Finding job entertainment agency image from Shutterstock