Wednesday, September 24, 2008

But I've never been an assistant...

Dave writes: I want to get a job as an assistant but it seems like all the assistant jobs want people who have experience. How am I supposed to get experience with things like rolling calls when I can't get a job that involves that unless I already know how?

I know! This sucks! I went through it myself. It seems like nobody wants an assistant who hasn't already been an assistant. I was told by one HR prick that I didn't have enough "basic admin experience," though I had held three industry internships and had answered phones at two other jobs. It was so frustrating because I knew that plenty of the assistants with fancy relatives hadn't even done that.

So what do you do? First, be confident in your interview. I don't recommend lying about your experience because I think it'll come back to bite you in the ass, but don't be afraid of jumping into new responsibilities. Highlight the fact that you're a smart, hard worker, and a fast learner. Being an assistant is "not fucking brain surgery," as one agent continually yelled at a friend of mine who later became known as Doctor. I wouldn't necessarily quote him, but know that you can absolutely learn how to do it well, and quickly. You basically just need to convince people to give you a chance. Usually agencies are places where people get their first desks, so it's understood that many people don't have experience; you just have to otherwise be impressive so they'll want to take a chance on you.

There are a couple of other options: you can start in the mailroom, like I did. I probably could have maneuvered my way onto a desk, but I was so desperate to get out of reality television that I enthsiastically said I would do whatever anybody at the agency wanted me to do...looking back, maybe I should have been pickier and I wouldn't have been stuck in the mailroom for so long (of course, that pesky strike also had something to do with it). In the mailroom you make copies, bind scripts, deliver mail. You REALLY don't need experience - and you can soak up the agency world so that when desks open up, you can position yourself as a worthy candidate.

You can also try being an Office PA or receptionist, which are generally seen as entry-level and a step down from being an assistant. Maybe you could even intern and then jump to assistant if you were lucky. A friend of mine is an assistant at a production company on the Warner lot and she started as an Office PA before moving up to receptionist/PA coordinator, and then to assistant (all in less than a year). But she is at a company that's really good about promoting, so you have to evaluate that. One of the companies I interned at never promoted interns or Office PAs; they only got their assistants from agencies.

It seems crazy that it's so hard to get somebody to let you answer their phones, but it is. This is a very competitive industry filled with determined, ambitious people. Still, if you look for a while, nail your interview and/or look into positions that might be stepping stones to being an assistant, I'm sure you can find something eventually.

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DDerus said...

Thanks Amanda! Your post to my question was the bright spot of my day! :)

he who rants said...

Another option is to get a job working for some crazy and not-quite-legit "producer" for a few months. You get the trial-by-fire experience of a busy desk without needing to have any agency experience beforehand (because anyone with experience could get a job for someone more sane).

After a few months of that you trade up to a better industry job that requires previous experience.

evanshaffer said...

key little peice of advice of a recently hired assistant: with agency experience, don't tell them you're a writer. Stay in the closet with that one. Having interviewed 7 times recently, the only job I got is the only job I carefully ommited that little fact, i.e. the one I've got.