Thursday, December 16, 2010

Getting admin experience when all jobs require admin experience

Liz writes: For the past few months I've come so close to getting kick ass assistant jobs only to be passed over in favor of those with more "administrative experience." I've been told by two different HR reps that I would have gotten said jobs if I just had more assistant/admin work on my resume.

Does admin work mean "assistant" work? It seems like such a catch 22 that you need administrative experience to get an assistant position, but the only way to get administrative experience is by working as an assistant.

I understand your frustration, since I went through the exact same thing a few years ago. Yes, admin experience and assistant work are basically the same thing: answering phones, scheduling meetings, keeping an executive's calendar, making copies, organizing files, generating correspondence, etc. It's not difficult work and can be learned very quickly, but many bosses want to hire assistants who already have experience doing these things. Many Hollywood assistant jobs are not entry level.

One thing you can do is try to get a job that's a bit lower on the food chain, like office PA, receptionist, mailroom, intern, etc. Sometimes in these jobs, you'll get to do assistant and admin-type work some of the time, so you'll gradually get more experience. I actually started in the mailroom, and then I got to train to be a floater (someone who fills in for assistants when they're out sick). After that, I was deemed ready to jump into an assistant job at the agency.

You could also see if you could gain some admin experience in a less-snooty office outside of Hollywood. I had one agency HR guy tell me I should go get a job at a doctor's office or something for a few months and then give him a call. That didn't end up being necessary for me, but I could see how it wouldn't be the worst move if you can't seem to find a Hollywood job.

However, many people start right off as assistants without any experience. This usually happens when you A) have a strong connection to get the job, B) find a boss willing to hire you despite how green you are, and C) convince the person interviewing you that you can handle it. I do think you have to be confident in interviews. Rather than emphasizing how you've never been an assistant before, highlight the fact that you're a hard worker and a fast learner. You don't have to lie, just present yourself in the right way. You want to assure them you can do the job - because trust me, I'm sure you can.

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Sasha said...

Some bosses pull the "not enough experience" card to give themselves an out, but if the issue really is that they fear they'll have to train you, you might want to bring up what specific skills you've already acquired. Unless this is your first job EVER, you've probably already been trained to be a "worker" and it's good to remind them of that.

For example, you might want to bring up (specifically) which software you know and/or your experience with computers. I think a lot of bosses/interviewers assume you're completely green if you say you don't have admin experience, but if you're in your early twenties, odds are you're comfortable with the computer programs they use at the office anyway.

In the same vein, you might want to bring up specific experiences from college/other jobs that directly translate into office work--for example, if you worked on your school newspaper you probably are experienced in handling correspondence and client-interaction, or if you worked in a restaurant, you're probably very good at prioritizing and time management. Even if the people interviewing you worked those jobs in the past, they probably don't remember exactly what those jobs train a person for--so it might be good to be really specific about what skills you have and where you got them, even if you weren't trained for office work in an actual office (lol).

Ashley Ashbee said...

This is all such great advice. You delivered it with lovely care and interest. Very nice of you. Yes, it's so hard that everyone everywhere seems to want experience before hiring you.

I like your blog. I'm looking forward to reading more about your adventures!

Dan Williams said...

Yes, it's a Catch-22. They won't hire you without experience, you can't get experience unless they hire you. But if you get a job as a clerk in any office, in any business, that's administration experience and should qualify you for a Hollywood assistant position.

This will also give you lots of stories to tell in your scripts, later on, when you get a job in the writers' room. If you work, say, in the office of a trucking company, that's the setting for the sitcom you create later on--it gives you the characters and their stories, set against the business realities. It's not that the job is giving you money and experience, it's that you are doing research for career expansion in your future.