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!


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