This is a guest blog post written by Cindy Kaplan & Angela Silak, Co-Founders, Hollywood Resumes.
Choosing a Hollywood internship can be tough -- you want to make sure you pick something that will stand out on your resume (and count toward class credit if you need it), where you’ll actually learn something and where you’ll build strong connections for the future. You don’t want to waste an entire semester -- or worse, a summer break -- on an internship that won’t actually help you in the long run. So how do you discern whether or not an internship is going to be worthwhile?
First, you have to decide on what you’re looking for in an internship. You may think your primary goal is to get a recognizable name on your resume -- in Hollywood, that means well-established studios, networks, agencies, and production companies. But as Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name?” While a major studio or network on your resume may catch the eye of a future employer, sometimes those internships aren’t as great as they’re cracked up to be. If you’re working in a big department, you may be relegated to a back room to make copies and shred paper all day. When there’s not enough work to go around (or if a team is too busy to take the time to think of intern projects), you’ll really have to go out of your way to make the internship work for you. And if you’re only doing administrative tasks that don’t teach you anything, you won’t have much to show for it on your resume, nor will your supervisor have any reason to remember you for a future reference. Relationships are the most valuable thing you’ll gain out of an internship, so even if you’re assigned script coverage duties or projects that do take a little bit of thinking and can showcase your skills, if no one on the team has time to get to know you, the internship won’t help you much down the line.
Meanwhile, a smaller company may give you greater access to higher-ups and more opportunities to expand your skill set. For example, at a boutique management company, you may be asked to cover an assistant’s desk during lunch, which will allow you to put the sought after “rolled calls” bullet point on your resume. Or maybe you work for a small production company and are asked to fill in as a PA on occasion, giving you useful on-set experience and the opportunity to bond with crew members who may need a helping hand in the future. Many smaller companies rely on their interns to help manage an overwhelming workload, and this is your opportunity to shine. You’ll be able to take on higher-level tasks, which will in turn give you more visibility. You may even get hired as a full-time staff member if you can make yourself indispensable.
Now don’t get us wrong -- some larger companies have excellent and very structured internship programs or smaller departments where you will get plenty of face time with your supervisors, so keep an eye out for those, as they’ll offer you a great learning experience while boosting your resume. And it’s possible that you’ll run into a terrible internship at a smaller company as well -- sometimes internship supervisors at tiny startups are simply too busy to have time to address intern needs. Like most things in life, there’s a range of possibilities, and you can’t really know what you’re in for until you have more details. The trick is to apply for a variety of opportunities and hope you land an interview where you can learn more about the internship program.
In fact, you can often tell how much a company values its interns from the interview. If your interviewer mentions what she hopes you’ll gain from the experience -- perhaps she describes an intern project, opportunities for mentorship, or access to multiple departments -- you’re in good hands. But if she focuses only on what you can do for the company, you should push for more information. Ask what she hopes you’ll learn, and if she’s caught without much to say, think twice before accepting the offer. You should also try to find out what your day-to-day will look like. If none of the duties sound interesting, maybe it’s not the internship for you. Always keep your short and long term goals in mind when you apply for internships, and ask your interviewer questions that will determine whether or not the internship will help you meet those goals.
You should also consider that an internship is a time for you to learn more about a future career path. It’s much harder to bounce around and try new things once you’re in the working world, since employers like to hire people with specific backgrounds. But as an intern, you have the freedom to explore. Maybe you think you want to be a film producer, so you get an internship at a major production company. Watch the people around you -- do you want their jobs? If not, or if you’re not sure, try a different avenue next semester. Perhaps you’d prefer management, marketing, casting, or an entirely different field! There’s no shame in changing your mind. And even if you’re dead-set on a certain future, you may consider interning in a variety of areas so you can develop a diverse skill set. For example, even if reality TV isn’t your career of choice, learning how to give notes on a sizzle reel may help you perfect your scripted pitches to a studio down the line. Diversity on your resume can also make you stand out in ways you never expected. For instance, you may not want to do social media marketing long-term, but including that experience on your resume may get you noticed by an indie producer looking for an assistant who knows his way around a marketing campaign. Bottom line, as long as you’re learning, your internship will never be a waste of time.
So how do you make the final decision? If you’re happy with what you heard in the interview and get an offer, take the job -- don’t wait around for someone better to call. If that happens, you can always split your time and intern a few days a week at each company. If you’re no longer interested, send your interviewer a prompt thank you note and explain that while you enjoyed meeting them, you’re looking for an internship that’s more aligned with your goals. There’s a 1% chance that if they liked you, they’ll pass your information along to a friend in your preferred area, and there’s a 100% chance they’ll remember you as professional and polite should you ever cross paths in this small town again.
Most importantly, remember that the right internship can give you the platform you need to achieve your goals, but only you can do the work. You’ll hear this from every internship supervisor: Your internship is what you make of it. So go above and beyond. Show enthusiasm for every task, complete your assignments perfectly and on time, and make an effort to get to know others at the company. Once you’ve secured an internship, it’s up to you take advantage of the opportunities you’re given.
Hollywood Resumes is a resume writing service dedicated to entertainment industry job applicants. For more career advice, sign up for the Hollywood Resumes newsletter, and get free tips delivered to your inbox every Wednesday.