10 Ways to Shine at Your Internship or Entry Level Job

Hi again, Tisch Community,

I’m back with another blog post from the trenches of being a recent grad in Hollywood.

Having spoken with the NYU interns in LA over the past few semesters, I’ve noticed the main concerns of students and recent grads, is how to shine at your internship, navigate the workplace, and keep your own creative dreams afloat.

As is the nature of our industry job market, I have had countless internships, five jobs, and one fellowship. Bonus: I have never been fired!

Here are ten things I have learned along the way:

#1. Your #1 relationship (and priority) is with your boss.

The most important thing you can do is create a great relationship with your supervisor. Best case scenario, this person could be your mentor, your champion, your ultimate cheerleader throughout your career. At the very least, they will probably have a lot to do with how and where you move on from your current position. Give them your respect, your attention, and work your butt off for them. Think about their needs first, then yours. They might not give you a standing ovation at the end of every day, but they will notice your efforts and it will allow your relationship with them to flourish.

#2. Attitude counts. A lot.

Let’s face it: most first jobs or internships in Hollywood aren’t super creative or super challenging. (i.e. Sorting mail, grabbing coffee, scheduling meetings.)

Right, so how do you shine when your job is so simple a monkey could do it?

Attitude! Be happy, be alert, be friendly. Bring positive energy and enthusiasm to everything you do and you will find your responsibilities and stature at work soar.

#3. It’s not just lunch.

Your boss asked for no onions on her salad and the restaurant ignored your request and threw those onions on top anyway. Oh well, she can pick off the onions, no big deal, right? Wrong. Onions on salad may seem like a tiny, crazy detail to you, but stuff like this matters big time when you’re just starting out. Always check lunch orders before leaving a restaurant. Always re-read the message before hitting send on an email. Getting the details right – even the tiny ones – is the difference between being invaluable to your boss, or someone they can afford to let go.

#4. Live in the moment, and remember the big picture.

You have big dreams, big goals, and big plans. I get it. But the fact of the matter is, your day job is probably what’s keeping food in your fridge and setting the stage for the rest of your career. If you have a job in the industry, devote yourself to it and it will pay off.  Take things one day at a time. Don’t burn yourself out, and don’t burn bridges.

Okay, but, how do I balance my day job with my creative goals? I need to be creative. If I only have my day job, I’ll go nuts!

Juggling too much at once can make all of your pursuits suffer – and take a real toll on your physical and mental health. I recommend organizing your time so that you can pursue passion projects/personal projects only on the weekends, and use the workweek to focus on your job.  Setting aside one weeknight a week for a writers group or production meetings with your film crew can also be a good strategy.

#5. Ask for more, and you will get it.

If you’re feeling like you have lots of downtime at work, politely ask for more to do. “I’ve finished x, y, and z already. Is there anything else I could help you with?” “Are there any scripts it would be helpful for me to read?” are great questions to start with. Your boss will probably really appreciate it. And don’t push the issue too hard if the answer is “Nope, not right now.” Find another way to make valuable use of your time.

#6. Communication is everything.

Double check everything from call-back phone numbers to dinner reservations. Reconfirm meetings when you set them, and reconfirm them again the day before. Stay on top of all your correspondence and keep your boss up to date on everything so she can help you troubleshoot if it looks like there might be an issue down the road. Being a great communicator is a skill worth developing and will help you keep up in the fast pace of entertainment industry.

#7. Network, network, network.

A successful career in entertainment is just as much about knowing the right people as it is about having the right skills and/or creative material. Use every opportunity you have to meet people and form meaningful relationships. Join alumni groups, writer groups, young Hollywood associations, bowling leagues, kick ball teams – whatever strikes your fancy. Keep a list of people you meet and where they work. It will come in handy you’re looking for a new job, advice, or just a favor.

Do I really have to? Networking freaks me out.

Yes, you have to. But networking can be genuine and meaningful - I promise! Be yourself and have something specific to talk about when asking people for coffee or a lunch. Keeping things focused and goal-oriented means both parties can benefit and feel comfortable when forming a new relationship.

#8. You will make mistakes.

Even A-Rod doesn’t bat a thousand. Perfection is impossible, but owning your mistakes and dealing with them gracefully is definitely something to strive for. Tell your boss, “I think I might have made a mistake, and I want to make you aware.” Then explain what happened. Apologize, and ask how you can fix things or simply avoid this error going forward. Better yet, offer a solution for how you will avoid this mistake going forward. (i.e. “I’ll double check with you before sending emails to this person next time.”) Don’t panic. If handled correctly, a mistake can be a great way to improve your skills and grow your relationship with your boss.

#9. Go above and beyond, but don’t go crazy.

For better or worse, there are probably a hundred other people who would kill to have your job or internship. Going above and beyond is not bonus territory – it’s what’s expected. That being said, if your boss is making inappropriate requests of any kind, go to HR. Yes, Hollywood is a high-stakes environment, but there is never ever a reason to tolerate illegal behavior or harassment of any kind. If your job is making you physically, emotionally, or mentally ill: walk away. There will always be another job, and your own wellbeing comes first.

#10. Be yourself, but know your place.

Going from college to the workforce is like being a fish going from a small pond to a big, giant ocean filled with sharks and all sorts of other creatures. There’s a lot to navigate and a lot to learn, so don’t swim so fast you end up in the belly of a whale by accident. What I mean is, take your time, soak in your surroundings, and learn. Learning and building relationships is the most valuable thing you can get out of your job.

But I have an awesome portfolio, can’t I show it to my boss?

It is almost never appropriate to submit your creative work to your boss or ask for feedback on a script, etc. Even if you think your script/movie is the next Beasts of the Southern Wild, this will essentially mess with the dynamics of your boss-employee relationship way too much. (Also, your creative work will probably be a lot better if you take your time to improve it and then show it to your boss down the line... when they are no longer your boss.) If you win a big award or shoot a new film, by all means mention it to your coworkers. There’s no reason to hide your long term goals and aspirations, just remember to keep your short term goal (succeeding at your job) front and center.

The bottom line, my friends - there is a reason you have to start at the bottom, so embrace the journey.

Good luck on your adventure,

Lauren

Lauren Ciaravalli - Lauren's first short film, a teen comedy called Tryouts, was warmly received by festivals, premiering at the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival. Her senior thesis, Dream Date, was honored as Finalist for Directing at NYU's First Run Film Festival and received a screenwriting award. While at NYU, Lauren studied under Courtney Hunt and Susan Seidelman and served as Co-Director of the Fusion Film Festival. She graduated with a BFA in Film & Television and a minor in Spanish in May 2013. Upon moving to LA Lauren has worked on the television shows The Mysteries of Laura (NBC) and Angie Tribeca (TBS). She is a graduate of the Nickelodeon Writing Program and is currently working on Amazon's upcoming drama, Good Girls Revolt. Additionally, she is currently working with her longtime collaborator, Victoria Vaughn on a series of digital shorts entitled "The girls I know..." The pilot episode stars Jessica Lu and Margaret Cho.