Resume Woes? You're not the only one.
We recently had the pleasure of chatting with assistant director, producer and supervisor Dawnn Pavlonnis and production coordinator Jennifer Bertram. After many years of working on productions like Grimm, Lean on Pete, and American Vandal, they’ve both collected thousands of resumes for positions ranging from production assistant to cinematographer to props and set design. Across the board, they see room for improvement.
“Almost everyone in this town needs help with their resume,” Pavlonnis lamented. Collecting resumes is just one small part of their work, when they aren’t busy opening offices, setting up phone lines, sourcing internet for 70 people, so put your best foot forward with these helpful tips.
#1 - Have a Resume
It sounds like something you wouldn’t need to say, but Dawnn and Jennifer both bemoaned that many people who reach out to them seeking work explain that they don’t have one, or don’t provide it immediately.
“If I can’t just open your resume and print it, and I have ten resumes that are all for the same job, I’ll just print the 9 that I can print and you don’t exist anymore,” Pavlonnis said. “I know that’s harsh, but that’s the deal. If it’s harder than one extra step for me to print your resume out, I’m probably not going to, especially as a PA.”
The same goes for providing your resume as a website, IMDB credit, or other link. Make it as easy as possible for someone who could be hiring you to learn about you in the way they asked you to present yourself.
“I shouldn’t have to search through your IMDB or search through your website to find the pertinent information,” Pavlonnis cautioned. “It creates more work on my end, it creates more work for my supervisor, to have to dig up enough information and that already starts you off on the wrong foot. I shouldn’t have to work for your resume, you should just send me your resume.”
Those who do have a resume sometimes counter that theirs isn’t up to date.
“A lot of people I ask for a resume say, “Oh, I don’t have anything updated, I haven’t been asked for a resume in five years.” Well, that doesn’t matter,” Bertram stressed. “As a working professional, you should constantly be updating your resume. When you do a project, just take the five minutes to add it to your resume because you never know when someone is going to come in town and they’re going to want to see it…and now you’re not going to get a chance to interface with the person who could have hired you because I can’t present you as a possible candidate for that position.”
#2 - Tips for Beginners
Just getting started in production and don’t know how to make a good impression without a lengthy list of credits? There are still plenty of ways to show you’re a good candidate for an entry-level position.
“Even if someone hasn’t worked in the industry before, a strong work history is really good to show,” Pavlonnis said. “If I get a resume for someone who only has PA’d on one commercial but they show that they can commit to something long-term, like another project or job, those are things that I look for on a resume.”
“People shouldn’t feel like just because they worked at FedEx for four years that that is to be discounted,” added Bertram. “That can be really important because anyone that can stay at a job for four years, that tells me a little bit about that person.”
Let the hiring managers get to know you! Bertram likes to see special skills and personal strengths at the top of an entry-level resume to help her get a sense of who that person is. Pavlonnis recommends finding anything in your work history that can relate to what they need, like a good knowledge of how to get around the city, your own car, customer service, reception experience, tech savvy. Were you an Apple Genius at the Mac store? Say so! Do you drive for Lyft or Uber? That could help them learn that you know your way around town for running errands.
Lastly, they warn not to forego low-paying jobs or unpaid internships, advising that a lot of major production assistants for big name shows work on small sets during their downtime, so if you’re brand new and you take a job working $50 a day for a music video, you might meet someone who does what you want to do on a larger scale who could end up being a great resource.
And while internship opportunities are not necessarily plentiful in Portland, the few that open up can be a great way to meet people, prove yourself and find your way into a paying job. “Don’t work for just anyone for free,” Bertram warned, “but if you see that the producer is someone who does a ton of work with a great reputation, then consider taking an unpaid opportunity because it has such a good chance of developing your skills or turning into a great relationship.”
#3 - Tips for Veterans
“People outside of production assistant positions frequently don’t feel like they should have to present a resume. That’s ridiculous,” Pavlonnis warned. “If I’m asking you for a resume, my boss is asking for a resume, so send a resume.”
Don’t feel like you have to list every task from every job you’ve ever had, either.
What they both like to see is what you worked on, what position you held there, and who managed you there. If your job was production assistant, share who was your line producer, PM, and production coordinator on that project. If you were in the camera department, share your DP or operator from that project. This list of colleagues is more helpful than a list of references, Pavlonnis shared, because she can call them and feel like she’ll get honest feedback instead of references you hand-selected to provide.
Whatever you do, don’t assume you’re above submitting a formal resume.
“A lot of us have been here a long time and we work together, so I think there’s a feeling of, well, you know who I am, but there’s a lot of people who come into our area who don’t know us from Adam,” Pavlonnis warned. “With the studios, sometimes you have to be vetted. I have to send a resume into the studio people so they can look at the page and say, “Oh, okay, they have enough credits on this piece of paper that we can vet them.” We need to remember that we’re advertising ourselves to strangers.”
#4 - Network with People, Not Machines
If Bertram and Pavlonnis push an open call through OMPA or the local unions, they’ll say which email to send your resume to. Don’t start a conversation with that e-mail address, they warn.
“Some people email that address and don’t attach a resume, but they send an e-mail with a whole bunch of questions like “hey, I’m new in town, I’m looking to do this, this, and this, do you guys want a resume?” Bertram noted. “Those e-mail addresses exist solely to receive resumes so that we can go through and search for all the people who want to be set decorators or all the people who have hair experience. Those e-mails don’t really function as a way for us to communicate with people. I just don’t have time and generally don’t respond to them.”
A better way to inquire about general and future work would be to reach out to someone who can hire you as a supervisor, send a copy of your resume and ask them any questions. Do a little more digging, like searching OMPA's SourceOregon for people who are doing the jobs you want to do and invite them to coffee or ask if they have time for a phone call or quick meeting. Pavlonnis and Bertram both agreed that people who seek out the proper parties to which to send their resume get a much stronger response than people who just send them out wide to no one in particular.
Be active in your off-time, keep up with your friendly neighborhood OMPA, college professors in the media field, and the Oregon Film Office, and always be open to striking up new conversations.
“It’s a small town, you probably know somebody who’s in the business. You never know who you could run into or start a conversation with,” Pavlonnis said. “When someone I know says to me, “I know this kid who wants to get into production,” I always give them my personal e-mail and tell them to say who sent them. I always give those kids attention.”
Bertram agreed. “We’re a pretty friendly community and a pretty open community in terms of people approaching us wanting to work here,” she said. “Find one person and say, “Here’s what I’m interested in. Is there someone I could talk to?”
#5 - Dos and Don’ts
DO: Keep it short and sweet. Your resume should not be longer than one page. If it’s not a full page, that’s okay for entry level positions.
If you have plenty of credits, just share one page worth of credits. “If I can see enough job history, I don’t need to see two pages of more of the same,” Bertram shared. Pavlonnis agreed, “Place one line at the bottom “this is a select list of credits. More information available upon request.” That looks great! It shows that there’s still more information but these are credits that you’ve selected.
If you have enough credits in multiple disciplines, DO create multiple versions of your resumes for certain positions. “I myself have three different resumes," Pavlonnis said. "Based on what jobs I’m going for, I send the one that is most applicable, highlighting the experience that makes me most valuable for the specific job I’m looking for. If you do props and set dressing, at some point once you get enough experience, you should have a resume for props and a resume for set dressing. “
DON’T: use clip art and pictures. They’re unnecessary and distracting.
DO: give your resume file an easy-to-understand title, like “YourName_Resume” or “YourName_Resume_ProductionAssistant” - it’ll be that much easier for your hiring manager to find and share when it’s sitting in one of those resume-only e-mail inboxes.
DON’T: put your home address on your resume, especially if you’re a young woman. Sorry to have to say it, but it's best to be safe.
DO: Submit your resume as a PDF, or if specifically requested, as a Word doc. But don’t send over an Excel spreadsheet, Powerpoint, or Google Doc. Or anything else, for that matter.
We at OMPA join Bertram and Pavlonnis in hoping that these tips help you find your next position.
“This industry is hard, and it requires a lot of hard work,” Bertram said. “You have to be committed to long hours, long days, doing things that aren’t fun, taking on whatever needs to be taken on in order for the production to be successful.”
And don’t forget to reach out kindly and patiently to Bertram and Pavlonnis if you’d like to get to know them better.
“If you want to meet with us and you tell us your ambition is not production, but it’s something else, if you make a good impression on us, and we have a good meeting with you, we’ll turn you over to the right department,” Pavlonnis reassured. “We try to help each other out and if someone shows potential, we try really hard to invest in them.”
Jennifer Bertram, left, and Dawnn Pavlonnis, right, smile together on the set of Lean on Pete in Burns, Oregon.
Published April 23, 2018