Climbing your way up the corporate ladder in any industry takes a certain type of grit, but it’s especially so in the entertainment world. Chalk full of ambitious, smart people who are following their creative dreams, only the strongest survive. But the experience provides good life lessons to take away in any facet of life or job.
I moved to Los Angeles with a resume, portfolio and the determination to keep going, and I broke my way through on my own without any previous connections. It’s a story that often gets told about aspiring actors (see: La La Land), but my goal was to be a Hollywood agent, and nothing was going to stop me.
As the driven, professional outsider in the agency world, I stood out and almost got laughed out of the room during my initial interview, with my black resume portfolio and suit. But it was that same drive and professionalism that also helped me rise through the ranks. I was laser focused and became one of the youngest female agents in a mostly male agency, representing TV writers, directors, and producers.
Along the way, I learned a ton about leadership — how to become a leader, how to be effective as one — that extend beyond the entertainment industry.
Here are the top four takeaways that were critical to my success:
1. Work your way up from the bottom
Everyone starts in the proverbial mailroom (or the actual mailroom). The entertainment industry attracts people from all different backgrounds and at different points in their lives. Connections matter, as they do in any industry, but you still have to earn your stripes and understand how the industry works. In any job, it’s essential to learn every aspect of the business and gain a sense for every role. Deep knowledge about how things work will help you work your way up the ladder and be more effective the higher you get.
People above and below you will appreciate your grasp of the nuances. Those details can be as small as how to schedule an appointment correctly and communicate with clients appropriately to the speed at which you should be working or responding to people. Knowing all department functions, from the base of the organization to executive C-suite management and what their strategic goals are for the organization as a whole, will help you perform to the best of your abilities.
2. Find a mentor
A mentor is someone who can be your champion, which is invaluable. However, a mentor won’t just drop in your lap. You need to find a mentor you believe in, who believes in you and will champion you for promotions and leadership in your organization. No matter the generation gap, people in more senior positions are in that position for a reason, and you can learn from them. Soak up their knowledge, and use it to supercharge your current role. I found my mentor in my direct boss.
I not only performed my required responsibilities, but went above and beyond working long hours, doing extra writing and summarizing of client calls/contact reports, attending networking events with them to meet executives and clients who eventually were passed down as some of my own client base. With direct visibility into the additional work I took on, my boss was able to champion me and help me grow.
3. Work harder than everyone else
Few industries are known for being as cutthroat as entertainment. It’s full of type-A, hungry professionals that will do anything to make it to the top. Working hard is imperative, but so is working smart. In your job, it’s not only about the number of hours you put in, but also your ability to find smart solutions that get the job done. If you are hungrier than the person next to you, you will make it up the ladder the fastest (and your boss will notice your smart solutions).
4. Enjoy the journey
And with all that, enjoy the journey. That’s something I probably didn’t do as well over the years because I was so busy looking ahead, but in retrospect, some of the best times were during that meandering path. So laugh with your colleagues and friends, and enjoy the moments in-between. Work hard but always have fun while you’re doing it. As they say, if you enjoy what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.
Jessica Hawthorne-Castro is the CEO of Hawthorne, an award-winning technology-based advertising agency specializing in analytics and accountable brand campaigns for over 30-years. Hawthorne has a legacy of ad industry leadership by being a visionary in combining the art of right-brain creativity with the science of left-brain data analytics and neuroscience.