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How to OWN Your First Job

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Kira Smithson
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Published on March 4, 2015

You’ve done it! You landed your dream entry-level job out of college as a Production Assistant and skipped the mail room. This, in and of itself, is a big deal. But now that you HAVE the job, here are some tips that will help you excel, and set you apart from your peers. Who gets promoted first? Not necessarily the PA who hustles MOST, but the one who LEARNS and works strategically!

Schedule smarter
When you set an appointment on your boss’s calendar, have information about that meeting for him/her. Why does this person want to meet? What is the meeting about? Can it be moved if needed—and if so, what’s the last date it can happen? Which days of the week/times (lunch, or after work drinks/dinner) work best for the other person?

This took me a while to get the hang of. Especially when it involved the full production calendar and not just his personal calendar. The production calendar involved multiple people from numerous departments. When my Producer would look over the calendar for the day, he’d say, “Let’s cancel this 6pm modeling meeting tomorrow, so the Directors can go home a little bit early. They’ve had a long week!” In the beginning, I’d go back to my desk, send out a cancellation for the meeting, and 2 minutes later, I’d get a frantic phone call from that department’s Supervisor. She would explain that the meeting needed to happen tomorrow because they needed the weekend to turn that element around, in order for it to be passed to the next department the following Monday. This is info I hadn’t known or bothered to ask about, so I had to go BACK to my Producer, relay that time sensitive info so that he could make an informed decision about whether or not to have the meeting.

Over the course of the production, learning to ask these kinds of scheduling questions saved me a TON of time and energy! I had informed responses when my boss asked, “Why is this on the schedule for tomorrow instead of next week?” This made me look smart, protected the interests of the entire production, and also taught me about the chain of departments in feature animation. 

Remember the little things
Learn your boss’ preferences! Whether it’s standard lunch orders (chicken caesar salad? pasta?), allergies, or their regular Starbucks drink—make an effort to remember these things so you don’t have to ask all the time. Granted, some people change their minds each time, but most, when they are busy executive types, will have a ‘standard go-to order’ for when they don’t have time to think. Also keep a list of favorite restaurants that you can suggest when people call to schedule meetings or drinks (again, see point above about being one step ahead! If you already have options your boss likes, it will save you time calling back and forth). Make a hard copy list if you need to (many offices I worked in did)!

Remember bigger things
Learn the types of meetings/calls that are important to your boss. Even though you gave him a weekly print out of his calendar on Monday, by Monday afternoon, he may not remember all the things happening on Tuesday, or later in the week. If he needs to prepare a report for a weekly meeting (even though it’s a WEEKLY meeting) remind him the day before—or ask to make sure he doesn’t need you to make copies. Give your boss a heads up about notably important meetings throughout the week, and you will gain respect!

Remember more little things
Learn to recognize  your boss’ phone number and the numbers and names of people who frequently call/are important (cell number of his department head, spouse’s name and number, kids, etc). Almost all studio or production related phones have a digital reader board that will show the phone number, if not the name. Greet people by name when you can.

Help out where you can
Be willing to do things outside of your job description. This should be a no-brainer, especially for those in entry-level jobs, but lately, I’ve heard quite a few appalling stories. For example, recently one of my friends who works production said that a Producer asked an Intern to run some papers to the CEO’s office. The Intern (who was not aware of who the Producer was, and apparently didn’t see the value in getting to go to the CEO’s office) replied, “I’m the Intern for the XYZ department, I don’t do paperwork.” That Intern’s supervisor was notified and the Intern in question got a stern talking to. Production of any kind (film, TV, commercials, music, etc) is ALWAYS a team effort. People are tired, everyone is always busy. Do what you can to make the lives of your co-workers easier and they will remember! This is a big difference between low level employees who are retained/called back, and those who aren’t!

These may seem like small things, but they are HUGE in terms of memorability and setting yourself apart at the early stage in your career. Those who do these things consistently move up the food chain faster. So pay attention, and be a team player!

Kira Smithson

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