I moved to Los Angeles on July 11, 2012. It wasn’t until January 17, 2013 that I began a full-time job. When I got the call, I began to jump up and down and scream, and, after a victory dance, I began to cry.
I was unemployed for 6 months. I had no idea how hard it would be to find a job.
Before I moved, I called several casting companies and asked them for advice on how to become a casting director. Based on their responses, I formed a 3-step plan for how I was going to gain employment in casting:
- Intern at 2+ casting companies (unpaid).
- Apply for every casting job posting I saw while simultaneously hoping that one of my internships would turn into a job.
- Meet/call every single friend of a friend of a friend in Los Angeles
I thought it would only be 3-4 months before I found a job. After all, I had a B.A. in Radio/TV/Film from a college with a strong alumni network and a good reputation in the entertainment industry. I had been a working professional for 3 years, having most recently directed a film festival , curated an art gallery, and overall having a job that required a lot of initiative, responsibility, and creativity. Who wouldn’t want to hire me?
As more and more time passed, my plan didn’t seem to be working. It was clear that neither of the casting companies I was interning at was ever going to hire me, and I never heard a response from the casting jobs I applied to. I formed a backup plan: if I didn’t get a job in casting, I would become an assistant at a talent agency. There are a lot of talent agencies, and they all have a lot of assistants with high turnover. Through several friends of friends, my resume was submitted to some of the major talent agencies, and I got interviews at all of them. Some of the interviews were informational, so that they would have me on file when a position opened up. I interviewed for 5 positions at talent agencies during these 6 months, and didn’t land a single one.
After working in a casting office for a few months, casting wasn’t all that I thought it would be, and it certainly wasn’t worth being unemployed indefinitely. I opened my job search to event planning jobs like what I had done in Houston. I applied to over 20 events jobs that I was extremely qualified for and didn’t get a single interview.*
Every week I met with a new contact. Everyone just wanted me to intern for free. The more internships I was offered, the harder it was to make an internship efficient – if you’re only in the office 2 days a week, how can you make a good enough impression that they hire you? And at the same time, if you only have one internship, you meet less people, and are therefore less likely to make a contact that leads to a job. Furthermore, the more hours you work, the less hours you can spend applying to jobs. A cover letter took me an average of 3 hours to write; it’s very hard to apply to more than 2 jobs per day–and that’s on a good day.
In November I applied to work as a bank teller at several banks, and I also applied to work at several Whole Foods locations. No luck. I didn’t apply to work at a restaurant because in a city of actors and writers, getting that kind of job would be super-competitive and would require completely diverting my attention from my search for a job I actually wanted.
In early December, I finally got an interview for one of the event-planning jobs I applied to at a Jewish non-profit (I pulled major connections and got 3 internal referrals), and I didn’t get it because I was overqualified. For the entertainment industry I wasn’t qualified enough, and for a Jewish nonprofit I was overqualified.
At this point I was interning at a casting company and a talent management company. I watched as the management company fired and hired 3 people, and not once interviewed me for one of the open spots despite my explicit desire to work there. I didn’t even know there were open positions until they were filled. I can only assume that they wanted people with assistant experience, the typical catch 22. At the casting company, I watched the cleaning lady as she cleaned the office and realized that they thought she was worth paying but I wasn’t. That week I had been filling in for someone who was on vacation, and I had been doing his exact job. Let me tell you, it wasn’t any more complicated than what I had been doing for free for 5 months.
It is utterly demeaning to work for free, and even worse, to be treated like all you deserve is to work for free. Just think for a minute what it would feel like. It’s slavery. When you’re a slave you are less than other people…so much less that your work doesn’t earn anything more than a pat on the head.
Internships have their place; I get it. I had 4 internships during college. And after working for several years and kicking ass, I expected to have to intern in LA, but I didn’t expect to be treated like I didn’t deserve something better. I learned fast that the entertainment industry only values experience in Los Angeles and “paying your dues.” At job interviews I would get asked about my internships instead of the job I had just held for the past 2 years. It was incredibly frustrating to have all the work I was proud of count for nothing, and all the work I took no pride in (because it was brainless) count for everything.
By the end of December, I was averaging an emotional breakdown every 1-2 weeks. My bank account was getting closer and closer to $0 – I had been living off my savings the entire time – and there seemed no hope in sight. I was doing everything I possibly could, and none of it was leading to a job. It was constant anxiety for 6 months; it was always on the back of my mind, a constant cloud that hung over me and was all-consuming. I couldn’t think about anything else. I couldn’t show consideration for others, I couldn’t fully relax, and planning anything in the future was a huge source of stress.
I went to see Les Miserables and bawled my eyes out. I was Fantine! I had been whoring myself. And when Fantine dies and you think, “well she’s better off than with that miserable life”…that’s how I felt. There were several moments where I contemplated how much easier death would be than the life I was carrying on. Yes, it’s melodramatic and really funny now, but come talk to me when you’ve been unemployed for 6 months and you have no idea how you’re going to eat next month and you count every single penny that leaves your wallet.
To sum up, one connection led to a small (underpaid) gig in early January, which then added valuable experience to my resume when I got called in for another interview at a talent agency. I changed my interview approach, and I landed the job. I’ve written some job hunt advice in my previous post that touches upon this.
I wanted to write this to document of an example of what it means to be unemployed. People who are unemployed aren’t necessarily lazy or not trying. It’s fucking hard. And I took a 33% pay cut and I have a lot less responsibility in this job (although it’s 200% more stressful). I consider myself underemployed.
I could have stayed in Houston at a job that I loved, but I wanted to be in LA in the entertainment industry. It’s a whole other level out here – you have to be a hustler and put up with a lot of bullshit – and I’m really proud that I made it.
*I recently found out that one of these job postings received 700 applications and they only interviewed 2 people. Even with an internal referral, I wasn’t asked to interview.