There is no set path to getting a business-side media job. Some things help, however. It helps to have graduated from a top university. It helps to have performed well in school or in previous jobs. You should have a passion for the industry, and even after all that. You should exhibit a fair degree of knowledge on the issues confronting entertainment companies.
Post-College: There are a handful of analyst-level positions in entertainment companies. More common than positions for fresh college graduates are 'industry hires' -- young twentysomethings with a couple of years of experience under their belt in the professional services world, usually from top tier management consulting firms or banks, who can then be hired into business positions in the top entertainment companies. Because these strategic groups are small, positions for new professional hires are difficult to come by. But they do exist. Disney, Viacom and Universal all hire pre-MBA candidates.
Middle management: Other positions require some managerial experience, and sometimes an MBA. These positions involve managing operating units with profit and loss responsibility, supervising market research and due diligence in executing new ventures, and creating plans for future performance. While a background in entertainment may be useful, it is not necessary. Rather, experience in relevant industries (e.g. finance, marketing, operations) are arguably more critical.
Senior executive: While some companies are filled with people promoted from within, there is a fair amount of lateral hiring from other industries. Lateral hiring brings in fresh perspectives and also provide credibility to the investment community. These positions are often filled not with HR interviews, but through sophisticated, and often secretive, executive level headhunters and search firms like Heidrick & Struggles, Korn Ferry, Russell Reynolds. Many of these firms have specific media and entertainment practices.
Given however, that networking and schmoozing is such a critical component of getting in the door, there are some other avenues to explore. By and large, the best ways to make your own Rolodex of contacts are:
- Recruiting at colleges and graduate programs. This is by far the easiest way to get into the door if you can -- recruiters are approaching your school with available jobs, giving you the opportunity to pitch yourself. Of course, you'll have a lot of competition. If possible, try to befriend other students at local universities like NYU or UCLA or USC where media job listings come through on a regular basis. They may have some options that are worth pursuing. One piece of advice by a recent MBA graduate: "Look for programs that recruit at colleges, universities and graduate schools, but not necessarily at your school -- that could give you an extra edge you need to stand out from scores of other applicants all from your school."
- Networking. This is critical. There are numerous conferences that occur in Los Angeles and New York held by trade associations. Go and meet as many people as possible, speak to alumni, ask anyone who knows anyone if they can make a referral for you.
- Trade publications. The trades often have listings for positions at the corporate level for various jobs. And Hollywood Reporter and Variety are laden with news articles on who has left their job, who is new and what companies are expanding. Read the articles, glean some names and write some letters or make some calls
- Headhunters. There are some placement agencies that place everyone from junior managers to senior executives. They are found from Internet research, inquiring through friends and attending networking functions.
- Talking to others who just got placed in jobs. Often, individuals on serious job searches end up with more than one lead, which you can leverage to your benefit. These people are likely to have contacts for people who were looking to hire in the imminent future. Get these contacts if you can and follow up immediately. These are often the hottest leads you'll find.