How To Be a Renegade in the Job Market and Land Any Gig You Want
Photo courtesy of Renato Ganoza.

How To Be a Renegade in the Job Market and Land Any Gig You Want

Written by Emilie

Topics: Goals, Hacking Hollywood

Some careers require credentials. Some require education and certification. Some require you to apply to be chosen.

But most don’t.

No matter what your passion, there is almost always a self-employment version of the “official” path. Writer? Self-publish. Artist? Self-distribute. Teacher? Start up an education program in your community, a tutoring company, online course, or educational website. Astronaut? Build your own space ship. (I’m not kidding, check this out).

You don’t have to wait for other people to give you permission. Build something instead.

Using the Same Skills

If a parallel path does not exist, there will almost certainly be a self-employment alternative that will allow you to use the same skills.

For example, lets say you want to work for Google. Ask yourself why. Forget the name of the company or the job title. What is it about that experience you think you’d enjoy? Is it being a force of innovation or working in creative teams? You can start your own company and do all of that.

Some Gigs are Harder to Get than Others

I honestly get a little annoyed when people say “go build something” and send you on your way. Sometimes that’s not enough.

The fact is, some careers are harder to recreate and some industries have higher walls and hierarchies. Want to be a doctor? That’s tough, since you can’t practice without going to med school. But what about starting a business around education, teaching people how to live healthier lives?

My student Brian cares deeply about social justice, but instead of waiting for a law degree, he’s starting a business now to teach activists and non-profits how market themselves more effectively and increase their funding.

Where does the TV Industry Fit on the Spectrum of Easy-to-Hack vs Hard-to-Hack Gigs? Um-

I’m not sure I could have picked a more difficult goal.

Unlike the music industry, publishing industry, or even the film industry, the television industry operates almost exclusively by the old model: high walls, hierarchies, boy’s club, mandatory connections, yada yada. It’s a tough one.

Sure, there are alternative formats and easier methods of distribution. Producing a web series or even writing a screenplay would allow me to use similar skills. But both of these formats have their own dramatic structures. They’re different art forms.

What if you Not Only want the “Experience”, but the Title?

I want to write for television. Actual television. I want to sit in a writers’ room, craft season arcs, write an episode or two for that season, turn on the TV and see my ideas manifest.

I’m not going to move to LA, work as an unpaid intern while “paying my dues” and hope and pray for a lucky break. I’m not going to send script after script to agents. I refuse to play that game.

The truth is it wouldn’t be a very effective way to stand out anyway. There are too many people knocking on that door. Pursuing the “official path” is not the best use of my time.

But there might be other games I’d be willing to play- games that are somewhere between the “official path” and a total rejection of the system.

Finding Alternative Ways in

I’m dying to include details about my Hacking Hollywood project, but the truth is, I can’t write about this stuff publicly yet. Sorry about being vague. I plan on revealing everything once things are official, but right now, stuff is still in the works…

What I will do is pull out some principles from the techniques I’ve been using and share what I can. These are methods that can be applied in almost any industry to help you land your dream gig.

1. Develop Your Craft and Show off your Talent in Unconventional Ways

Create, create, create. Become amazing at what you do and put yourself out there. Feature your work online. Put your talent, personality and intent out into the world.

It was writing this post that led to an old acquaintance I hadn’t seen in years contacting me. That person is now my writing partner (and good friend).

2. Be Proactive, Look for Alternative Strategies and Diversify Your Approaches

How have others achieved the same goal? Try to find non-traditional paths that have worked for other people, even if only a handful of people.

Don’t let numbers scare you. It’s like Tim Ferris says in 4 Hour Work Week, there is far more competition for the ordinary methods of entry than for the unusual ones.

I’m pursuing multiple paths right now, including:

  • Developing my own TV series with a partner, writing a pilot script and pitching to production companies.
  • Writing spec scripts and applying for fellowships. (Use those external deadlines!)
  • Forming a production company of my own and recreating a writers’ room. Yes, I’d be open to writing/producing a web series or short film, not as an end goal but as a stepping stone- a way to improve my writing and gain exposure.

Being proactive gets you into the right mindset and boosts both your skills and confidence. It prepares you for those opportunities when they arise. And they do arise, but only if you’re already taking action.

3. Partner Up

Find someone with the same dream. Someone you work well with, who has different but overlapping skills. Focus on your strengths, work different angles and share resources.

This also helps with motivation and accountability. My writing partner and I have been meeting once a week for the past 4 months, working little by little but staying consistant. We now have all 38 scenes of our pilot episode outlined in detail and are ready to dive into pilot writing.

Also, if one of you becomes busy, the other can take the lead for a while and vice versa. Right now I’m so busy preparing for my move to Portland and finishing up other projects, that I have no time to write. My partner is thus taking the reigns for a few weeks, till I have the time to jump back in.

4. Befriend the Friends of the Decision Makers

You might not know the people at the very top, but who else can you talk to? Is there someone who’s working your dream gig now?

These people might be a lot more accessible than the gatekeepers themselves. Not only do they have connections, but they probably have a lot of great advice for you.

Use Twitter. Read their blogs and comment. Build relationships.

Give Before you Get

How can you help these well-connected people out? Don’t ask for favours. Once they see how helpful and awesome you are, they will almost certainly want to do what they can to help you achieve your dreams (particularly if they had the same dreams themself).

Be genuine of course. Nobody likes to feel used. Form honest relationships with people you truly admire and if they pay off in other ways, great. If not, at least you made a new like-minded friend.

I wish I could elaborate more on my own experience here… But I will say that this has definitely been one of the most powerful strategies we’ve adopted to date.

Overview

Here are the strategies again:

  1. Develop Your Craft and Show off your Talent in Unconventional Ways
  2. Be Proactive, Look for Alternative Strategies and Diversify Your Approaches
  3. Partner Up
  4. Befriend the Friends of the Decision Makers

The key to all of this is taking continuous action and building momentum.

The funny thing is, the more action you take, the more incredible opportunities start popping up.

It’s like the universe telling you that you’re on the right path. You start noticing opportunities everywhere. More and more wild coincidences begin appearing. It truly feels otherworldly.

***

Do you have any strategies of your own for hacking the hiring process and scoring those elusive, hard-to-get gigs?

23 Comments

  1. Of course the Danes figured out how to hack space travel :) De er mit folk!

    Befriending friends of decision makers absolutely works… they are the real decision makers and gate-keepers.

    • Emilie says:

      Haha I know… TedxCopenhagen was like 8 hours of pure “Why Danes are the greatest people on earth” talk. But it was still pretty fun.

      And yes, that’s been hands down the most effective strategy for me so far. Of course it only works if you do it along with the other approaches. Once you befriend the connectors and they start to see what you’re up to, they’ll totally want to help. But yeah, you need to actually be DOING something. Get both those things in place and you’re in.

      Thanks for the comment Brian! You in New York yet?

  2. James says:

    haha, I was wondering when you’d write this post Emilie. I knew this topic had to be in the hopper somewhere, I love it.

    I’ve actually got two killer techniques that might be relevant to this topic. One of them I first saw from a friend of mine now living in London. She spent four months after college trying to get a job in the publishing industry, and couldn’t even get a nibble.

    Then she went ‘unconventional’ with the job hunt and ended up with something like a dozen job offers in three weeks. It was nuts… haha, of course the experience got her so fired up on being unconventional, that she didn’t actually even want to be an ’employee’ when it was all said and done. Go figure.

    The other one is an absolutely insane direct mail technique that’s gotten over a 92% in the test run I saw (CEOs for municipal waste management… not the easiest people to get in front of). If you happen to KNOW the job you want, the person who can get you that job, and you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and write a letter to back this bad-ass little trick for getting noticed, this is definitely a good road to try.

    Alright, alright, I’ll give away the second secret right here in the comment box.

    Get a miniature galvanized garbage can… maybe 6″~8″. Put a creative cover letter in it along with any other information you need to include, and send that fedex. It’ll cost $40, but I absolutely guarantee you’ll get an in. One of the marketing guys I know used this to land a big joint venture deal with a hard to reach list holder. You WILL be able to accomplish easier things with a stunt like this too. Course, it’s harder and more expensive than just sending a lame little email or resume letter, so make sure you want the deal before you go after it.

    Haha, come to think of it, for bonus points I’ve even seen someone use an ipod with this tactic. Record a video of yourself speaking directly to the person you’re trying to reach, and then mail it straight in an ipod (in a garbage can?). That’s getting REALLY excessive, but it sure as hell beats playing fair and waiting your turn on the resume pile. Even if you’re a high end hollywood exec, I very much doubt you get too many fedex packages with a free ipod, preloaded with a video addressed specifically to you.

    Props to the two of you reading this that’s going to end up taking action and using this technique. Make sure you share the success story when you’re done, I doubt I’m the only one that wants to hear it:).

    James

    • Emilie says:

      Wow! Thanks for sharing those James! I think I may have to press you further about technique #1. I have a couple friends who are interested in working in the publishing industry…

      And if anyone has received a fedex with a free ipod in it, it’s a Hollywood exec! lol.. but I see your point. :)

      Yup, I’ve just been waiting for the right moment to write this post. Wasn’t sure how to bring it up without sharing more than I could and also I didn’t want to make it all about me. Don’t worry though, I will most definitely be revealing everything once things are a bit more settled. I’m really excited about the pilot especially. I think even just dramatically, our series is quite strong.

      Thanks for the comment buddy. Can’t wait to be throwing ideas by you in person starting in 3.5 weeks! Eeeeee

    • Rhii says:

      I’ve known people who’ve attached the cover letter to a balloon with ‘I’m just bursting to work with you’ on it & a shoe with ‘Just trying to get my foot in the door’ as the theme for the cover letter.

      Less industry specific options but still unusual enough to obtain interviews

  3. I like it. I don’t have the answers yet, but I am working on it. My goal is no more resumes. What a silly thing we invest in with those… I hope to teach at the collegiate level one day, so I definitely have a lot to overcome to get there. But I will.

    I look forward to seeing your success with the Hacking Hollywood! Cant wait!

    • Emilie says:

      Nice, David! I agree, the resume is a completely antiquated document. Blogs are the new resume. (Ain’t that rad for us?)

      Are you coming to #WDS by the way? I was just checking out your About page. Your loft space made me think of my Portlandia Puttypad plans re:digital renaissance community… No interest in moving a bit further north, huh? :)

  4. Emilie is in this “unbearable lightness of being herself” matrix. Love this!

    The hard work is work…but I love the indie-guerrilla-self-confident troubadour of polymathematic values and goals.

    I “could learn to play the game / I could learn to run the hustle / If I only had the brains / the money or the muscle” (G Jules). I could try to do it according to the script, but I’d end up hopelessly myself.

    I think your onto something special here. Aslan is astir.

    • Emilie says:

      I wish I could retweet comments. :)

      Thank you, Mark! You’re one renegade prof Mr. Robertson, that’s for sure.

  5. Annie ANdre says:

    Emilie,
    I just want to add that there are ways you be a renegade in the job market going the good old corporate route, if you are crafty about it….Not all people are ready to go the self employed route. I wasn’t for a long while… however, i was able to be a renegade in the corporate world.

    As a renaissance person, scanner or multipotentialite as you like to call it, i’ve been fortunate enough to touch alot of my interests through my jobs.
    After high school, i traveled a lot and even lived in Japan for several years. i went to college and i had a family and decided to take a practial route. The corporate route. That renegade spirit never left me and so i sought different ways to feed my multi talents and interests.

    in 10 corporate years, i’ve held positions in completely different fields. Each time i took my previous skills and thought about what job i wanted and re-fashioned (re-wrote) my resume for the next job i wanted.

    I went from accounting clerk. to foreign exchenge hedger for motorola, to treasury manager, to research manager to marketing analyst, to web traffic optimizer, to ebay power seller to self taught sleeping mask indie designer to blogger. Phew.

    I worked my way up the ladder each time and eventually was making a six figure income. Each time, my interviewers questioned my resume but because i combined my talents under one umbrella (numbers), it was easily explainable.

    I think being self employed is not for everyone. Or sometimes, we are not ready for self employement. so if you want to be a renegade but be practical, you can still go the good old practical route. as you stated in strategy number two :
    Be Proactive, Look for Alternative Strategies and Diversify Your Approaches.
    Look over your resume, what job do you want? And what skills have you mastered or done that you can call out on your resume for you next job that you want.

    Of course, i’m not going corporate anymore, self employment is the way to go for me now. Tomorrow, who knows….

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Annie,

      I agree with you. Self-employment isn’t the only way to be a renegade. I think it’s an empowering route to go though and it’s an option that most people haven’t even considered. They don’t teach much about entrepreneurship in schools… (one of my big beefs with modern day education!) so I do encourage people to at least explore the idea.

      But actually, a TV writer is NOT self-employment. Technically what I’m talking about in this post is landing a salaried position at a company. So.. I obviously don’t think self-employment is the only way to go (sometimes it’s just not an option).

      Your career history is super interesting! I’d love to hear more about it sometime. Where can I find your blog? :)

      • Annie Andre says:

        I totally agree with you. Being entrepreneurial is not taught in school and so you don’t even think it is an option. SO annoying.
        You are so very lucky to have found your calling early on. You are able to do your side hustle. It is very liberating. I make no where near as much money as i used to, but i fell so much more fulfilled that i get to call the shots.

        by the way, my blog is at http://www.AnnieAndre.com
        I pinged you on twitter a week back about meeting up in montreal. we’re leaving montreal for a road trip for the summer on the east coast then who knows. How is your move going?

        • Emilie says:

          Yup yup, I know who you are, Annie. :) For some reason, I just couldn’t load up your site the other day. It’s working now though.

          Road trip.. nice! The east coast is beautiful! My move… Well right now it’s just a lot of work (fun work, but work none-the-less). Trying to get everything done. The move itself? We shall see… I’m sort of taking the “land and see what’s what” approach. :)

  6. Janet says:

    Just found your site and love it. Great resources here. I think that the universe definitely wants us to succeed and be our true selves. That’s why once you’re on the path of self discovery and align your passions with your work, things just *work*.. It’s such a blessing!

    • Emilie says:

      True dat! I’m right there with you, Janet. :)

      Thanks for swinging by. I’ve been to Purple Panda before. It’s awesome!

      • Janet says:

        Aw, thanks Emilie! I just started it so I’m pleasantly surprised that it’s been around the block a bit :) Still looking to make it more awesome! And hope you don’t mind that I stick around (like putty) to your community! I’m needing more multipotentialites and potential collabs in my life! :D

  7. Jason says:

    Cool post! I’m trying to land a new gig right now and this helped congeal the mush that my head has become… in a good and helpful way.

    In regards to the Hollywood/writing thing, I was wondering if you’ve read Tom Lennon and Ben Garant’s (from The State, Viva Variety, Reno 911, and more recently many blockbuster big Hollywood studio movies, as well as some total failures) book, “Writing Movies for fun and profit”? The “fun and” part of the title is crossed out. It is funny, and has some pretty awesome (and similar sounding) advice for writers who want to break into the world of screenwriting big studio movies and making tons of cash. I thought you might dig it.

  8. Jonathan says:

    Sounds like you’re going to do the Jack Black route, & I know that sounds like I’m not giving you any due credit for doing it your own way. Please, bare with me. If you go back & look at when he started appearing in movies it was bit parts. Funny thing is I believe he was friends with John Cusack or a friend of friend knew Cusack. Yet I am looking at the first reply up there & sure enough that method does get some connections & possibly keys to the door. In the end it’s all about unrolling the ball of yarn all the way or cutting through those massive red tape barriers that people & society like to throw up to prevent people who even have a shred of potentially from gaining traction. Thing is, we’re playing on hire level than the red tape makers. For example when they said the DVD would be not be able to be copied, look how long that lasted. Now a burner is standard with almost every computer. It created a new form of media & back up because one person DARED to cut through red tape & lines of code to see what was preventing from being copied. Considering reality TV is currently what attracts almost everyone in TV right now anything that rough could be a quick rush to the top. Fifteen minutes of fame? Anyone. Success is different from fame. Fame can fade, you can continue to build on success. Comparable to an erector set.

  9. John Chang says:

    Coming late to this conversation but just seems like so many connections with what’s been going on in my life..

    Over the past couple of years I’ve worked on over 375 productions – mostly on various TV as background. Meanwhile, I’ve worked on writing teams, spec projects and even shot / edited a friend’s book promo.

    At the same time this wasn’t what I planned on doing with my life – at least that wasn’t my idea in getting an aerospace engineering degree, serving 10 yrs in the Navy, earning my MBA in IT management, helping owners buy / sell businesses, meanwhile diving headfirst into Argentine tango & ending up starting a non-profit..

    Recently, I wrote a Kindle ebook teaching others how to get into field inspection work and developed a 4-week online course. Meanwhile, I’m working on helping local business owners with their online marketing.

    Figuring out how to combine these experiences with my passions for dance, food, travel.. that’s the tricky part.

    Like you, I fell in love with Felicity – but after I discovered J. J. Abrams developed this before Lost and Alias. I totally agree that it had great writing and surprised myself in how much I enjoyed this teen series – long after most folks had forgotten about it.

    So part of me wants to work in a writers room.. but like other multi-potentialite there is the thought of how sitting there day-after-day would drive me crazy.

    My special powers are definitely in keeping an eye on the big picture, making things happen when I share a vision, and just getting things done to make money. Meanwhile, my Kryptonite is marketing and deciding what to focus on when the track is unclear like the Hollywood system.

  10. Maryske says:

    This was a *very* inspiring post. For months I’ve been trying now to get a new job as a teacher, but despite numerous interviews, I haven’t been offered anything yet, and I’m beginning to get a bit edgy for the new school year. Being single, I can’t afford to *not* have a job. But on the other hand, I really don’t want to apply for any teaching job coming up – next to the great experiences I’ve also had a couple of pretty bad ones in this trade, and I’d rather avoid getting stuck in the latter if I can.
    Just the other day I had been contemplating getting a job as a supply teacher in the UK. At the international schools where I prefer to work, experience with the UK curriculum is very often required, and as a supply teacher, I might have a chance of getting some experience with it. But maybe… maybe a flexible job like that will also allow me to finally find ways (alternative or regular) into one or more of the many other fields in which I’m interested.
    Honestly, this is some food for thought. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  11. Christina says:

    OMG, I feel I have just found my long lost family. Just saw your TED talk and was cheering in my kitchen while drinking wine and tossing chicken slices to my dogs. Good Gawd girl, where have you been all my life? I totally get this multipotentialite moniker and I’ll take it. Beautiful. I call myself an ‘artist’ as my umbrella and hope to Hell nobody wants details. Currently I use photography to illustrate my new book, Wildly Human. I’m neither a photographer or a writer. I call myself an Imaginographer. I don’t answer questions about F-stops. I currently do photo-manipulation, have for about 20 years. Always self taught. Zero degrees and have felt like a failure even though I’ve had many successes. Your encapsulation of this personality type is truly a godsend to me. A giant THANK YOU EMILIE!!!! I live a somewhat estranged lifestyle, able to do as I please and see your site as a rent-a-family of blissful support. Well done!

  12. Laura says:

    Thank you for the advice! I have to say I find this path – the self-forged path as you may call it – very stressful. Since my personality is so unpredictable and multi-faced, I find it very reassuring to be in a structured environment where I don’t have to worry about anything else than creating and doing what it is I want to do – all the additionnal work of searching for a company that might be interested in your work, trying to sell it, making contacts is so anxiety-producing and energy-consuming… But this need for a safe environment becomes a great burden as it forces me to choose a career path that will be my “safe spot” for when all else fails. it is hard to choose, and also not very tempting. Ah, the struggles of being a multipotentialite student…

    Sorry for the rent. This is something that’s been on my mind for a while and it feels good to be able to share it with people who understand and probably have more life experience than I do. I hope that as I experience more and more jobs and make my way into the professional world, I will start to see that it is easier than I think to go where I want to go. When you’re still in you 20-something it feels like quite a maze! (and choosing a summer job is ridiculously hard, haha)

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