This week’s mentor, Jennifer Njoku, is working as a production assistant at Warner Brothers. Her stories and tips are revealing and genuinely helpful for those of you who haven’t even got your foot in the door yet. Whether you want to be a production assistant or not, Jennifer shares some brilliant insights into why you need to be your own promoter. Great mentors not only tell us what to do, but what their challenges and lessons from them were. Read on for an edited and condensed version of my conversation with Jennifer- on how she cam to kill it on the entertainment circuit.
At the moment, Jennifer is working as an Art Production Assistant for Warner Brothers, set to work on the upcoming SCOOB! movie. Go Jennifer! But her journey to this spot was far from perfect. Take solace from the fact that her challenges only served to help her get to her spot, and her career path has been littered with lessons she’s learned. These have now been transcribed into lessons shared.
Jennifer starts her story at the beginning. “Immediately after graduating, I knew that I wanted to work in the Entertainment industry. I submitted countless applications to all of the major studios, went to a handful of interviews which didn’t lead to anywhere.” Jennifer then tried her hand at networking, which, as for most people wasn’t her favourite thing to do. After no success cold calling, she started to turn to people she knew: “I started to look to the people around me for any connections they may have.”
Eventually, one of her sister’s coworkers set up a meeting with someone that worked at Warner Bros. “They were impressed with me and then recommended me for a job within the company. I went on an interview and eventually didn’t get the position.”
However, rather than stay downhearted, she reached out again a few months later. “I was then recommended for another interview which then lead me into my current job. I got into my field by not being afraid to ask for help, using the network around me (you never know who knows who), and being persistent to get my name put forward (but not annoying).” “I had to learn the hard way that you can’t always do everything yourself, especially breaking into a new industry with little to no direct experience. I had to learn not to be afraid to ask for help and that most of the time, people do want to help you!”
Importantly, Jennifer never gave up. Even after countless rejections before her interview with Warner Brothers. “The hardest part of breaking into the industry was staying motivated – it is incredibly discouraging to continue submitting applications and having no-one recognize your potential and all the effort you would put into the role. It is tough when you don’t know any-one who can directly recommend you either.”
For this reason, finding someone to recommend you is vital, “I think one of the hardest things about breaking into any industry is finding people who can recommend and root for you. I’ve noticed that people only hire people that they can trust to do a good job – which is why people who are personally recommended often get jobs.” Hard pill to swallow then, but it seems nepotism is still as strong as ever.
But I hate Networking and I don’t know anyone to recommend me! Jennifer acknowledges this but offers her support: “Networking used to be the most daunting thing for me but now that I have worked in the industry and established confidence in my skills – it has become easier for me. I’ve learned that it is a necessary part of the job and it really isn’t that hard – just be nice to those you interact with, stay positive, and follow up whenever you can!”
Jennifer’s Networking 101? “Reaching out to people, politely following up, and paying thanks to those who help is the best way to keep people in your network. They will all be motivated to see you succeed.
One of the most unobvious thing about her industry is the importance of navigating personalities. “People are different and have different things that tick them off, or different expectations of you. You really have to learn how to recognize their patterns and get round them to not let the job get the best of you.”
An out of industry secret to doing what I do is making sure to not let work become your entire life – always do your best to have a social life/hobbies outside of work or else you can find yourself drowning in your job because it becomes your entire life.
When asked about what she wished the path into her industry was like, she spoke candidly about the difficulty of the culture. “I wish that people who don’t necessarily have all of the required experience would have a better chance at finding work in this industry. It can be very hard to find someone who “vouches” for you. There is so much lost potential in this industry because it’s so highly dominated by “man know man” hiring. It’s likely that those who don’t have someone to recommend them because they are new in the industry will work harder an adapt quickly.
It doesn’t even involve looking too far to find people who will vouch for you. “My sister taught me how to pitch myself to others from a young age. She taught be how to be a professional and was always there to give me guidance throughout every part of my career.” Not just professional support, Jennifer’s sister let her know she believed in her. “She never let me get down on myself when I was having trouble finding a job that I wanted.”
Positivity shines through as perhaps one of the most important lessons: “If you work hard and never lose faith in your abilities, you will achieve great things.”
Telling yourself that you can do this is a great mantra, and a habit to pep yourself. Jennifer laughs that, she’s “lost count [of how many times she says “I can do this”] Honestly, I still say this to myself to this day. If I were to give a number [of how many times I say it]- it would be in the hundreds!
For Jennifer, the path was difficult and if she was 16 again she would have chosen a different tack. “I would have focused on producing my own content instead of working so hard to try to get a major studio to notice me, and then land a PA job. Both paths would potentially lead to the same place but one would have been more fulfilling and would have allowed for more personal growth.”
So, for those of you who want to be creative being a PA might be for you; there are lots of opportunities for growth. “Being a PA allows me to get insight into so many different career paths that I never knew existed. I don’t have to follow some strict guideline or career bubble, as everyone that I work with has achieved their goals in so many different ways.”
There you go. Meet people, exchange details and don’t be afraid to use the connections you have. It can be scary, but it seems if everyone else is doing it… you’ve got to put yourself first too.
A few quickies…
What is your daily habit that you swear by to get shit done?
To be honest, my daily trends often differ. One thing that I try to do that has helped me is drinking a warm cup of lemon water every morning – it makes me feel invincible! 🙂
What do you think all mentors should do?
All mentors should be available and comfortable sharing their personal stories, successes and failures alike. I find that being transparent about your own struggles working in the industry is incredibly helpful for those that are just starting out. It gives them a sense of direction, helps them avoid making similar mistakes, and provides them with invaluable experience in navigating an industry that would otherwise be daunting.
Do you offer mentor services?
I always make it a point to be available to anyone who asks me for help, advice, or just needs someone to help get their foot in the door. I know how hard it was for me to get where I am – so I’m always happy to share my story to those who need it.
What do you think all mentees should do to get the most out of their mentor?
Be honest, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and always be respectful! Share details about yourself and your goals and past experiences, this helps your mentor find ways to relate to you and allows them to give you better advice! It isn’t a one way relationship – your mentor can definitely learn things about themselves through you as well!
What three books/ podcasts would you recommend for someone looking to break into your industry?
“The Ride of A Lifetime” by Bob Iger, basically any podcast created by a comedian, and “Becoming” by Michelle Obama. All of these options teach the public how to be confident despite having limited experience, how to persevere despite rejection, and how to feel reassured in their potential for greatness.
What should someone spend money on, and what shouldn’t they?
Definitely spend money on the things that make you happy over material things. Experiences are worth it because of the memories that stay with you throughout your life. Only buy material things if they help your personal or professional development. For example, you shouldn’t feel bad about buying that new Iphone or camera if you’re going to use it for marketing yourself!