I landed a highly coveted creative assistant role at Netflix. Here's how I nailed the interview, what the job was like, and how I moved up in Hollywood.
- Sam Gilliland had his heart set on working at Netflix after touring its LA headquarters.
- He used his relationships as an agent's assistant to land an interview.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Samuel Gilliland, a former creative assistant at Netflix. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I worked at Netflix as a department assistant and then creative assistant for two and a half years.
Prior to that, I had worked at ICM Partners, one of the Big Four talent agencies in Hollywood, as a floater (ICM was bought by CAA this year so it's the Big Three now). Floaters are assistants who work in the agency's mailroom, but also cover desks when agents' assistants are absent or away, in the hopes of being hired to a desk themselves.
You try to do a great job on your floats until a desk opens up in a department you want, and then as a current employee with firsthand experience, you're in an advantageous position to apply.
I was then hired to a desk in media rights, which is the agency department that handles rights to books and publications for film and television. It gave me the relevant experience I needed to apply to a creative executive's desk at Netflix.
When I first started looking into how to get a creative job at Netflix, I heard that you don't get to Netflix as a first desk. Netflix is usually someone's second or third job — you have to work your way into a company like that, unless you're deeply connected, which is always a thing because relationships are a part of this game, too.
The agency route worked for me to get that experience, but another angle outside of that would be to work with a showrunner, a writer, or producer at a production company for a year. Once you have that experience, then when a desk opens up at Netflix, you put your hat in the ring and hopefully get interviewed.
I landed the Netflix interview through a connection
One of the assistants I had a great relationship with left ICM for a job at Netflix as one of its first floaters. He was helping expand Netflix's floater team, which is now called the department assistant team. He knew that another assistant and I were looking for our next opportunity.
We all went to lunch together one day, and afterward he took us over to the Netflix offices for a tour. I was enchanted by the beauty of the office, and the energy of the place. From then on, I was determined to make Netflix my next step. Luckily, I was already friends with a person who could help.
The interview felt like a vibe check
Through my friend's referral, I landed an interview. There were three back-to-back panels for the role of department assistant. They're all HR specialists, and they asked about assistant tasks. There are people who are good at calls and handling the craziness of a busy desk, and there are people who aren't good at it. I think that their questions were more about sussing that out.
The interviewers are really staunch advocates of their work culture, so they're really looking out for the Netflix culture values. A lot of the questions are meant to pick up on how you show these values, without directly stating 'courage' or 'curiosity' or any of the other traits that Netflix prioritizes.
The interview itself was very conversational — the panel is very good at what it does. To me, it felt like a vibe check. At the end of the day, this industry is very vibey — it's all about who you want to work with daily, and if the candidate can handle stress and be flexible.
The panel asked me to tell a story about how I handled a stressful situation — specifically on my agency desk. I talked about how I floated for an agent for a week, and it was the longest week of my life. It was really, really terrible. One day, the agent was really laying into me — for just breathing, basically. But I was able to talk about how much I learned from it. You never frame those experiences like, "Oh, he was a terrible person and I'd never work with him again."
I suggested that maybe our communication styles weren't a great match at the time, and I remember hearing afterward that my response was good. Having a positive outlook was a big part of being able to emphasize growth. The whole role of an assistant is about what you'll learn and then how you'll grow. So I think that's what they were checking.
There are a lot of egos in Hollywood, and the HR recruiters were probably examining that element the most.
The majority of the tasks as a floater is administrative
I got hired on the department assistant team along with another assistant from ICM. This team was really new and growing, and Netflix was still figuring out what it was and what it was going to be. There were a lot of growing pains that came with that, but it was also really cool because we got to make it our own.
Most of my teammates were assistants from agencies, and obviously all of us want to work on content desks. But now I think the general thinking is that they also want to have people who are interested in the company as a whole — who want to get into real estate, or marketing, or something beyond the creative team.
The responsibilities of being a department assistant were similar to being a floater at ICM. You float around the entire company — maybe a Business Affairs desk here, a politics desk there; but for the most part, the departments you work with are unscripted, music, TV, and film.
Some floats are longer. I floated on the content strategy and analytics desk for about three months. I was on the real estate team for about a week. You get to see every angle of a company as big as Netflix when you work as a department assistant.
The lion's share of the job is answering emails, rolling calls, and scheduling. The responsibilities can range from those things, to booking travel, and a lot of short notice tasks as well, because of how fast paced the industry is.
It's a lot of being on your toes at all times and being aware. I would say that as a department assistant, the tasks are even more administrative than having your own desk, because you only join a new team for a short time and you don't have the full context for the work being done.
I finally landed on a comedy series team through networking within the company
After a year and a half of floating as a department assistant, one of the creative assistants was leaving the comedy series team and I threw my hat into the ring for that opening. Shortly after being hired to Netflix, I had reached out to the person in that role and said, "Hey, you're on the comedy series team, I'd love to talk to you. Can you just tell me about what that's like?" The person that I talked to was a great individual. Because of that relationship, she let me know when she was leaving, and I was one of the first people that she told.
I was invited to interview for the desk and was hired as an assistant on the comedy series team. Once I was officially on a desk in content, even though it was still administrative, I was able to work on projects as well. I read scripts, looked at cuts that came in, and gave notes. I got to participate in team conversations, and talk about company philosophy as it relates to content.
As an assistant, your projects are still secondary to the administrative tasks, but having the opportunity to do these things is how you grow and eventually advance. I worked on that desk for about six months, before my boss left Netflix to accept an opportunity at another company, and invited me to go with her.
My story of getting a job at Netflix is an exemplification of relationships and how important they are in the industry. But it's also about being able to exhibit great social skills. This whole gig and this whole entertainment world is very rooted in that.
At the end of the day, all you're doing is talking to people, and usually about the things that you like and what you want to do. It's always about talking to people, because behind any show, there's a lot of people involved in the process; so you really have to get the social skills down to make it.
If you work in Hollywood and would like to share your story, email Eboni Boykin-Patterson at email@example.com.
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