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Posts tagged ‘arts management’

LeanIn.org Unpaid Interns Controversy: Interns are not Volunteers

Several people have asked for my thoughts on the LeanIn.org unpaid internship controversy.  I love Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, a compelling look at ambitious women in the workforce and the factors that have traditionally kept us out of the highest-paid and most senior-level positions.

I also run the internship program at the nonprofit Center Theatre Group, where all of our internships must be taken for credit or are compensated with a stipend.

Here’s what Rachel Thomas, LeanIn.org’s President, had to say via Facebook after a job posting for an ‘unpaid internship’ at the organization started making the rounds:

Like many nonprofits, LeanIn.Org has attracted volunteers who are passionate about our mission. We’ve had four students ask to volunteer with us. They worked flexibly when they could, and often remotely.

These volunteers helped support our message and community, and gained valuable experience doing so. They did not displace or delay the hiring of paid employees. The posting that prompted this discussion was for a position that doesn’t fall within LeanIn.Org’s definition of a “volunteer.”

This non-apology is so strangely written that it’s hard for me to know where to start.

Here’s the main thing I take from it, and it’s actually pretty disturbing:

LeanIn.org is using ‘intern’ and ‘volunteer’ interchangeably.  Thomas, speaking on behalf of her organization, is confusing two distinct categories.

This comes immediately after this patronizing intro:

“We recognize there is an ongoing public debate on the appropriate use of unpaid interns. So we want to share the facts with you and our community.” 

This word, “fact?”  And “intern?”  And “volunteer?”

You keep using these words.

I do not think they mean what you think they mean.

Ms. Thomas, nonprofit volunteers do not need to “gain valuable experience,” and they can and often do “displace or delay hiring of employees.”

That language refers to the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA’s) criteria for internships. 

Here are some basic differences between the two categories:

  • Internships are training programs, and the “training must be for the benefit of the trainee,” to quote the FLSA. In fact, “The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded.”  Read: they are not cheap or free labor.
  • Internship learning experiences must include close observation (mentorship), so working remotely is not a good indication that you have provided a rewarding internship experience.
  • Volunteers, conversely, usually do work that directly benefits the nonprofit.  They do not need to be mentored, do not need to be trained, and can be utilized in lieu of paid, regular employees.

There are many blog posts and web resources that go into the differences between volunteers and interns at length.  For example, this excellent Blue Avocado article spells out additional best practices and quotes relevant parts of the FLSA.

In a nonprofit setting, it can be difficult to ensure internships are crafted to not only fulfill legal requirements, but also to serve the best interests of each intern.

Much of my job running CTG’s internship program involves saying no.  I say no to supervisors who want their interns to work “as much as possible,” and to interns who are so happy to be involved that they try to expand their 10 hour/week stipend position into 20 or 30 hours.

Here’s what I say to them:

The internship is for the benefit of the intern.  It is a learning experience, not free labor.  If your department needs help with basic tasks such as stuffing envelopes, filing, or data entry, I empathize and suggest you think about getting a regular volunteer to help.

Because volunteers are different. Outside of CTG, I am on the staff of an all-volunteer small theatre company, Circle X Theatre Co.  As a volunteer, I can do whatever I want, and whatever is needed, for as many hours a week as I care to give.  I clean bathrooms.  I stuff envelopes.  I do hours of data entry.  It’s my choice as a volunteer, and I’m doing it to help the nonprofit organization, not for a learning or career benefit.  Right now, Circle X has a (paid) summer intern, and she will not be cleaning toilets.  The internship.  Is for the benefit.  Of the intern.

And to the interns: this is bigger than you, so no, I will not make an exception and let you work full-time.  Up until a few years ago, CTG almost exclusively took interns from a large, local private university with very high tuition.  As the program has opened up, we’re starting to see more people from public schools, including the two-year community colleges near our organization.  The reason our positions are designed to be super part-time (10 to 16 hours a week for undergraduates, with the schedule built around the intern’s) is the stipend amounts we have available are quite low ($500 – $700 for ten weeks).  They’re designed to allow a student to also hold a part-time job that pays the bills.

I do not want lack of economic privilege to be a barrier to participation in this workforce development program.  When we raise the stipends for these time-bound educational opportunities to a living wage, we can increase weekly hours.  Programs such as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s FAIR pay interns $1,000/month and provide housing.  When CTG is able to do that, we will absolutely create additional opportunities, likely full-time, 10-week summer internships.

I don’t foresee a time when we would extend those opportunities beyond 13 or 14 weeks, though; the point of an internship is to train & release, allowing the intern to ‘lean in’ to the next career opportunity.

The more I think about LeanIn.org’s posting and strange response, the more it seems indicative of the widespread misunderstanding of the role of interns in the nonprofit sector.  We have a pressing need for workforce development, especially career training opportunities accessible to young people of color (research suggests that executive nonprofit leaders AND current students in nonprofit management Masters programs are 80-90% white) and people without economic privilege.

Unpaid internships and the increasing number of low-paying nonprofit management jobs that require Masters degrees can price people out of nonprofit management careers.  Humane, student-focused, and compensated internships introduce emerging professionals to the field and can provide a leg up in the competitive nonprofit landscape.

Lean In talks about the importance of equity– and of recognizing when systems are inherently inequitable.  The best thing for Thomas, Sandberg and the LeanIn.org organization to do would be to use this opportunity to clarify the roles of interns vs. volunteers, apologize, and vow to do better.

Unfortunately, it looks like they’re trying to justify their bias by manipulating language, defending their actions, and refusing to admit fault.

Which sounds a lot like the tactics that keep women out of top-level, high-paying positions.

I’ll end with some quotations from Lean In:

“We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.”

“The promise of equality is not the same as true equality.”

“Larry implored us to exert more control over our careers. He said McKinsey would never stop making demands on our time, so it was up to us to decide what we were willing to do. It was our responsibility to draw the line.”

“I feel really grateful to the people who encouraged me and helped me develop. Nobody can succeed on their own.”

Here’s hoping Sandberg will take her advice, and provide equal and accessible opportunities for training and mentorship within her own organization.

No One is Going to Kickstart Your Career (Except You)

Ashton Kutcher’s 2013 Teen Choice Awards acceptance speech is making the rounds on Facebook, and for good reason: Kutcher takes the opportunity to talk about the value of hard work, creating your own opportunities, and acknowledging your power to shape your life.

It made me think about my experiences working with teens and young adults.  I love it.  I love them.  They make me proud and give me hope that the future will be better than the present.

But there’s one thing that makes me cringe: their tendency to ask other people to help pay for what they want to do.

This is especially prevalent among theatre and arts students, as summer programs, arts schools, and classes can be extremely expensive.  I remember feeling that combination of excitement (I got into this amazing program!) and dread (how the heck am I going to pay for this?).  Had Kickstarter or IndieGoGo existed when I was a teenager, I would have jumped on the bandwagon and asked friends and family to help pay for my education, my travel, even my move to LA after graduation.

I am so glad these options didn’t exist.

Now, a lot more has changed since the early 2000s than the availability of online fundraising platforms.  The economy has tanked while the cost of education continues to rise.  In the arts and arts management fields, having a Masters degree has become more and more of a necessity for many jobs.  I would argue it’s more difficult to be a young adult in 2013 than it was in 2002.

That said, here’s what always comes to mind when I see these Kickstarter requests.  First, I picture myself at 17 or 18, big with the sense of my own talent and intelligence.  And I think:

There is only one person in the world in charge of your success.

Your parents do not owe you anything, nor do your relatives (even if they have money).

Your friends love you, but they do not need to help pay for your cat’s surgery, for your trip to Europe, or for the summer arts program that will change your life.  And it will change your life.  Your life.

See, the difference between a charity asking for money to bring joy or reduce pain, or an artist asking for money to create an art product that will be enjoyed by others, is that your ask is fundamentally about you: your growth and development as a person, an artist, a citizen.

Asking for people to fund your life makes you a product.  It crowd-funds you away from the driver’s seat.

If you are waiting for other people to make your dreams come true, doesn’t that feel just a little scary?  It takes away the certainty– I will succeed, no matter what– and adds a conditional– I will succeed, if other people come through and help me do so.

It also– and here I’m really speaking to 17-year-old-me– presumes that you are worthy of being funded, just for being you.

Millennials already have to fight against our “Trophy Generation” perception and older generations’ complaints about our overdeveloped sense of entitlement.  Just Google “millennial entitlement” or “Trophy Generation” and you’ll see litany after get-off-my-lawn litany about people born in the past 30 years.

You are entitled to a damn good life and a successful career.  You get those things by believing in yourself and fighting for them.  Even if you do get people to pay for your education, your travel, your unexpected expenses, eventually those opportunities will fall away and you will be standing alone on the merits of your accomplishments.  If your college resume shows no work experience or volunteer service, every accolade in the world won’t get you a job.

Before you set up that Kickstarter, ask:

1. Am I doing everything in my power to make this opportunity happen? I see many students fundraising for opportunities while also posting about how boring their summer is.  Are you working?  First jobs suck.  Second jobs suck.  But they can make a little money, and show you’re serious about getting what you want.  This summer, I saw nearly a dozen young people post Kickstarters.  I saw one person post about needing a job to raise money for college.  Guess which person I helped?  Also: guess which one was most successful?  That student is on his way to an excellent school, with two flexible jobs, and will not need to take out loans for his first year.

2. Does this experience benefit others, or only me?  If you’re creating art, doing volunteer work or community service, or generally helping others, please ask your network to support you.  If the experience solely benefits you, see #1.  If you are doing everything you can and are trying to close the gap, make that clear.

PS: You, as a person, are not art.  Even if you’re planning to write about your trip or become a better actor through the experience, solely being you is not a reason for people to pay for you to do so.  I don’t care how talented you are. Here’s the beautiful and terrible part about being an artist: someone is always better at it than you are.  If they’re working harder, you’re fucked.

So work harder, be kinder, embrace humility, and know that the power to be successful is in your– and only your– hands.

And paradoxically, that’s when people will go out of their way to help you succeed.

Five Tips for Applying for Internships and Entry-Level Positions in Arts Management

(Originally posted on ARTSblog, accessible here.)

Rambling ten-page resumes. Headshots submitted for management positions. Cover letters written in one big, messy paragraph in the body of an email. And one resume that was somehow, inexplicably, saved as a series of stream-of-consciousness bullet points in an .RTF file.

I coordinate the internship program at Los Angeles’ Center Theatre Group (CTG), one of the largest—and most prestigious—theatres in the country. These are just a few of the bizarre, sad, and shockingly common application faux pas I saw in our last application cycle.

Most undergraduates aren’t introduced to career options in arts administration within an academic context. An internship can provide an excellent introduction to the field. Many of the applicants I see are undergraduate theatre or acting majors, curious about career options in the discipline they love.

And many of them are woefully unequipped to apply for any job.

It’s tempting to fault schools for this lack of preparation. However, nearly every two-year and four-year college or university has a career center with free services. I’m also a big fan of personal responsibility.

So hey, arts major. Here are five tips for applying to internships or entry-level jobs in arts management.

Assume the position is extremely competitive. Actors, have you ever walked into an audition and seen 40 people waiting to try out for the same role? That’s what’s happening virtually when you apply for an internship. In my experience both at CTG and for very small arts organizations, it’s common to receive dozens of strong applications for a single paid internship. Hot entry-level jobs in arts management can attract hundreds of applicants. I say this not to discourage you from applying, but to discourage you from applying with sub-par materials. Which brings me to…

Write a new cover letter for each application. Talk about why you’re interested in the position, why you would be a good fit, and, if it’s an internship, what you hope to learn that will benefit your career. Research the organization, the supervisor, and the position. I can’t tell you how many applicants for development (i.e., fundraising) internships talk about how much they love script development. Cool, man. I love avocados.

Formatting matters, both for your resume and your cover letter. Visit a career center, or look at examples of resumes and cover letters online. I don’t care if your letter is block or semi-block. Here’s what I’m looking for: Does it look professional? Can I find your basic information? Does it reflect you, or did you plug your name into a template you bought online? Am I confident you will be able to write an email to a patron or send a thank-you letter to a donor without embarrassing my organization?

Follow the instructions. Our internships require a cover letter, resume, and a PDF application, all emailed to me as attachments. This is clearly stated on our materials. Almost 25% of applicants do not do this correctly. The most common errors are letters written in the body of the email, blank PDFs, and applications from people who are ineligible. The first two look sloppy. The third—the “will you make an exception?” application—is worse.

Look, internships and entry-level positions are designed for people without a lot of experience. Let’s say I were to let someone who’s been out of school for four years and has held several marketing positions have an undergraduate-level marketing internship. To quote South Park, you’re gonna have a bad time. I understand it’s rough out there, but when I see someone grossly overqualified I assume they’re either going to be miserable, or they’ll quit after two months when they find a full-time position. Think about whether you’re going to be happy in a position before wasting time applying.

Be honest about your goals and experience. The cover letter says: “I have always been passionate about theatre.” The resume lists internships in galleries, involvement with mural organizations, and a pending BA in Fine Arts, with no mention of theatre. Regardless of the applicant’s intent, she looks like a liar. We’re going to notice discrepancies between past experience and the focus of your application. This also goes for unexplained gaps on your resume, no work experience, or academic issues. We’re going to see it, so make it a part of your story.

She could have said: “I’m currently pursuing a career in visual arts marketing. However, this semester I helped with a friend’s theatre production, and realized I was interested in performing arts marketing as well.” If that’s true, that moves her out of the “not a good fit” pile to the “makes a good case for herself” pile. If it’s not true and we hire her based on it, well…she’s gonna have a bad time.

There’s a common thread in these five tips. Submit targeted, professional materials and think critically about whether you’re passionate about the position and a good fit before applying.

These tips come solely from my experience overseeing application processes for about forty internships and entry-level positions, and reading approximately eight hundred applications in the process. I welcome additional thoughts or disagreement in the comments.

And I look forward to receiving your application.

Selfish/Selfless: Why Saying “No” Might be the Right Thing for Your Career

(Originally posted on RAWartists’ I am Indie blog, accessible here.)

I love my career. At 28, I have a job I love as the Educational Programs Manager at Center Theatre Group. I also serve as the volunteer Director of Development for Circle X Theatre Co. In late 2010, I joined the national Emerging Leader Council through Americans for the Arts, and have Co-Chaired the council for the past year.

Everything is great, but then I try to balance one– more– spinning– plate– like agreeing to help with a friend’s really cool art project, or assisting with the coordination of a local conference.

And all of those things are great too. That’s the hard part. Because as much as I want to do them, sometimes taking on one additional project is what pushes my life from awesomely fulfilling to overwhelming and stressful.

I am a strong proponent of volunteering for events or projects within the community where you want to work, whether that’s geographic or discipline-based. In 2005, I started volunteering within the Los Angeles theatre community, and it helped me find my creative home and hone the management skills I’d use to build my career. Hours spent behind check-in tables continue to pay dividends; at a recent Los Angeles County Arts Commission grantee event, the Circle X board member I’d arrived with was impressed that I seemed to know everyone in the room. Becoming this kind of ‘known quantity’ did not happen overnight. I have been successful as an arts manager because I say yes to things, and then do them. (That last part is the important bit.) I like being someone my colleagues reach out to when they need a reliable, organized person who gets stuff done.

To say no to an opportunity seems anathema to how I’ve carved a niche for myself in the LA theatre management scene. Eventually, though, I need to become more strategic about saying yes to things.

How do you know when you’ve reached the point in your career when it’s okay to politely decline a high-profile, but potentially high-stress, request?

I think the key lies in selfishness. This can be a dirty word for artists and arts managers used to valuing collaboration, putting the group above the individual, and ensemble creation– all hallmarks of theatre and many other disciplines, too. But each member of an ensemble is still an individual, and that individual’s physical and emotional health has a major impact on the success of the group.

I love cooking, and curating a career and artistic life seems much like improvising a new recipe. I know I want to include family, my job at CTG and my volunteer gig at Circle X. That leaves room for perhaps one or two more flavors each month. One month maybe it’s a mentorship opportunity; the next, helping a colleague produce an event.

Just as in cooking, though, adding everything to that recipe spoils the balance and detracts from the quality of the individual elements.

We emerging artists and arts leaders need to honor that balance by saying no, even when our gut reaction is yes. It’s a skill that will become increasingly important as we become leaders of our field. We– I– need to trust that opportunities will continue to come, and giving 100% to the projects we take on is more important than spreading ourselves too thin by trying to take on the world.

Why I Lost a Year of Payments: A Post on PSLF

Masters graduation, or, the day repayment began.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program is a giant carrot for those of us stressing about the discrepancy between low nonprofit salaries and high student debt from Masters programs.

Unfortunately, a small mistake cost me a year’s worth of payments toward this program.  Hopefully my post will prevent others from making the same mistake.

The PSLF, in brief: if you prepare your loans a certain way and make 120 on-time, in-full payments after graduation while employed full-time at a qualifying nonprofit organization, the remainder of your student loan debt is forgiven.

120 on-time payments translates to 10 years.  If you take a break from nonprofits and then come back to the field, your eligible payments pick back up at the time you go back to full-time employment at a 501(c)(3).  There are quite a few other areas of employment that are eligible, such as public education, government and military service.

I’ve told many interns and young professionals about PSLF when they express doubts about whether a Masters degree is ‘worth it’ in a field where any job with health insurance is considered a sweet gig.

Now that I’m in my late 20s, I’m starting to see friends leaving the field because they don’t feel like they will ever have the quality of life they want while still working in the nonprofit sector.  And these are friends with Masters degrees!  It’s a field you go into because you love it, but if your monthly loan payment tops $500 and you know you can do the same job and double your salary just by switching from 501(c)(3) to for-profit, well… it’s tempting.  I’m grateful for the program, which is allowing me to stay in a field where my salary isn’t anywhere near my student loan debt (and I have a GREAT job).

So THANK YOU for the PSLF.  Now let me try to explain how I messed it up so other people won’t do it too.

I graduated in May 2011, and immediately did what I thought I had to do to make myself eligible for the program.

I followed the steps outlined in sites such as FinAid and IBRinfo.  First, I consolidated my loans.  When you come out of an undergraduate or graduate program, you usually have separate loans for each semester.  If you have both subsidized and unsubsidized loans, you could have multiple loans even within a single semester.

To make things more complicated, loans can be sold to various entities, so if you were to pay them separately without consolidation you could be sending money to a laundry list of banks, private lenders, and other institutions.

So I read the directions multiple times and consolidated my loans into a Federal Direct Consolidation Loan.  This part was correct.

In January of 2012, the Federal government released an employment certification form, instructions and a Dear Borrower Letter.  This was the first time you could officially sign up for PSLF, although qualifying payments made as early as October 2007 would count toward a borrower’s 120-payment term.  It’s recommended that you file them annually and/or when you switch jobs, just to be sure everything’s in order.  However, you don’t technically need to file until you’re ready to get the rest of your money back.

However, I saw the forms as insurance against any mistakes, and filed them in March.  In June, I got a letter that confirmed I was eligible for PSLF.  My employer counted, my consolidated loans counted, and I had 0 payments toward my 120.

Hold up.

I’d been paying into this for a year.  Why zero?  How did I lose a year’s worth of payments (which totaled over $5,400)?

My mistake: I put myself on the wrong repayment plan.  Since I discovered this, three friends have found out they did exactly the same thing.  Because it’s freaking confusing.

Here’s the explanation I discovered after multiple phone calls to FedLoan Servicing, who seem to be still wrapping their heads around this as well.

The repayment plans that count toward PSLF are income-based repayment (IBR), income contingent repayment, (ICR), and Standard repayment– only if the Standard repayment plan you’re on is the ten-year plan.

Catch that?  The ONLY Standard plan that counts is the one where you pay off your loans in ten years.

Well… yeah, no shit.  That means you’d be done paying them off at exactly the time when the PSLF kicks in.  Actually, FinAid clarifies why they even mention Standard loans:

If a borrower were to use only standard repayment for repaying their loans there would be no balance remaining after 10 years and so no debt to cancel. Standard repayment is only provided as an option to address situations when a borrower is unable to continue under income-based repayment because they no longer have a partial financial hardship and the payments under income-contingent repayment exceed standard repayment. In such a situation the borrower would use standard repayment for the remaining payments and obtain some loan forgiveness at the end of the ten years of payments.  (Click here to read more)

Okay, fair enough.  So Standard repayment plans only apply to people who have been paying into the IBR or ICR, get a great gig (still in an eligible organization), and no longer qualify for IBR or ICR.  They finish out their ten years on the Standard plan and still, hopefully, get a little back.

But I– and at least three of my friends– signed up for a different Standard repayment plan, one that’s on a 25-year time frame, and therefore have not made any eligible payments since graduation.

I feel lucky that I caught this after only a year.  One friend had been making his on-time, in-full payments for four and a half years, and thus thought he was almost halfway to forgiveness.  Unfortunately, you can’t do anything to make up for time lost.

My next step is to apply for Income-Based Repayment, which you also have to apply for every year to remain eligible (the more you know!).  It looks like this may actually lower my payments, as my husband is now a full-time student so our household income is pretty low.

I highly recommend that anyone interested in this program submit that employment certification form and make sure you’re doing everything right.

If you have more tips or advice, please leave it in the comments!

Nonprofit Rockstars, EXCELLENCE and a Chinchilla

(cross-posted from Emerging Arts Leaders/LA)

“I kept looking around and wondering: Do I belong here?  Do I want to belong here?  I mean… What if I don’t want to be a nonprofit rockstar?”

The question hit me hard.  I was leading an informal roundtable on work/life balance at the Americans for the Arts Convention, and a young mother was talking to me about her experience at the Emerging Leader Pre-Conference.

She was referencing the second of two mind-blowingly awesome sessions by Rosetta Thurman, a 29-year-old writer and career coach who co-authored How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar: 50 Ways to Accelerate Your Career  with Trista Harris, Executive Director of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice. In the session, Rosetta led us through the seven tenets of the book, including Developing Expertise and Practicing Authentic Leadership.  You’ll have to buy it to find out the other five.  I did buy it, marking the first time I’ve purchased a speaker’s book immediately after leaving a session.

There’s something weird about being in a room filled with really, really motivated young people.  This was a room with the future head of the National Endowment for the Arts, the next Artistic Director of Actors Theatre of Louisville, the budding arts manager who will re-envision the museum-going experience for the 21st century.

And then there’s me.

At least, that’s always where my brain goes.  Not in a good way—more of a “Why am I here and why am I in a suit?” way.  As you’ll find out if you spend more than five minutes with me, I’m from a town of about 600 people in rural northern California.  I think that’s part of the reason I never feel comfortable in my business gear, and why my redneck accent creeps back every time I’m in one of these go-getter, emerging leader, nonprofit rockstar rooms.  It’s a not-so-subconscious act of rebellion against a lifestyle I’m afraid I’ll slip into, the kind where I’m still at my desk at 8pm while my husband microwaves a pizza and my friends go to happy hour without me.

The young woman now sitting at my table had two small children waiting for her at home.  She said, “I sat there listening to the importance of networking, self-promotion, building my online reputation, and all I could think about were my sons.  I don’t know that I can do those things and still make my family my priority.”

I think we had both missed something important.

When I went to Rosetta Thurman’s book signing, she surprised me with how soft-spoken and shy she seemed.  Her first session at the Emerging Leader Pre-Conference focused on crafting a personal mission statement based on your values; she used a photo of her grandmother to illustrate her own top value, family.  She talked about being true to yourself and seeking what feeds you.

And then I—and the young mother—went to lunch, forgot everything Rosetta said, came back to the next session and chose to feel inadequate and anxious in a room filled with smart, motivated people.  When Rosetta asked someone to share what he wanted people to see as his #1 trait, he said “EXCELLENCE” with such conviction that I felt like going back to my room and finding the Hoarders marathon that is always available on hotel TVs.

I firmly believe everyone was miserable in middle school.  This is something I wish I’d realized at the time, as it would have made it easier to empathize with the other miserable little wet rats trudging the halls at Scott Valley Junior High.

Here’s my attempt to share a similar belief that might make us all a little more honest at leadership convenings.  I believe everyone in the room—even (or especially) “EXCELLENCE” guy—has that moment of self-doubt.  For some of us, it leads to posturing or defensiveness.  For others, it feeds into a pattern of perfectionism that points toward chronic stress and early burnout.

Take it easy, guys.

I like you all and it breaks my heart to see so many amazing arts managers leaving the field at 30 or 35 because they’re tired and they want to have a family.  You don’t have to walk around with your hand outstretched, business cards at the ready, to be a stellar arts leader.  You can live a mindful, meaningful life, and those around you will see and appreciate this.  I have a strong feeling Rosetta would agree.

My heroes are not the executive directors who spend 70 hours a week behind a desk.  They’re the funny, irreverent women leaders who turn off their computers and go home to their families or a large glass of wine.  My hope is to have a fulfilling life that includes children, plenty of time with my brilliant husband, and a career I love, not to achieve a certain level of greatness or storm the Kennedy Center.  Also I would like a chinchilla.  And a yard with some vegetables and a hammock.  These are not lofty goals but they’re far more important to me than what my title is.  That’s not to say I don’t work my butt off at the office—but I also commit to my relationship, my volunteer life, and watching every episode of Fashion Star.

We all belong in the room.  We are smart and passionate and we are all leaders, regardless of where we lead.

I will see all of you at the 2030 AFTA convention.  So turn off your freaking computer and go home.

Camille Schenkkan is the Educational Programs Manager at Center Theatre Group.  She is also the volunteer Development Director for Circle X Theatre Company, sits on the Advisory Board for Emerging Arts Leaders/LA, and is the current Co-Chair of the National Emerging Leader Council.  She spends a lot of time annoying her two rabbits, Eeyore and Bumblebee, and watching bad television with her husband, Zack.

Video Blog for ArtJob.org: Using Your Skillz

I get to curate the Blogs and Success Stories for ArtJob.org.   After putting it off for a few months, I did a video blog for the site.

The whole new technology/web tools specialization was something I fell into after a brief stint as the Copywriter at Wicked Temptations (click at your own risk, Sparky), an online lingerie retailer.

Also, video blogging makes me feel like a tool.

What Happens to a Job Application

This is another blog written for arts management job seekers.  It was originally published on ArtJob.

I believe the best way to become a better job applicant is to be in charge of a hiring process. The more applications you read, the better you understand what gets a cover letter noticed and what puts an application straight into the No pile.

This is my seventh consecutive year reading applications for a summer internship through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission’s Arts Internship Program. Last year, my organization, Circle X Theatre Co., received eighty applications for one paid, ten-week internship. This year, we’re on track to exceed last year’s number of applicants.

That’s nothing compared to many full-time, paid jobs. I know of one mid-level management position in a Los Angeles arts service organization that garnered over 300 applications.

I empathize deeply with job-seekers, and was moved to write this blog after seeing a handful of easily fixable issues pop up over and over again in applications.

Below is a step-by-step breakdown of how I review applications and what makes one stand out from the pack. Although I’m using examples from the search for an entry-level employee, I’ve been involved with hiring for managers, professors and consultants, and have approached each process similarly. I hope this is a valuable window into how applications turn into interviews, and I encourage those on both sides of the process to respond in the Comments section.

I spend roughly two minutes looking at each application.
I’m a volunteer staff member with Circle X, so I have to look through this flood of applications in the evenings and weekends. Sometimes I need less than two minutes (usually a bad sign), and sometimes I’ll get intrigued and linger over a cover letter. After I’ve seen enough, I send an email to the applicant acknowledging receipt, and use the Gmail Labels feature to categorize the application as Group 1, Group 2 or No.

I will probably never look at the applications in the No category again, and may never click on Group 2 either. Group 2 is where I put job seekers who don’t stand out as amazing candidates, but who aren’t clearly unqualified or wrong for the position. When I’m ready to schedule interviews, I may go back through Group 2 and pull a couple of applicants from there if my Group 1 doesn’t feel particularly strong.  When there are dozens of applicants, the chances of that happening are slim.

Sometimes, I’ll email a candidate and request additional information. Usually this happens when I can tell someone is highly qualified but I don’t get a good sense of who they are from their cover letter; more on that later.

The process is pretty harsh, and trust me, as someone whose family has dealt with long-term unemployment, it does not feel good to put someone into the No folder after a two-minute glance at their materials.  However, I estimate I’ve seen over 800 applications in all of the hiring processes I’ve been a part of, and keep in mind I’m only 27 years old.  You have to learn to identify competitive, qualified applicants quickly so you don’t waste your or your organization’s time.

As a note, I strongly prefer online applications. Hard-copy materials are more difficult to share with other staff members, and emailed applications are easier to track.
Here’s where my eyes go when I open an emailed job application for the first time.
I prefer a brief, polite note in the body of the email, with the resume and cover letter included as attachments. I don’t mind the cover letter in the body of the email as long as it’s also attached. If it’s not, I’ll have to copy/paste it from the email into a Word document, save it with your name, and tweak the formatting before I give it to other staff members to review or print it before an interview.  It adds an extra step, so you’d better be a pretty darn strong applicant if you do that.

Are there six attachments, even though the job description specifically asked for just a cover letter and a resume? My least favorite extra attachment: A headshot. If you’re not auditioning for a role, do not send a headshot. It makes me think you don’t actually want the job I’m hiring for—you want to act.  In my mind, you should do what you want to do, so I’m obligingly not going to hire you.

Are the attachments named appropriately? When I see something that says “Formal Resume” it makes me suspicious; what does your “Informal Resume” look like?

Also, beware mislabeling, which is more common than you would think. When I see “Resume for [Company other than mine]” as a document label, it makes me mildly annoyed and suggests the applicant isn’t very thorough. My favorite formatting is just Your_Name-Resume and Your_Name-CoverLetter, as either .doc (not .docx) or .pdf attachments. I open them in Google Docs, and other document formats are more likely to give me problems.
Cover Letter
I always open the cover letter first and give it a quick visual scan.

Is it a form cover letter? If yes, the whole application goes directly into the No folder.  If you don’t care, I don’t care.

Did the applicant take the time to format the letter? Is the writing professional in tone, word choice and punctuation choice (no gratuitious exclamation points), without seeming dry or distant?

I skip long paragraphs about the applicant’s theory of The Stage or overly glowing compliments about my organization. Referencing theory is a very risky move in a job application. You don’t know if the person doing the hiring majored in theatre, or music, or film– even if they did, they may not remember the difference between ‘poor theatre’ and ‘theatre of the oppressed.’  I think these applicants are trying to sound mature and knowledgeable, but unfortunately this type of academic name-dropping has the opposite effect. So does overt flattery, especially if you’re only basing compliments on a quick read of the organizational website.

I’ve had applicants say things like, “To quote Avatar, I see you,” and “The stage is the glorious backdrop to the pageant of my life in Art.” Don’t risk making the hiring manager giggle.

I zone in on anything that tells me who the applicant is. Do I want to meet this person and find out more about him/her? Do I feel like this position would utilize his/her experience but would provide new challenges?

Career goals are especially important information. If I’m hiring for an arts management job, someone with stellar academics who wants to be an accountant isn’t as strong a candidate as someone who hasn’t done very well academically but wants to be an artistic director.

But don’t lie. If you tell me in your cover letter that you want to be an artistic director, but when I get to the resume I see a lot of accounting experience and no theatre experience, I feel like you’re trying to pull a fast one on me. Be honest about your career goals.

I want to know why you’re drawn to the organization, why you’re qualified, and enough personal information to help me remember your application. Even a well-written cover letter from a highly qualified applicant goes in Group 2 if I don’t see your humor, your passion, your creativity—the things that make you an asset to an arts organization.
Examples of cover letter information that helps get the applicant an interview:

  • I saw your last production and enjoyed the writing and evocative scenic design. I ended up writing a paper on the playwright, and am happy to see another of her plays on your 2012 season schedule.
  • Your organization’s commitment to arts education and social justice corresponds with my own interests, especially as I see you hosted Bob Jenner, one of my favorite professors, as a visiting artist last year. Bob’s work in Venezuela inspired me to travel to South America last year to participate in a similar workshop with rural youth.

Evidence that you have any connection to the organization is a plus, especially in an arts field. I’m especially drawn to people who can connect their own work history and interests to the organization’s.

  • After spending six months teaching drama in Guam…
  • I took a semester off between junior and senior year to take care of my father…
  • I’m equally committed to my two passions, animal rights and theatre, and have spent time working for nonprofits in both fields…
  • After college, I spent a year doing community service with my church…

This information serves two purposes: It’s fascinating and makes me remember you, and it explains something that otherwise would be confusing on your resume, like a year with no work experience or work history in a different field.

  • I’ve been able to hone my skills in development as a Grants Associate at Education Organization Z, and am looking for the opportunity to grow and apply those skills within an arts setting.

Double whammy: specific job-related experience + why this job builds on and utilizes that experience.

Make sure you address the specific requirements of the job. You can talk all you want about why you’re drawn to the organization, but if you’re applying for a Marketing position, you’d better tell me what draws you to marketing. This is especially important if you don’t have relevant experience in a particular field.

Do not parrot the job description in the cover letter. This year’s internship job description calls for computer-savvy independent workers with a strong interest in development and theatre operations. I estimate that half of all cover letters say something like, “I’m an independent worker, well-versed in computers, and I’m looking forward to learning about development and theatre operations.” How do I distinguish one from the other?

The best cover letters address the specifics of the job description through showing, not telling. Instead of “I’m an independent worker,” which only tells me you’ve read the job description, I respond to sentences like, “In my current position, I manage three to five youth art projects with limited supervision, and enjoy being ultimately responsible for the success of each program in my portfolio.”

The exception would be if the job description calls for a specific skill, such as teaching artist certification or working knowledge of DonorPerfect. A simple sentence acknowledging your competency is appropriate in this case.

Now on to the resume.
I notice immediately if certain information is missing. I need to know what applicants are majoring/majored in, graduation year (that speaks to experience and maturity level), work experience, and any affiliations, special skills or certifications. If any of that information is missing or buried, I’m less likely to spend a lot of time examining the resume.

Things I barely look at: GPA and references. I only notice GPA if it’s very low, and probably would never notice if it were omitted. I can get a sense of aptitude from the writing style, work experience and any honors/awards listed. I like “References Available Upon Request,” so if we get to the interview process I can ask for them but they’re not cluttering the resume.

If you have little or no work experience—even if you’re still in school—there had better be a good reason for it, either in the cover letter or expressed in the resume. That’s just the nature of a competitive job field.

For the Circle X internship, college student applicants that go into Group 1 nearly always have a solid work history. If I don’t see summer employment (or an internship, or a volunteer project), I picture the applicant playing Xbox in Mom’s basement for three months while other applicants were gaining job skills and learning what working 9-to-5 really means.

If you don’t have work history, tell me why. Maybe you took some time to find your path.  That’s fine. Maybe you were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, working on a novel, or caring for your child. Maybe you were struggling with unemployment—that’s all too common. None of these things are marks against you if you acknowledge them and make it clear you’re now at a place in your life when you’re ready for employment. Just don’t cross your fingers and hope a hiring manager won’t notice gaps on your resume… we will.

Use the work experience section to convey specific skills and experiences. Some resumes look like this:
Organization Z, 2009-2010
Marketing Manager

… I have so many questions.

Did you work there from December 2009 to January 2010 or January 2009 to December 2010? Those are VERY different stories about how substantive the experience was, and how committed you appear to be to one organization/business. What did you do? What did you accomplish, in a quantitative sense? I have specific tips on resume blurbs in my previous article on resume & cover letter writing.

A note on job titles: unfortunately, they matter. If you’re contemplating a career change and have told your boss about it, it’s worth asking for a title change if you think it might be beneficial to your job search. Aside from the salary element (Directors make more than Managers, Associates make more than Assistants, etc.), the difference between Publicity Manager (specific) and Marketing Manager (broad, inclusive) could be major if you’re looking at a Development & Marketing position.

Luck is a big part of hiring, so please don’t get discouraged.

This sunk in when I was part of a casting process for a theatre company. Many incredible actors gave fabulous auditions, had excellent resumes, and weren’t cast. Sometimes it was as simple as a height issue: the male lead is usually cast to be taller than the female lead. Just as actors can’t control things like height, sometimes there are factors at work in a hiring process that have nothing to do with your strength as an applicant.

For example, I know I respond to people who grew up in rural areas like I did, and those who attended my alma mater. That’s never a conscious choice, but seeing my college on a resume or reading about another country kid’s experiences can make me spend more time on an application, which might result in a Group 1 categorization instead of Group 2, an interview, and a hire. That’s not fair. It’s not logical. I try to be aware of it, but it happens.

This is just one hiring manager’s process and certainly doesn’t reflect that of the field as a whole. However, I hope the article will help you avoid common mistakes and present yourself in an optimum light as you look for employment.

If you have any questions about what I’ve mentioned in this article, please leave them in the Comments section and I’ll do my best to answer them promptly.

Best of luck, and don’t be discouraged if you don’t nail the perfect job right out of the gate.  It takes time, persistance, and attention to detail.  You never know which application will be the one that gets you hired!

Resume & Interview Tips for Arts Managers

This is one of a series of blogs on job tips for arts managers.  This has been published online on a few sites, including ArtJob and Arts for LA.

In 2009, I had the honor of acting as a Learning Community Hub Leader for a group of 12 arts management interns through the LA County Arts Internship Program. Many of them had just graduated from college and were curious about arts management best practices when it came to applying, interviewing and looking for jobs. I developed the following advice based on their questions and conversations. Feel free to leave a comment if you have another tip or best practice to share!

These are just my opinions, not industry standards. The Internet is strewn with conflicting resume advice. However, these tips have held up through multiple hiring processes in several related fields. I’ve been on the hiring committees for an acting professor, two manager positions, nine arts management interns and seven teaching positions, have seen literally hundreds of arts resumes and sat through almost as many interviews. Times are tough, but going into an interview fully prepared will give you an edge on the competition.
Cover Letter Tips
  • Write a new one each time and never send a form letter. Employers look at your cover letter first. When you’re sifting through a hundred applications, resumes all start to look alike, especially for people in our age group who don’t have a ton of work experience. If you’re using a form cover letter, it’s immediately obvious and really hurts your chances of being called for an interview. Use your cover letter to tell the employer who you are and why you want the job.
  • Please, please proofread it. Every year I get an application for a Developement Intern.
  • Do your research. Spend time on the organization’s website before you write the cover letter. Ask yourself why you want to work with them and what makes you excited about the work they’re doing. People get into the arts because of passion. They’re looking for employees who care about the work they’re doing. Read their mission if they’re a non-profit and reference that in your letter. If an applicant doesn’t tell me why they want to work with my organization, I’m not sure why I want to work with them.
  • Address it to the correct person. Things that get thrown away: “To Whom it May Concern,” “Dear Ms. Skenkken” or anything else that shows me the applicant hasn’t actually read through the job posting.
  • Articulate your skills, strengths and interests. Don’t use flowery language, but do let them know what you’ll bring and what you want to learn from them. I’d also stay away from espousing your theories on drama and modernity and pathos and humanity.
  • Do not start with “Hello, my name is __________.” I see that. I opened your email and can see your signature at the bottom of the letter.
Resume Tips
  • Keep it to one page. It looks more professional and is easier to read. Use a legible font that isn’t Times New Roman or Arial. You can be a bit more creative with your name, especially if you’re a visual artist. Use nicer paper but please keep it white or off-white.
  • Include arts-related volunteer work. Don’t include Burger King.
  • Do not send your acting or artistic resume if you’re applying for a management or administrative job or internship. I don’t need to know you played Hermia in 9th grade.
  • Don’t list the classes you’ve taken unless it’s something the employer needs to know you can do. I.E., if you’re applying for a job that requires Dramaturgy skills, you can mention Dramaturgy courses. Even then, I’d put it down in the Skills section instead of a separate Courses section. It’s never appropriate to list all of your college arts courses.
  • List technical/computer skills relevant to the job, group memberships, special accomplishments (Successful grants: NEA, LACAC, Flintridge Foundation) or honors (National Merit Scholar). You can also choose to incorporate a separate Honors section or something specific to your discipline, such as theatre affiliations, galleries where you’ve been shown or film projects.
  • Try not to say “I” or “Applicant” in work experience descriptions. Start with verbs such as “Developed,” “Administrated,” “Created,” “Organized,” etc. See below for example.
  • Quantify your duties at each job. Instead of:

June 2007 – August 2007: Summer Program Manager, Onstage Arts Academy

Managed summer arts program for junior high school students. Looked for funding and organized activities. Trained counselors.

… think about what you did, in a very concrete sense, that contributed to the organization:

May 2007 – August 2007: Summer Program Manager, Onstage Arts Academy

Organized and implemented five-week summer arts program for 90 junior high school students from the Chicago inner city. As one of four Program Managers, reported directly to the program’s Executive Director and worked collaboratively to develop academy programming and activities. Coordinated all development efforts, receiving over $8,500 from private and corporate donations within two months, and designed a comprehensive counselor training module still in use by Onstage Arts Academy.

Follow-Up
  • I don’t think it’s appropriate to ask an employer to “confirm receipt.” If you sent it to the right place, they received it. You can call a week after you send it to check on progress (unless the job posting said “no calls” or they’ve contacted you to let you know they’re currently reviewing applications and will get back to you).

  • If you have the opportunity to ask why you didn’t get the job, do it. Maybe it’s a fixable issue. I lost a development internship at Actors’ Gang in 2004 because I didn’t have fundraising experience on my resume. In truth, I had done quite a bit of fundraising. I put it on my resume, applied for Circle X Theatre Co.‘s development internship, got it, and am still actively involved with the theatre company seven years later.
The Interview
  • Do more research. You should know who you’re interviewing with, what’s coming up for the organization and what the job duties are. If you have questions, ask them. They’ll appreciate that you did your homework.
  • Be yourself. Your personality is an important part of the equation for an employer, especially if it’s a small organization. You’re going to be working in one another’s back pockets. I always look for sense of humor, kindness and friendliness in applicants.
  • Practice. You’re probably going to be asked a version of the following questions, so it’s a good idea to think through them (if not practice answering them out loud) prior to an interview:
    • Why are you interested in this position/organization?
    • What’s your biggest flaw?
    • What’s your greatest strength?
    • What sort of relevant experience do you have?
    • Is there anything that isn’t on your resume that you’d like to share with us?
    • Why should we choose you?
Informational Interviews
  • Ask cool people out for coffee. An “informational interview” is initiated by someone interested in working for a person or organization, even if that organization isn’t currently hiring. It’s a great way to get your foot in the door and is one of the most common ways arts folks find jobs. I met Danielle Brazell from Arts for LA in 2008 and liked her instantly, so I asked her if she needed an assistant. She told me she might and we set up a coffee date. Three months later, I was hired on a part-time basis and am now the full-time Development & Operations Manager for the organization.
  • Cultivate relationships through networking. Go to art events and when you like what you see, find someone involved and strike up a conversation. Make business cards and exchange them with people you like. Follow up with an email asking him/her questions about the organization or his/her job. If that communication goes well and you’re interested in an informational interview, make the move.
  • Don’t come with expectations. It’s informational on both sides. Maybe there will be a match; maybe the person will be able to suggest another organization that might be better for you. Maybe the two of you don’t click after all.
  • Bring a resume but don’t take it out right away. If they don’t ask for it, give it to them casually at the end of the conversation.
  • Don’t insist on paying for the coffee. Offer, but if they insist, let them pay.  They make more money than you do.
Social Networking
  • I Facebook and Google every prospective employee. While some employers (and many in the arts world) don’t care if you’re a little wild, if you’re uncomfortable with your social networking content, you should change your permissions so no one can see your kegstand photos. Only “friend” your boss if you have no worries about what he/she will think of your photos, dirty notes friends leave on your wall, etc. Personally, unless you’re eating a kitten, I don’t care what’s in your photos. Some bosses will. However, I was hired for a job because the bosses saw MySpace photos of me with cocktails in my hand. They said they wanted to make sure I could relax and have fun.
  • Do not approach prospective employers through Facebook, even if you’re already friends with them. It looks unprofessional.
  • Think before you post and never complain publicly about a specific person in the field. This is a small world and it will probably get back to them.

And finally, if you get a bad feeling about an organization, job or person, run.

Your instinct is probably right and no job is worth misery.

If you get a job and you hate it, quit. It’s not the end of the world.  When you end up at the right place, you’ll know.

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