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Posts tagged ‘resume’

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.

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!

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