Camille Schenkkan is a theatre management professional and educator, passionate about career development for artists & arts managers.

(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.

(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.

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!

(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.

I asked a group of colleagues to give me their best piece of advice for interns working in arts and arts management.

You’ll see some big recurring themes in their answers, including:

  • Asking questions.
  • Shaping your own experience.
  • Being proactive.
  • Communicating with your supervisor.
  • Finding a mentor.

What did they miss?

 

What advice would you give to an intern about making the most of his/her experience?

“Ask questions. Observe operations and then figure out where you can fit in… and then put yourself there if you can.”

“Strive to make a good impression on everyone you meet.  Theatre is a small world, and the same people you meet during your internship will continue to come into your life in many other contexts.  You never know when you could be talking to your future boss.”

“Sometimes your supervisor doesn’t have the time to mentor you. Instead, consider the resources of the organization you’re working for. Pitch a project that you know you can do and follow through. Don’t wait for someone to hand you an opportunity– the internship is the opportunity; now use the resources available to you.”

“Always be looking for opportunities to observe the work in action. Your mentor won’t always have the time to instruct you but you can learn a lot just from watching.”

“Keep a little pocket notepad during the internship to keep a log and notes of things that were done throughout the day, or notes on certain policies and/ or procedures. This is always a nice thing to do because later they can be reviewed and it will better remember it for later on. I know how it gets with so much information going on, it’s hard to try and remember it all.”

“If given the opportunity to write pretty much anything, take it.”

“Meet and talk to as many people as possible and learn about them, not just about their jobs.  Find out how they got here and how a career with an organization like Center Theatre Group is satisfying not just in the salary-and-benefits sense, but in the way it nourishes the soul.  As a corollary: see every show you can, both on our stages and with the companies that are run, staffed and peopled with the colleagues they meet here at CTG, and then talk to people about the work.  This is an amazing opportunity to build a network and to further develop the foundation and vocabulary of a creative professional career.”

“Take every opportunity thrown your way!”

“Talk to EVERYONE willing to talk to you about what they do, why they do it, how they do it – especially the aspects of the company you’re either not interested in or know nothing about (they may surprise you).  Use the internship as an excuse to learn as much about Los Angeles as possible. Find all the hidden gems of art throughout the massive metro area (I know for a fact there were many I missed out on due to time constraints and distance and blah blah blah… It’s my biggest regret). Even if they’re an LA native (or maybe especially if) there are going to be all kinds of people and places to get to know.”

“Read everything! Whenever you’re asked to make copies or file things, you can learn a ton just by reading all that stuff.  Ideally the intern experience won’t ONLY be copying/filing, but since that’s probably a part of it, make it useful.”

“Do informational interviews, ask for big projects, be proactive. Also, keep a learning journal!”

“Take initiative, work quickly and accurately. The more proactive and engaged you are, the more you’ll benefit.”

“Ask lots of questions!”

“Don’t be intimidated and always ask. Ask tons of questions and want to know the answers. Be proactive.”

“Have an expectations talk with your supervisor. Make sure you share what you ‘expect’ from him/her and the internship in addition to hearing what is expected of you.”

That's my girl.

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.