Every year, I look at around 350 applications to the CTG Internship Program. I’m also currently hiring for a full-time arts education position; the last time I hired for a similar position, I received about 300 applications.
I wish people knew how many of these applications immediately land in the “no” pile. I’ve blogged about job applications before, but wanted to re-visit the topic during this particular search as I’m seeing so many applications with the same issues.
Before I start listing these errors, note that like most hiring managers or supervisors, I want to like you. I’m looking for a great associate who will stay with me for a long period of time, fit in well with the rest of our department and organization, and who will genuinely enjoy this job.
Your goal as an applicant should be to use your materials to give me enough information to decide whether you’re a good fit for this job.
Here are four common job and internship application errors that I see all the time:
You didn’t follow the application instructions. I specifically ask for resumes and cover letters to be submitted as PDF documents, and applicants need to submit via HR instead of sending directly to me.
Why this is an issue: There are practical reasons why I want the documents in this format, but it’s also a test of applicants’ reading comprehension and ability to follow instructions. This job (like most jobs) requires someone who can work on multiple projects simultaneously, take great notes in meetings and follow up on them, and is adept at written and verbal communication. If you can’t follow a specific instruction in a job posting, will you be able to read and respond quickly to an email from a teenager who “isn’t sure what time the workshop is lol and also can my mom get parking, okay cool see you later today also miss can I bring my little brother thank you?” This is also why I don’t consider applications with obvious typos, or poorly-formatted materials. I need to trust my Associate to communicate with a broad range of constituents without needing an editor. We’re also a large nonprofit with a lot of systems and protocols, so submitting through HR instead of finding my email and sending materials to me directly shows a willingness to read and follow directions that’s necessary for this position.
You only have music or visual arts education experience, and you don’t tell me why you’re interested in theatre—OR you have as much experience as I do and the same level of education.
Why this is an issue: Hiring blows. It’s expensive, time-consuming, and there’s a lot of pressure to make a great hire. I’m looking for someone who tells me why this job and why this organization so I can try to figure out if you’d be happy here. If you’re coming from a different sector or I get the sense that you might be bored in an entry-level job, I worry you’re only going to stay with me for six months or a year and then I’ll be back at square one. When you’re making a career shift or applying to something that’s a little outside of your comfort zone, you need to tell the hiring manager why you’re making that decision. I’d absolutely consider someone whose experience isn’t totally in line with the focus of the job OR who seems overqualified on paper, but that person would need to tell me why s/he is genuinely interested and what would be gained from this position.
I can’t tell that you researched what we actually do. The job description mentions a suite of programs that the Associate would be working on. You can easily find information about these programs on our website. Many cover letters don’t make any mention of the programs, and barely acknowledge the specifics of the position.
Why this is an issue: All theatre education jobs are not alike. We’re hiring for another position in our department, and the two jobs are very different—one is focused on operations and assisting senior staff, and one on program management, outreach and logistics. Several applicants used nearly identical materials to apply for both (also: don’t think we won’t realize this). When you’re applying for any position, recognize that you need to draw a clear line between your interests and experiences and the requirements of the job. Specificity is key because it shows me that 1. You cared enough to look up what you’d actually be working on, and 2. You can connect your skills/interest/experience to this job. Each of the programs mentioned in this job description has a webpage, articles written about it, and YouTube videos available. It’s not like the information is buried somewhere. The job involves working with teens on a leadership program—why does that appeal to you? How about the college and university internship program—how does your experience lend itself to helping out with that? How about the free workshop series? I don’t need a paragraph about why every program appeals to you, but you need to give me some idea that you know what you’re getting yourself into.
There’s an elephant in the room. There’s an aspect of the job description—outreach, administration, event logistics, etc.—that you clearly have no experience in, and there’s nothing in your materials to address this.
Why this is an issue: I have a rubric where I rate applicants on all of the major aspects of the job. Someone else is going to have experience that hits all of those points. It would be simplest for me to interview only the people who can check all of those boxes. If you don’t have 100% of the skills required in the job description, convince me why I should bring you in anyway. Before you apply for a job, spend time going through the job description and underlining the major points. Look for words/concepts that recur or seem to be particularly important—logistics, data management, collaboration, etc. Brainstorm how your experience aligns with those areas, and address that in your cover letter. Adapt your resume to highlight specific elements of past work experience so I can tell that you’re qualified. For areas in which you have no experience, don’t BS it or ignore it. You can say you’re looking forward to learning about ______ and believe you can use your combination of X past experience and Y past experience to do a great job.
All four of these issues can be avoided by slowing down and being particularly thoughtful about each application you submit. It should take you a long time to apply for a job, and your chances of being called in for an interview go way up if you submit materials that show careful research and attention to detail. Do your research, tell your story, draw that clear line between your background and the specifics of the position, and you’ll help the hiring manager understand why you’re the best one for the job.