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

Posts tagged ‘career development’

Four Common Arts Management Application Errors (And How to Avoid Them)

Every year, I look at arcami5ound 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.

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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.