The Chrysalis Blog: Resume & Interview Tips for Emerging Arts Leaders

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The Chrysalis Blog:

Resume & Interview Tips for Emerging Arts Leaders

Camille Schenkkan

 

I had the honor of acting as a Learning Community Hub Leader for a group of 12 arts management interns this past summer 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 a Pomona acting professor, six 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 Circle X, 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

 

professional and cool
  • 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

Helped to organize and execute 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
writing

  • 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's development internship and I'm still with the theatre company five 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

happy lunch group

  • 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.
  • 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. 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.

Right on!

Yes, yes, and yes. Especially the informational interviews. They are like career magic. Tara