What job applicants in the arts need to know now.
Even if you’re an artist, you’re going to have to submit a standard job application at some point in your life. I’m Camille Schenkkan and in my job at Center Theatre Group, I see up to 400 applications annually for our internship program and many for full- or part-time positions as well. Regardless of whether you’re applying for a marketing internship, a gallery assistant, stage management position, or an entry-level cultural institution management job, the following tips should help you make a case for yourself.
1. Know what you want, do your homework, and take your time.
The biggest mistake people make when applying for jobs is submitting too many applications, too quickly. Research the job or internship, learn as much as you can about the organization, and tailor your resume and cover letter to make it clear that you understand what you’re applying for and are excited about it. This will also help you hone in on exactly what you want: for example, if you love contemporary theatre, you may not want to submit applications to an all-classics company. If you’re a graphic designer and you discover that you really don’t like a company’s design work, you might need to keep looking. Once you find a place you like, you will have a much better chance if you submit one thoughtful, targeted application after eight hours of research and hard work, instead of fifteen copy/paste applications. To the person who reads your application, it will be like the difference between getting a thoughtful letter from Grandma and a piece of junk mail!
2. Make a work resume.
Yes, you might have an acting resume, a design portfolio, etc., but you also need a simple, one-page document that outlines any work experience, hard skills like other languages you speak, and your contact info. There are lots of great free templates like the ones on this page to help you get started. Don’t try to “pad” your resume if you don’t have a lot of experience yet! Be honest, succinct, and make sure you proofread it carefully. This document tells an employer about your work style and accuracy!
3. Every time you apply, write a fresh cover letter.
A cover letter explains why you’re qualified, why you’re interested in the specific job, why you want to work for that organization or company, and gives enough information about you as a person to make whoever is reading it want to meet you. If you’re applying for an internship, make sure you include information on your career goal to help the organization understand how the internship will benefit you. Your cover letter should look like a letter, not a memo or an email; Google “semi-block format” for examples and templates.
4. Make sure people can contact you.
Many teens and young adults have voicemail that isn’t set up, or is full. If you’ve submitted an application, check your email and voicemail regularly and know that you could lose the job if you don’t respond within 24 hours. This might also be a good time to upgrade your email address from “sparklefairylol16” to just a variation on your first and last name.
5. Ask for help.
Almost all colleges have career centers, and many high schools have guidance counselors. These professionals can help you perfect your resume, and they’ll read through that cover letter you’ve read a million times to help catch any typos. Remember, the services they provide could be hundreds of dollars post-graduation—take advantage of them while you can!
A final piece of advice: be selfish.
You only have a few opportunities to intern, and the right job can set you up for your ideal career path. If you’re applying for a job in the arts, make sure you appreciate and enjoy the art a company makes before you apply. Look up their website, production or exhibition history, and try to get a sense of their company values. Beware taking an internship or job you’re not really interested in just “to get your foot in the door” at a company—instead, find something you’re genuinely drawn to, and use your application materials to make your case for why you’re the best one for the gig.
Camille Schenkkan is the Program Manager for Next Generation Initiatives at Center Theatre Group. She also serves as Managing Director for Circle X Theatre Co., and holds a Masters in Arts Management from Claremont Graduate University.
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