Of Resumes and Job Applications

I have only been at work for three months, but already they have me on a search committee. When we were meeting to talk about interview questions before human resources gave us the application packets, I took advantage of the opportunity of working with a new group of people to take a quick poll about a pet peeve of mine that I have referenced before– the resume objective statement.

Like me the other people on the committee found it really unhelpful, thought it often felt stilted and unnatural on an already heavily formalized document, were uninteresting, unhelpful to the process and took up too much room on a document that was supposed to be limited to one page.

And this was from people in a cross section of areas from graphic design, finance, athletics and accounting.

I have come to the conclusion that all those guides that tell you to include objective statements on your resume are doing so at the behest of big corporations who use software to screen applicants based on key phrases in the resume. I suspect there are a lot of employers that don’t find the format really enhances their impression of applicants.

In the arts, a little divergence from the standard suggested format can definitely be an asset.

A long time friend recently asked me to look at his resume and it occurred to me that like so many things that involve selling a product, service or idea, it is the story you tell about yourself that really matters.

Because what you will emphasize differs from employer to employer, I generally provide that narrative in my cover letter and leave my resume to provide the supporting details. Often those details need to be tweaked a bit, but the big variation in applications is in the cover letter based on the job requirements and information about the organization my research has turned up.

Still it is important that your resume be able to tell your story on a stand alone basis. A person should get an idea about what things ignite your passion while they determine how accomplished and suitable you are for the position based on your work history.

What sort of frustrates me as a person working in the arts is that the process I often need to follow suppresses the usefulness of 95% of the expressive tools available these days. You often have the option of submitting materials by email now, but the distribution to search and audition committees is generally by printed hard copies which eliminates the usefulness of links to videos and other materials.

From my own recent searches, I know that committee members will definitely check out blogs and webpages. I would see a surge in visits on Google Analytics and have a sense that I would get a call days, and sometimes weeks, before it was made. It is more difficult for a committee member to accurately type in the URL for a YouTube video.

Sure you can set up a webpage with appropriate links and direct people there. But it is much more organic to be able to cite a project and immediately provide a link to it.

It is also difficult to set up a custom website with an easy to enter URL for every job application you send out. You don’t want to apply to a Children’s Theatre and send them to a site that includes so many links to other types of projects that the employer gets the impression your passion really lies elsewhere.

I am vaguely aware that visual arts organizations make more direct use of digital portfolio review in hiring. I wondered if anyone in the performing arts was conducting their searches in a way that really took advantage of all the available technological opportunities.

Likewise, I wondered if anyone that had recently applied for a job had managed to leverage technology to their benefit as part of their initial application.

One option that just occurred to me would be to create a personal URL for each job search so that each employer only saw the materials you wanted them to see.

Embracing The Feedback Loop

A few months back, Seattle based artist Clayton Weller, wrote a piece addressing what he feels is a self-limiting outlook held by many artists that theatre is dying and there is no money out there. He confesses to having embraced the same outlook until he worked for a start up company.

Now he advocates for every artist to work for a start up in order to adopt their more nimble outlook. (my emphasis)

When you say the word “business” to someone, especially an artist, they automatically assume you’re talking about something stuffy, rigid, uncompromising, and [insert horrible adjective].

You say “business” but they hear “bureaucracy.” THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING!…

To eschew something because it can be done poorly, is a disservice to yourself, and might rival einsteins famous definition of insanity (look it up plebes!).


Talking directly to people, iterating ideas before execution, creating a feedback loop with measurable data; it all makes perfect sense.

By doing this you create a real connection with your customer (audience) and develop a product (art) people will not only tolerate, but will clamor for. In terms that an artist would use: your art becomes relevant.

That’s a big deal.

The average artist does NONE of these things. Not only that, they intentionally avoid them. They lock themselves away to pursue their secret “vision.” When they receive negative criticism, they blame their audience (customer). WHAT?!?

For me this addresses some age old debates about artists being more business minded and selling out vs. thinking you know what audiences/customers should like. (the most negative extremes of the spectrum)

Obviously, I like his point about not dismissing options because other people don’t do it well.

I think the complicating factor is the fear is that you too won’t do it well and the process will dominate your time and take you away from your creative work. Or worse, make you resent your creative work for making it necessary to become involved in the business side. For some it may not be a wholly irrational fear.

Still, I think regardless of your fears and regardless of your views about what constitutes selling out and remaining true to your art, the feedback loop Weller mentions is a useful process.

Failure and missteps are things you will face, especially when you are working in the arts. Proper feedback can help minimize this over time. If nothing else, the process can help you identify the proper people to solicit for feedback.

If you start a flow chart from the simple proposition that you want to support yourself with your art. You can ask, do people say nice things about my art? If the answer is yes but they don’t pay for it, you either need to find other people to get feedback from or figure out a different way to monetize your art from the people giving you feedback.

Likewise, if there are a lot of people who criticize your work, but still won’t buy it after you make the changes to the areas in which they say you fell short, then you may need to find other people to solicit feedback from.

Obviously it isn’t as completely clear cut as that. The problem may lie in your execution not being very good. My point is that you can’t depend entirely on your family and friends or trolls for feedback. It is necessary to identify people with the level of discernment you seek whose feedback you can trust and work from there.

You just need to recognize and own the potential implications of appealing to 1,000 versus 100,000. You can make a lot of money from those 1,000, but you need to be producing to a certain standard. Meeting the expectations of 1,000 can be just as burdensome as that of 100,000.

Have A Fulfilling Experience Being An Artist

Earlier this week, Sydney Arts Management Advisory Group listed an artist residency program that really appealed to me.

Only Australians are eligible to apply, but I just really liked the way the Asialink program at the University of Melbourne listed the expectations for their program.

You can’t use the residency for research or academic study. Instead, (my emphasis)

Each resident is offered a specific amount of funding and initial contacts in the host country. It is then up to the individual to make as much of the experience as possible and to plan and manage their own program.

Key attributes are the ability to cope with sometimes unusual or difficult situations, and to work successfully in a challenging environment while maintaining good working relationships.

That is basically it. The criteria is to have a plan, take advantage of the opportunity, be able to cope with strange situations you may encounter. You have to show that you worked on your project when you return and submit an accounting about how the money is used.

Coming from a higher education environment which emphasizes research and publishing in order to keep your job and an arts environment which has lengthy grant proposal and reporting requirements, this is refreshingly brief and liberating.

Applying will take some work and preparation, and certainly the opportunity isn’t for everyone, but the process doesn’t seem terribly onerous.

I am sure there are other grant programs like this, but I have come across few which state they expect you to have a fulfilling experience.

It makes me a little envious and wish I lived in Australia since the program includes Arts Management experiences.

I offer this in hopes it will inspire others to emulate them. And if some entity is offering something similar and Americans are eligible, I hope someone tells me about it!

What Should I Talk About?

Now that I am back living in the lower 48, I have begun thinking a little more seriously about possibly presenting at some of the national or regional conferences. I had actually thought about it a bit when I was in Hawaii, but distance limited my opportunity to attend many conferences and hampered collaboration opportunities.

That gave me the idea to ask my readers–what do you think I should do a session on? This is actually a double duty question because I am also essentially asking what topic would you want me to write blog entries on to.

I understand that many people can’t attend conferences so I would ultimately be planning on posting whatever I talked about on the blog. And readers might see bits and pieces of what I was working on emerge on the blog as my research brought me in contact with new information.

Rather than to ask what topics I should blog about, I wanted to frame in the context of what do you want to know about so badly that you would seriously consider undertaking the expense of travel, hotel, food, etc to attend a conference where someone was talking about it?

I also suspect I take for granted people’s familiarity with many topics I come across in my daily reading. The reality might be that people are desperate for information. So even if I didn’t do a conference session on it, your feedback will help determine topics I blog about in the future.

Just as examples of conferences sessions to get you started, Arts Presenters is looking for session proposals on Catalyzing Communities around the arts, Making the Case for the Arts and The Art of Transition. That last one seems like it could encompass everything from leadership transition to changing your organizational approach to programming and marketing.

I just found out that I probably will be attending APAP conference this year. Though I am not sure I would get a proposal together by the deadline next Thursday so I am not necessarily looking for a topic that would fit that conference.

I figure I can either lead or contribute to a conversation about:

-contract negotiations, submitting offers, reading contract riders
-closely partnering with multiple arts presenters to organize a tour as a consortium
-partnering with artists to create performance works reflecting stories/values of indigenous cultures

Of course, I can talk about many other topics like marketing, social media, presenting in higher education environments (and bureaucracies) but I feel like a lot of other conference presenters can and have done so before. Though I am certainly happy to produce blog posts on these topics

I feel what I have listed are areas in which I have more specialized knowledge than many others. It is also likely that I am forgetting some too. If there is a subject area which you have come to value my expertise, let me know.