Tips for recent college theatre graduates

This time of year I end up being asked to come to a few graduate showcases at Chicago area colleges.  Most of the time I am unable to attend, due to my work schedule.  Plus, I’m not the one hiring at… anywhere.  But 16 years of running the various versions of, not to mention 20+ years of working in theatre, results in learning some things I (and others) wish someone had mentioned when we finished school.  Or that I had listened to when someone did mention them…

Read the job listing.  Don’t just glance over it looking for the highlights and contact information: READ THE WHOLE THING.

Apply to the job in the manner requested in the listing.  Sometimes more information is provided in the listing than is necessary.  Make sure you are sending your application to the correct email address, physical address, or fax number.  If they want you to fill in an online application, don’t just email your resume to the contact address listed and assume you’ll be getting an interview.  The email address may have only been provided to answer questions.

If contacting Company A about a job, don’t refer to them as Company B.  I get it.  You’re applying for multiple jobs at the same time, hoping to get at least one of them.  But just as you are special, so is each theatre and company.  If you are applying to East Armpit Theatre of Dance, don’t refer to them as Dance Theatre of East Armpit in anything you are sending them.  Related: spell the contact person’s name correctly.  Cathy may be pronounced the same as Kathi or Cathie, but if they took the time to tell you who to contact, the least you could do is spell their name correctly before you ask them for a job.

Spelling counts. Nearly every computer has spell-check.  There is no excuse for obvious spelling errors in anything you are sending to a company in the hopes of getting a job.  Multiple misspellings are a surefire way to your resume being discarded.

Grammar counts, as does capitalization and punctuation.  You should be able to to write in the manner in which all those English classes (or whatever your main language is if reading this outside the US) tried to teach you.  “i hope i got this in B4 ur dedline” is not acceptable.

Proofread before sending.  “Their,” “there,” and “they’re” are all spelled correctly, but if you are using them incorrectly, spelling them the right way doesn’t matter much.  Sentences that start with one idea but end random words leftover from an earlier draft sentences spelled correctly but don’t make sense.     <–  Proofreading will help you catch those mistakes the computer isn’t capable of spotting.

Why are the above things important to an employer, especially a theatre?  Because they speak to how well you understand directions, how well you read instructions, and your attention to detail.  They are your first impression on a prospective employer.  Doing them all correctly doesn’t mean you will get the job, but doing them incorrectly will keep you from getting jobs.

Personal versus professional:  keep your lives separate when applying for jobs.  Sending in a perfect  cover letter and resume only to end it with “Please contact me at” will not help you get the interview.  Continuing this point: don’t mention or link to your Facebook, Twitter, or any other accounts you may have if they are not a nearly 100% professional representation of yourself.  Including your @luvhungblackmen Twitter handle is saying you want the company to consider hiring you based on what you have posted there.  Giving Company A your Facebook URL so they can see those status updates about how you would rather work at Company B: not a good idea.  Seriously.  Don’t give a prospective employer access to a record of your personal life and then complain how they wouldn’t hire you because of your personal life.  You are trying to get a job.  You can find out the PM shares your love for photos of cats wearing pajamas AFTER you get the job.

Don’t apply for jobs you aren’t qualified for.  This usually includes the “big gig” at “incredibly big/old/rich/even-your-grandmother-has heard-of-it theatre” if you are right out of college (yes, even with a Masters).  Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but applying for the wardrobe job when all your experience is in carpentry is just wasting everyone’s time.  This leads us to…

Don’t hurt your reputation early.  A good reputation takes years to build.  A bad reputation takes seconds to make.  Applying for a job which you are obviously not qualified for makes you seem, at best:  pompous.  At worst: clueless.  Take your time, get more experience, build your reputation, and eventually that “big theatre” may call you first.

After you get the job, no one cares that you went to Yale, or Harvard, or DePaul, or East Armpit Community College (go Aardvarks!).  That was the big theatre sandbox that you paid to play in, just like nearly everyone else working next to you did at some point.  This is the real world, things are different, and no one is any under any obligation to let you work in this or any other theatre again.  There is a reason college theatre is called “college theatre” and not just “theatre.”  It is different from the professional world, where you are now starting.

A Masters Degree does not mean anything by itself.  Yes, there are some jobs that you cannot get without one, but you will not get a job simply because you have an MA or MFA.  You still need the talent and experience.  A Masters does not prove you have either.  Nor does it prove you are more knowledgeable about a job than someone else.

Be on time, if not a little early, for interviews.  Unless your bus was in an accident or you stopped to help a woman give birth, don’t be late for your interview.  If you’re not on time for the interview, you won’t be trusted to be on time for the job, which means you won’t get the job.

Be early for your first day of work with the theatre/company.  It shows you care about the job, and there will likely be some paperwork you need to fill out.  Bring a valid ID, Social Security card, and whatever else is required.

You don’t get to be late to the job until you prove that you are amazing at the job.  Seriously.  I work with a guy who is consistently 5-15 minutes late to nearly every call.  Why does he keep getting work?  Because he is really good at the job and can be trusted to do it.  Those that were only average or less at the job and had a problem being on time?  They aren’t hired back as often.  Even so, there are some days, and some jobs, where lateness is not permissible.

Listen to what others who work at the theatre/company tell you.  They are trying to help you do the job better.

Do the best job you can do.  Do not act like you are doing a better job than your coworkers.  Sure, you may have been awesome in school.  You may have played with all the best toys and learned from the biggest names that you know of.  Use that knowledge.  But remember the theatre/company managed to do just fine without you for years, and will have no problem considering working without you in the future.  Related: the theatre world is small, and everyone knows each other.  If you badmouth the crew of Company A while working with the crew of Company B, don’t be surprised when you stop getting work from Company A, Company B, and Company C.

Take as much work as you can handle.  Early on in your career, this means taking a lot of work.  Later in your career, it will mean knowing when to turn down work.

Your professors and friends (and enemies) from college can help you find work early on, and for years to come.

Don’t become a professional intern.  Internships are great, when you are still in school.  They become less helpful for you the longer you have been out of school.  Too many companies use their interns in place of actual staff.  This only helps their bottom line, while not helping you.  You can get all of the same experience at actual jobs at other theatres, and actual jobs look better on resumes than internships (plus they pay you).

Don’t work for free.  Paraphrasing the famous words of Lucas Krech: your landlord will only except your rent in dollars, not great opportunities.  While there is nothing wrong with doing theatre as a hobby, I doubt that’s why you went to school for it.

Finally: Even in areas with great public transportation, not having a car may prevent you from taking some jobs.  This, along with most of the above tips, falls under “don’t sabotage yourself.”  Don’t prevent yourself from getting the job.

Honestly, a lot of these are common sense concepts, but quite a few people don’t seem to understand them.  It hurts to see talented students entering the professional theatre world missing out on jobs to those less talented, but who understand the basics of applying for the job.

I know I’ve missed some things.  Remind me of what in the comments, or via Twitter.

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