Five Tips for Applying to Internships & Entry-Level Positions in Arts Management

Posted by Camille Schenkkan, Feb 20, 2013 7 comments

Camille Schenkkan Camille Schenkkan

Rambling ten-page resumes. Headshots submitted for management positions. Cover letters written in one big, messy paragraph in the body of an email. And one resume that was somehow, inexplicably, saved as a series of stream-of-consciousness bullet points in an .RTF file.

I coordinate the internship program at Los Angeles’ Center Theatre Group (CTG), one of the largest—and most prestigious—theatres in the country. These are just a few of the bizarre, sad, and shockingly common application faux pas I saw in our last application cycle.

Most undergraduates aren’t introduced to career options in arts administration within an academic context. An internship can provide an excellent introduction to the field. Many of the applicants I see are undergraduate theatre or acting majors, curious about career options in the discipline they love.

And many of them are woefully unequipped to apply for any job.

It’s tempting to fault schools for this lack of preparation. However, nearly every two-year and four-year college or university has a career center with free services. I’m also a big fan of personal responsibility.

So hey, arts major. Here are five tips for applying to internships or entry-level jobs in arts management. 

Assume the position is extremely competitive. Actors, have you ever walked into an audition and seen 40 people waiting to try out for the same role? That’s what’s happening virtually when you apply for an internship. In my experience both at CTG and for very small arts organizations, it’s common to receive dozens of strong applications for a single paid internship. Hot entry-level jobs in arts management can attract hundreds of applicants. I say this not to discourage you from applying, but to discourage you from applying with sub-par materials. Which brings me to…

Write a new cover letter for each application. Talk about why you’re interested in the position, why you would be a good fit, and, if it’s an internship, what you hope to learn that will benefit your career. Research the organization, the supervisor, and the position. I can’t tell you how many applicants for development (i.e., fundraising) internships talk about how much they love script development. Cool, man. I love avocados.

Formatting matters, both for your resume and your cover letter. Visit a career center, or look at examples of resumes and cover letters online. I don’t care if your letter is block or semi-block. Here’s what I’m looking for: Does it look professional? Can I find your basic information? Does it reflect you, or did you plug your name into a template you bought online? Am I confident you will be able to write an email to a patron or send a thank-you letter to a donor without embarrassing my organization?

Follow the instructions. Our internships require a cover letter, resume, and a PDF application, all emailed to me as attachments. This is clearly stated on our materials. Almost 25% of applicants do not do this correctly. The most common errors are letters written in the body of the email, blank PDFs, and applications from people who are ineligible. The first two look sloppy. The third—the “will you make an exception?” application—is worse.

Look, internships and entry-level positions are designed for people without a lot of experience. Let’s say I were to let someone who’s been out of school for four years and has held several marketing positions have an undergraduate-level marketing internship. To quote South Park, you’re gonna have a bad time. I understand it’s rough out there, but when I see someone grossly overqualified I assume they’re either going to be miserable, or they’ll quit after two months when they find a full-time position. Think about whether you’re going to be happy in a position before wasting time applying.

Be honest about your goals and experience. The cover letter says: “I have always been passionate about theatre.” The resume lists internships in galleries, involvement with mural organizations, and a pending BA in Fine Arts, with no mention of theatre. Regardless of the applicant’s intent, she looks like a liar. We’re going to notice discrepancies between past experience and the focus of your application. This also goes for unexplained gaps on your resume, no work experience, or academic issues. We’re going to see it, so make it a part of your story.

She could have said: “I’m currently pursuing a career in visual arts marketing. However, this semester I helped with a friend’s theatre production, and realized I was interested in performing arts marketing as well.” If that’s true, that moves her out of the “not a good fit” pile to the “makes a good case for herself” pile. If it’s not true and we hire her based on it, well...she’s gonna have a bad time.

There’s a common thread in these five tips. Submit targeted, professional materials and think critically about whether you’re passionate about the position and a good fit before applying.

These tips come solely from my experience overseeing application processes for about forty internships and entry-level positions, and reading approximately eight hundred applications in the process. I welcome additional thoughts or disagreement in the comments.

And I look forward to receiving your application.

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7 responses for Five Tips for Applying to Internships & Entry-Level Positions in Arts Management

Comments

February 22, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Victoria, great point. Passion about 'the arts' is not helpful. I look for passion about the specific position at my specific organization-- someone who is genuinely curious about doing this work (and, of course, is qualified to do it).

Clare-- yes. How about the link to an 'online resume' in some weird format that includes videos and zooming from one fact to another? I'm very impressed that you have tech skills, but how the heck do I print this?

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Julia says
February 20, 2013 at 3:48 pm

This is great advice, Camille — a lot of things I've seen in hiring for other fields, and some I hadn't even thought about. Cheers!

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February 20, 2013 at 4:10 pm

This blog post is long overdue! Sadly, in my career I've seen many people applying for positions of all stripes--internship, entry level, and even senior management--make these same mistakes!

There's nothing like getting a cover letter telling me how excited someone is to work at an organization that isn't the one for which I'm hiring.

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February 20, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Thanks, folks!

Charlie: YES. That's just embarrassing. Or people whose resumes are labeled "RESUME FOR [OTHER ORGANIZATION.]" Way to make me feel like your back-up plan.

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Claire says
February 21, 2013 at 12:50 am

I love this post Camille! I'm sad to say, these kinds of problems are not limited to internship/entry level candidates. Every time we post a position, we get at least one applicant who refuses to send a resume. "Resume!? Just check out my website/portfolio/demo and you'll see that I'm an incredible artist!!!" Great. You're an incredible artist. I still don't know your education background, your work history, and you've just confirmed you can't follow directions. Not hired.

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February 21, 2013 at 6:59 pm

Camille - as always you're spot on with this advice. As others have noted it not only applies to those applying for internships and entry level positions, but these days... any position. I work with people to help them develop their resumes and cover letters and everything you've said should be on a check off list for job applicants.

I would also add though, that I've grown tired of the cover letter statements about how passionate one is about the arts. We're all passionate and so is every other person willing to work for nothing (interns) or underpaid entry level jobs. What other ways can you describe why you're qualified and ready to take on the challenge of the position you're applying for and how can you help that organization succeed. Passion isn't enough anymore.

Good luck out there!

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Jackie Rosas says
February 27, 2014 at 10:47 pm

Hi!

Just stumbled across this fabulous post! One year late, but I'm sure all of this still applies. 'm a newish grad trying to break into the arts administration world, just curious what is your opinion on visual resumes? Or having a cover letter and resume be a bit more interesting than the standard black and white word doc?

Jackie

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