A Lesson in Recklessness: Getting an Internship in the Performing Arts Industry

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Amidst the faxing, copying and grant-writing that I do as an intern at The Broadway League, I’m also awarded (or cursed) with the responsibility of screening internship applicants. Almost every day, I scan through applications from around the world, looking through their credentials, their college degree and their grades, their experiences. Some graduate from liberal arts colleges and others from acting schools, some of them even have master’s degrees and have held managerial positions. At the end of the day, all these applications are treated equally and filed away. Never to be seen again until they are whipped out at the end of the season to be quarantined for our next batch of interns. In this unforgiving and oftentimes draconian process, here are some tips from the other side of the looking glass:

Polish your resume and cover letter
Always personalize your cover letter to every company you’re applying to. In fact, you’ll have better luck spending time on that than sending the same generic letter to a dubious “hiring manager” fifty times over. Many applicants treat the cover letter as a summary of their qualifications, which is untrue. The cover letter should be awarded the same importance as a personal essay in a college application. Your writing should be impeccable; your reasons for applying to this job should be precise, clear and unique. You may allude to one of your most valuable experiences, but the rest should be left in your resume.

While screening applicants for the next batch of interns for The Broadway League, there were an alarming number of people who sent it resumes that were two or three pages long. As much as possible, your resume should fit in a single page. The font size can be as small as 11 and your character reference list may spill to the next page. However, this will force you to be selective in including only your most important past jobs and experiences. I’ve found that the most impressive experiences are small managerial positions in big institutions over leadership roles in student organizations, so highlight these when you can.

However, despite reducing your resume and making it seem professional, this should not come at the cost of your individuality. By all means, you should list that you speak fluent Indonesian, or that you have a passion for Korean TV shows. I list “IKEA” under my interests and this always helps in sparking a conversation during interviews. Above all, although your job in the end is in administration, you should show that you have a connection with the kind of art form you’re working with.

 


Be communicative and follow up

On my first unsuccessful attempt at getting an internship, I made the classic mistake of sending a quick email to my employer while attaching my resume and cover letter. The cover letter should be copy pasted on your email; it should be the first thing that catches their eye when your email comes in. Moreover, you should also try to research the staff member that would be relevant to this internship position. The name of someone in the company (even if it’s a wrong name) is always better than a generic “sir/madam” or “whom it may concern.”

After two or three weeks (and no less), you may send a follow up email with an update on any new projects you are undertaking if you wish. In the United States, many production houses or theatre companies are small enough that they do not have an HR department. This means that it is common for them to take some time to get back to you.

 

Be confident and lean in

If you are granted an interview, congratulations! Don’t bother to show up in a jacket or pantsuit. Anything smart and business casual will help you feel comfortable, professional and also seem more approachable and creative. There is barely anything between you and this internship, and you should know by now that you deserve this internship, and you should act like you do.

A woman once told me that the biggest turn off for her is when a candidate comes in and acts shy or quaint. You should answer questions confidently and clearly. The hiring manager shouldn’t have to coax out information about you. Instead, you should readily and proudly tell them your story and why it is important for both of you that you work for this company.

In fact, be reckless. If they ask you if you know how to use Microsoft Access and you’re not sure, then say yes. Then go home and google a tutorial on how to use Access. Whenever you can say yes and keep going, do so. Don’t worry about if they give you this internship and you won’t be as qualified as you seemed. The fact is that you haven’t got this internship (yet) and you don’t have a choice (yet). But if you keep pushing, you might have that choice. (And don’t worry, you are qualified).

Then go home, and don’t forget to write a thank you note.

 

Featured image is a production photo of Clybourne Park, one of the most celebrated theatre productions in New York this past spring. Photo by Joan Marcus.