Wednesday, March 22, 2006

How Not To Get A Job

My most time-consuming pre-season duty for Undisclosed Location Summer Theater is hiring all the interns for my department. This means reading a lot of cover letters and resumes. And nothing's more fun than destroying the dreams of a budding theater professional with a few strokes of a red pen.

Now, I've been called a grammar Nazi, and I don't think that's fair. As you know if you're reading this, I try to write fairly conversationally in general. I am very casual in email and even more so in instant messages. I often don't capitalize, and I will use a common messaging abbreviation like "u" for you or whatever. But I also know there from their and they're, and hear from here. The friend who's called me a grammar Nazi for correcting her IMs does not. It's one thing to be casual, another entirely to just misuse the language. I may be a rude bastard for correcting her over IM, but that's another story.

I read a couple of blogs (which shall remain unlinked to protect the guilty) whose authors can't get their homonyms and apostrophes straight and it drives me insane. The occasional typo is to be expected, but dude, you're publishing something for strangers to read, get your yours right! Unfortunately, while it's rude of me to correct my friend's IMs, it would be even worse to comment to people I have little to no relationship with, so I suffer in silence.

But I digress, as usual. I'm not talking about blogs here, I'm talking about documents designed to introduce you to someone in a professional setting, and convince that someone to consider hiring you for a job. There are some good arguments in the cut-them-some-slack department: These kids are mostly undergraduates, and chances are no one has yet taught them how to do this. They're also stage managers, which means, unlike corporate types or even actors, there's absolutely no standard format for our resumes. I'm not hiring writers, copy editors or graphic designers.

All of that's true, and it means that I'm not going to deny someone an interview simply on the basis of a poorly-written cover letter or an ugly font. But...well, see above: They're also stage managers. One of our main jobs is creating paperwork of various kinds: schedules, prop lists, cue sheets, contact lists, and scene breakdowns, just to name a few. Much of this paperwork gets shared with a lot of people. And because, as in any work environment, a decent number of those people are probably dumb, it all has to be as clear as possible. There is also always the chance that you'll (as we tend to say far too often) get hit by a bus and someone else will need to pick up your paperwork and immediately understand it so that the show can go on.

Then there's the rehearsal report (and later the performance report), a document that, at a large institution like Undisclosed Location Summer Theater, gets sent to dozens of people every day. Its purpose is to communicate what went on that day to all the people who weren't in the room but need to know such things, from producers to designers on down. It's where you ask for things you need and tell, for example, the people building the set that a 200-pound actor needs to be able to lean on that wall without it falling down. It's a very important document, and in a rep theater people have many of them to read every day while both getting everything they need (and you need them to get) from it and not wanting to shoot themselves.

Nowadays making these forms requires at least a passing knowledge with Word and Excel, and graphic design does make a difference, at least insofar as the document must be clear and easy to read. Ditto basic writing and communication skills. There's no one right way to do it, because every person and every show are different, but there are many wrong ways. You can always steal a good format from someone else and plug in your own information (my colleagues and I share like this all the time), so if you can't do at least that much with your resume, I am unimpressed.

Now, again, the interns are coming to us to learn while they work, and they will not be generating huge amounts of paperwork themselves. But in a way, I am hiring writers, copy editors, and graphic designers, and I tend to think that someone who doesn't have it in him to proofread his own resume (or give it to a friend like me who will) probably also isn't very detail-oriented, able to multi-task, and always aware of everything going on around him when he's on the job, lest he (or an actor who thinks the SM is looking out for her) get hit in the head with a piece of scenery.

Maybe I'm being overly judgmental (what, me??) but when I'm slogging through 100 resumes for 7 positions, I have to make some decisions based on rash first impressions. So then what am I to make of the astonishing number of resumes I've received in which people misspell the names of shows and theaters they've allegedly worked on or at, or schools they've attended?? Last year, one person misspelled the name of our theater in the heading to her cover letter! It was a typo, obviously - "Undiscolsed" - but, I don't know, proofread maybe? Look at the squiggly line Word helpfully puts under it? (Incidentally, it's very unsettling writing this post on a Canadian computer, because I know I'll be ripped apart in the comments if anyone catches a mistake (and rightly so, given the subject matter), but Word keeps squiggling "theater" because it wants it to be "theatre." Let's hope I have no reason to use "favorite" or "color.") Because I only skim the cover letters myself, I didn't notice it until I was on the phone with her, conducting our interview, and I couldn't very well say, "Oh, actually, never mind, you're out." I had to finish the interview as if nothing had happened. (This year I'm reading the letters more carefully.)

I think the best ones are the people who've misspelled the names of schools they attended. I've got people who went to "Tische" and "Masson Gross." Seriously?? Isn't it written everywhere you look on campus? We had university logos on our dorm trash cans, for god's sake. I can almost accept a mistake on Juilliard, because Microsoft actually has "Julliard" in its dictionary and won't catch that the extra i is missing, but still, if you work there....

Then there are the titles of plays. It's astonishing, really. On the same resume I had someone spell Falsettos with an apostrophe and You Can't Take It With You without one. Now, apostrophe misuse is of course rampant in this country, but if you stage managed (Word wants a hyphen there, I disagree) the piece you presumably spent many days looking at the script. One assumes there were posters and programs of some sort. How did you manage to screw that up? There's another young'un who worked at "Queen's Theater in the Park." I might not have caught that one were I not on their mailing list. It's in the borough of Queens, not owned by the Queen of England. And again...program? Pay stub? Letterhead? (And yes, nitpickers who follow the link, they spell it "theatre," but that in my opinion is overlookable, because every theatrical institution in this country spells it differently.)

Here's a minor one but it bugged the hell out of me: L'Avare: The Miser. How do you lose your italics in the middle of a line? A favorite is A Midsummer's Night's Dream, because it's technically grammatically correct (the dream belongs to the night and the night belongs to midsummer), but not the title of the play. Apparently not a lot of people do know what the title is, because another one had Mid-Summers Nights Dream. I'm holding out hope that that one is some sort of deconstruction based on Shakespeare.

Apostrophe problems really are rampant. Hence Krapps Last Tape. One applicant either worked on two different productions of A Doll House or held two positions on one. In any case, the title appears twice on her resume: once spelled correctly, and once as A Doll's House. That's a very common mistake I wouldn't have even noticed if you hadn't pointed it out to me yourself!

For sheer stupidity, this one takes the cake, from an emailed cover letter; I think it speaks for itself: "I saw you post on I will be attending SETC this year. i would love to get the chance to meet with you there. I am attaching my resume and head-shot to you."

Well, I'm attaching my rejection letter to you. With a pneumatic nail gun.

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