MONDAY BYTES — October 24, 2016
Fall is a terrific time to upgrade your promotional materials: it’s a new season for grant applications, auditions, and jobs. So this week I’ve got 10 tips to polish up your performance or composition résumé, the nuts and bolts of how to put your best foot forward professionally!
Full disclosure: I’m opinionated! And my advice is based on what I’ve seen work well for clients as well as for the students and alumni I’ve worked with over the years.
Below are 4 Don’ts and 10 Do’s to help you upgrade your résumé. Some of these may feel like “duh!” but check them out to see if there’s any new days that will help you. And I’m always interested in alternate viewpoints and experience. My intention here is to help you feel secure about how you’re presenting yourself professionally.
What to Avoid: 4 “Don’ts”
1. Don’t use a “one size fits all” approach: one generic résumé for all purposes. Instead, tailor several different versions of your résumé to fit the type of opportunity you seek: whether it’s performance, teaching, arts admin, or something else.
2. No prose. No sentences, paragraphs, or “I” statements. What you want instead are just the facts. Résumés are listings of your most relevant experience and credentials. It’s not your bio, artist statement, or prose poem!
3. No photos (unless you’re a singer auditioning for a role).
4. Likewise, no personal information. No marital status, age, or nationality should be listed on your résumé. In other countries this kind of information and photos are commonly included. But here in the litigious states, employers and funders want to avoid any possible discrimination and lawsuits.
Résumé Recommendations: 10 “Do’s”
1. Less is more. A résumé should not be a brain dump of everything you’ve done and all of your credentials. Don’t think of it as the official document accounting for all that you’ve been up to for the last umpteen years. That’s a big mistake.
Instead, think of your résumé as a marketing tool. You aim is to help the reader understand why you are the right fit for the opportunity.
So be really selective about the information you include. White space is your friend. We’re all so overloaded with data that a concise résumé highlighting only the most relevant material comes across as a welcome relief.
For most performance résumés, one page is ideal. Use two only if you have extensive experience that is pertinent to the recipient. Imagine you’re the contractor, director, or foundation officer who has just received a stack of 150 résumés to comb through. What would your priorities be? What kinds of experience would you be especially interested in?
Studies show that employers spend on average 6.25 seconds looking at each résumé. The challenge is to make sure that in that amount of time the reader will pick up what you most want them to.
Longer teaching résumés—CV’s—are used for college level teaching. Those are covered in other blogposts. Here we’re dealing just with performance résumés.
2. Design an eye-catching letterhead at the top of the page with your name, professional attribute (soprano, composer, or trombonist), and contact information. Choose an attractive and professional-looking font so that it stands out and will be remembered by the reader. Use the identical letterhead on your cover letter and other promotional materials.
3. Divide and conquer: organize your relevant experience into categories. Use bold to set category titles off from the listings underneath. The categories you use and the order you put them in should be tailored to your intended reader’s interest. If you’re applying for an orchestral position, don’t start with solo or chamber recital experience—put orchestral experience first.
Unless you’re applying for another degree, don’t place education first. Although you’re no doubt proud of your degrees and the schools you attended, these are credentials you share with thousands of other musicians. Instead, start with your most relevant experience—what your intended reader is most interested in.
4. Choose carefully: think which categories are priorities for the reader and are also appropriate for your experience. For instance, if you’re applying for a grant to commission a new work for your ensemble, then a category for “New Music Performances” would make sense, and perhaps also a one titled “Performances of Works by . . .” listing the contemporary composers whose music your ensemble has performed.
5. Order matters: content category order should reflect the priorities of your intended reader. A singer auditoning for musical theatre roles should probably not list her opera experience first. Think what will matter most to the person you will send the résumé to.
6. Use dates where it counts—just the years, not months, seasons, or days. Dates are good for ongoing work such as orchestral or choral experience—as well as for awards and honors, completed degrees, and singers’ roles. No need to list dates for chamber, recital, club, or festival work.
7. When using dates, the listings should be in reverse chronological order: start with the most recent and go backwards in time to the least recent.
8. Keep the text consistent. After your letterhead, have all your text in the same size and font. Only use bold for the category titles—no extra underline, italics (except for work titles), and no “all caps” as they have the effect of screaming. Removing any extraneous distractions makes it easier for readers to browse through your résumé quickly.
9. Include only the most salient details. For example, don’t list a set of chamber ensembles you’ve performed with that the reader may have never heard of and that may no longer exist. Instead, create a category called Chamber Music Performances and list the venues where you’ve performed: the hall, city, state (or country).
Now you might be thinking, the places I’ve performed aren’t well known or impressive, so how will this help me.
Here’s the thing: let’s say the venues where you’ve performed are in several different states or even different countries. And let’s say that some are church series, others are outreach concerts at K-12 schools, senior centers, hospitals, and historical homes.
What do readers think when they read performance experience listings like this? Even if they don’t know the particular venues, they think, wow! Here’s a musician with a wide range of real life experience who’s probably comfortable performing for all kinds of audiences. Good assumptions for the reader to have, right?
10. Proofread: slowly and carefully, line by line. Check all spelling, capitalizations, and punctuation. Show your draft to others, get feedback from one or more qualified professional—someone who regularly receives applications of this type.
PS: My embarrassing proofreading story: the arts admin résumé I sent in for the job at NEC had a spelling error I only caught later. I had used a Professional Profile statement at the top, underneath the letterhead. A profile like this is a roundup highlighting your most relevant skills and experience — a 3 second preview of why you’re a good match for the opportunity.
My mistake: I spelled the word “professional” wrong—ouch! Of all words, right? UGH. Just goes to show you, we all need an outside reader.
Of course, it could have been worse — I might have also spelled “attention to detail” wrong, or omitted the “i” in recital or the “l” in public.
Though I got the job, the error was not the best way to introduce myself—especially as a career services “professional”!
These kinds of mistakes are made when we’re tired and rushing. We don’t slow down enough to really read word for word and double check everything.
So ever since then I try to be vigilant with proofreading and I push clients to do the same. But I still need help with proofreading my own work. As my former coworkers—ahem, Casey, if you’re reading this—will certainly attest, proofreading my own stuff is not my strong suit. Lesson I learned is to proofread safe: buddy up!
This just scratches the surface on upgrading promotional materials. If you’re interested in getting in-depth feedback and help with your own materials and want to find out how coaching can help, email me at Angela@BeyondTalentConsulting.com
As always, I’d love to get your comments, stories, and tips—I’m at
Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well