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I dig jazz and single-malt scotch.  I write plays; I direct them too. I love STAR WARS more than is healthy. I walk my dogs every day, unless it's raining or terribly cold.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bad Resume; Worse Excuse: a cautionary tale

For five years I worked as the Director of College Relations for The National Theater Institute, a 14-week intensive theater training for college-age students.  Part of my job was interviewing the prospective students and selecting the incoming class.

Whenever possible an in-person was preferred.  Students were asked to come to the campus in Waterford, CT, see the grounds, meet some of the students, maybe sit in on a class, have a meal, and spend some time one-on-one with me.  Many excellent students came through my office and into the program, but a few did not.  This is what went wrong for one of them.

He was coming from a college in the next town, one that was very supportive of our program, and over the years had sent hundreds of students to us.  With traffic and stop lights the trip usually takes about 20 minutes.

The appointment was for 1:00 PM.  At 1:40 he arrived, his hair crushed on one side of his head, his shirt wrinkled, and his jeans torn.  It was clear that he had been sleeping.  When I asked him what had delayed him he blamed the construction project down the street from our campus.

"Uh-huh. I get stuck in that every morning on my way here too," I said, "for about 5 minutes. What took you forty?"

I was looking for an honest answer. I wanted the truth. Just tell it.  The story was clear. He had overslept, woken up to discover he was already late for our meeting, and he ran to the car and drove like hell, cooking up his traffic excuse along the way.

I would have preferred that he call me when he discovered the time, and apologize and either arrange to come in right away or reschedule.  At the very least, tell me the truth right now. I get it, people make mistakes, and this was a young guy who was still learning. But you can't learn if you skate by, and if you refuse to admit your own failures and take responsibility for your actions.

He stuck to his lie. Strike one.

My interview process was not a typical college entrance experience. What I needed to gage was your ability to be a part of an ensemble, to take responsibility for yourself and your actions, and to strive to work better and grow.

Next up, his resume.

As part of the application process students are asked to submit the application, an essay, a headshot or picture, two letters of recommendation, and a theater-related resume.  What this student sent as a resume was a double-spaced list of about ten play titles.  I don't recall the exact plays, but here is what it looked like:

Away We Go
You Can't Take It With You
Our Town
Hello Dolly
The Wizard of Oz
Oedipus Rex
The Seagull
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Yeah, that's it. No name at the top, no clue what the list means.

"Um. So, your resume. This is your resume?"
"Uh-huh, yeah."
"And this list of plays? Is it a list of productions you were in, or of plays you've seen, or maybe just of plays you really really like but haven't been in?"
"Oh, plays I've been in."
"When were you in them? Did you play a particular role? And where did you you do them?"
"Oh, uh, in school."
"High school, college...?"
"Did it occur to you to include some information like that on this 'resume' because this isn't a resume, this is a list of plays."
"Uh, I didn't know what a resume should look like."
"But this is just a list of plays, and even if you didn't know what a resume should look like you can see that this list of random plays is not communicating anything useful to me, right?"
"Uh, well, I was trying to get my application in on time and it was the day before Thanksgiving break, and everyone went home and there was no one around to ask."
"And you couldn't just Google 'Actor resume' and see what might be posted online?"
"Uh, I didn't think of that."

Strike two.

That's when he started to shift in his seat because he had finally figured out that this interview was not going well. He started to sweat. You see, he walked in figuring that we wouldn't turn down a student, especially a male student, for a college-age acting program from the college with which we had a such a close association.

We took a look at the picture he had sent. It was a snapshot with three other guys in it.

"I see this is you, yeah?"
"I didn't know which one was you before."

A short time later we concluded the interview. He didn't talk about his own responsibility in the bad decisions he had made. He blamed his professors for his grades, his friends for not helping with a better picture, the traffic lights and construction for his lateness.

Strike three.

He left, and that afternoon I composed his rejection letter.

In the letter I advised him to think about what he intended to communicate about himself and his commitment should he wish to reapply, hat I would be happy to send him a sample resume, and that he should plan to arrive on time the next time.

He did not reapply.  But for the next few years every student from that college arrived on time, and I would sometimes hear people whispering that a guy from their school had not gotten in.

Don't be that guy, okay?

For some pointer and links to web sources about putting together a proper resume - check out You've got an audition; Now you need an acting resume on Puzzlewit.

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