Author Topic: Cover letter tailored for gaining experience?  (Read 4354 times)

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reneelibra

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Cover letter tailored for gaining experience?
« on: Oct 16, 2012, 12:23 pm »
Hi,

I was searching the boards and although I found much information about cover letters, I never found out if any were tailored specifically to gaining experience, rather than applying for a job.   

I just moved to the bay area, I have mostly stage managing experience in college, with a few asm jobs outside of school.  I do want asm work, production assistant work, but I mostly want to be involved in theatre.  I want to network and gain more skills.  Should my cover letter be reflected in this?  I am not sure if I should get into details of what my skills are, or what they have been in the past.  I am ideally looking for work with opera companies.  Any advice?  Also, just to make sure, I send my cover letter and resume to the production manager, correct? 

Thank you, I just want to make a strong first impression. 

juliec

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Re: Cover letter tailored for gaining experience?
« Reply #1 on: Oct 17, 2012, 10:45 pm »
Hi Renee!

I suspect you haven't found cover letters for gaining experience because it's not usually the strongest way to position yourself for paid employment.

Are you applying for an open position?  If so, they probably need someone with certain skills and/or experience, so highlight that.  If you are applying somewhere without an open job req and a small budget, you may have more luck because they are always looking for more hands and it sounds like you're willing to do anything and that doesn't require a high level of skill...  i.e., be an unpaid intern.  If you'd like to be paid, remember that employers hire for their needs, not yours.

Like you, my primary goals are to gain experience and network, but you won't catch me saying it because: a) it's true at ALL points of my career, b) it's more relevant to employers to know how hiring me supports their goals, and c) I like being paid for what I have to offer.  ;)

One place where I might bring up what I want to learn is if it makes your application more relevant without inhibiting your ability to do a great job.  For example, maybe there's a composer you want to gain familiarity with because you've done a lot of work by others in his genre.  I ALWAYS want the cover letter to say lots more about what I'm bringing to the table.

If you still want to go the "gaining experience" route, you can still highlight attributes about yourself that the employer considers an asset.  When I started my first job search, I spent about 2 days painstakingly developing a thoughtful set of "fingerprint" skills that could help me stand out.  At that time, I felt I had no marketable skills, so they ended up being personality quirks that I positioned as assets (ta da!!!).  That resume was probably only given out about 5 times, but the time was really well spent.  I *still* refer to those skills when I'm marketing myself for something I have little experience with (because, guess what, your personality doesn't change a whole lot...).  They have been so useful for talking points during interviews, and ironically over time, my work experience has only reinforced the prominence of those skills.  The key is to make them really and truly represent who you are because interviewers can tell if they don't mesh with their perceptions of you (or worse, if they don't mesh with your references' perceptions of you).

Also, hiring is different by company.  Not all companies have Production Managers.  Research when possible.  Hiring managers are always impressed by that. :)
« Last Edit: Oct 17, 2012, 11:13 pm by juliec »

reneelibra

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Re: Cover letter tailored for gaining experience?
« Reply #2 on: Oct 18, 2012, 12:54 am »
Thanks Julie! 

That was very enlightening.  I am doing cold letters, not applying for a specific position that I know of.  I am not sure if you know or not, are there specific positions I should be tailoring these letters for that are safe and unassuming?  At the college level, I have stage managed four operas, and I have assisted or been an ASM for two opera companies.  I read your current gig is La Boheme, I was one of the ASMs for that production this summer!   I know I am capable, but I feel very daunted by the fact that their are many people who are much more qualified than I.  I want to start somewhere, I plan on doing summer internships, but in the meantime, I am very motivated to learn.  If you have any suggestions, do let me know, I appreciate it.

juliec

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Re: Cover letter tailored for gaining experience?
« Reply #3 on: Oct 18, 2012, 04:57 am »
Yes, I've felt that way, too.  Starting from scratch is tough.  I've learned that this is a job that takes serious cajones.

I'm afraid I have little advice about cold letters because I don't do them!  (Or at least, not with success... :) )

I did get my start through a cold call though...  I called a company that needed volunteers.  (Yes, I was that person who was willing to do anything that doesn't require a high level of skill and be unpaid!)  I thought I would be stuffing envelopes.  As luck would have it, the ED was handling volunteers - and she *asked* me what I wanted to do!  Since I was working full-time elsewhere, I could afford to gain stage experience that way - I did that for a season and learned a lot.  And they treated me well (because I was a volunteer, not an intern!).  They also gave me my first paid gig.  So I got really lucky about that too.  I wouldn't be able to afford to do it that way now, or if I hadn't also been working.

Everyone has a different path though.  What works for me is seeing possibilities despite constraints (it's one of my special skills :) ).  I've often created my own job description.  So when she asked...  but it doesn't work for everyone and you really need to keep the needs of the company in mind.

The companies I've worked with have all been structured differently, but mostly it seems to depend on budget.  I also think it might be different if you're planning to freelance or be a resident.  I have limited knowledge of resident theaters, but there might be a thread or two that addresses that...  I would guess that companies would be more willing to train residents than freelancers...  but I hear the pay is not as good?
« Last Edit: Oct 18, 2012, 06:17 am by juliec »

juliec

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Re: Cover letter tailored for gaining experience?
« Reply #4 on: Oct 22, 2012, 05:26 am »

I should add: When I first made that call, I wasn't interested in stage management as a profession.  At all.  I really JUST wanted to learn and have fun.  It never crossed my mind to ask about employment or pay.  I'm not sure how/if it would have changed the conversation if I had.  Even after they hired me to work a show, I still wasn't considering leaving my day job.  It wasn't until I got referrals that I saw the possibility of a career.  So maybe it was quite a different situation.

In life, I have not been very successful going after what I want... when I have, it turns out not to have been the thing I wanted after all.  But when I'm not looking, the right thing usually appears right under my nose - and works out great!  To some extent, I think the business is like this.  "We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us."

For a long time my actual experience (or lack thereof) has been a disadvantage for me and not reflective of my skill set - so I don't flaunt my résumé if I can help it.  Like you, I am often competing with people who have ten times more experience than I do.  I'm proud of my résumé, but my list of shows is still less than half a page (and it was far less back then)!  So I play to my strengths and stress the quality of talent I've worked with or giving them a taste of my skills by showing instead of telling (i.e., if you tell me you're detail-oriented, there had better not be any typos in your résumé; if you say you say you're proficient at Word, you'd better use some fancy formatting tricks).

I think cold calling/emailing benefits people who are good salespeople.  That's not me.  (Maybe that's you?)  If that's not you either, another option is to go the informal route and take advantage of being new: "Hey, I just moved here and I'd like to introduce myself..."  I might try something like that.  But then, I'd probably try a whole bunch of things to see what sticks...  Another thought: instead of assuming something about their structure (which invariably are different), perhaps try just asking them just what you've asked me.  It's not the same as having done the research, but it puts the ball in their court to respond, and you'll have learned more about what their situation is if they do.  Just make sure you don't ask about something that you could easily find on their website.

Report back on what you find and how it goes!  Good luck!

Bwoodbury

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Re: Cover letter tailored for gaining experience?
« Reply #5 on: Oct 22, 2012, 02:25 pm »
I send cold resumes and they almost never result in immediate work, but what they tend to do is get people used to reading or hearing your name. I do specify the position for which I think I have the experience, which differs based on how large the company is, what kind of shows they do, and whether they promote from within. This, of course, means, you have to do a lot of research, without the promise of immediate return. If you are looking for immediate work, you should be open about other positions: house management, general internships, or box office work. But, if stage management is what you're after, keep sending resumes. You don't want to get pigeon-holed as a house manager, etc.

reneelibra

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Re: Cover letter tailored for gaining experience?
« Reply #6 on: Oct 24, 2012, 02:42 pm »
Thank you all for the advice. 

After consulting with my stage management mentor and reading these posts, I do think that I am going to go opera companies and drop off my resume and cover letter.  I like Julie what you had to say about being a salesperson or working the whole "I'm new", thing.  Though, if I do not get success, I may email someone asking about ways of getting involved.  Some kind soul, would love to have an enthusiastic and capable worker. 

 "We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us." 
I love it, that is how I have gotten where I am today by saying yes to an opportunity. 

Thank you all for your words of advice!

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