Detail orientated. (Or something like that…)

I’m spending this Monday on the couch, keeping my less-than-healthy germs away from my co-workers and reading pages and pages of internship applications. Each application has several parts: a cover letter, a résumé, two writing samples and two letters of recommendation.

I’m an educator at heart, and I believe strongly that I have a duty to each applicant. I need to read each scrap of paper thoroughly; I must make articulate, thorough notes on each application so that, should I look back on who we’ve decided to interview, it’s clear who rises to the top. Because I not only need to find the student who best fits each summer position, I need to make sure that I know enough about them to help them grow throughout their experience.

But this process brings out my inner cynic. And mostly? It’s due to carelessness.

The writing samples are usually pristine, although there are many thesis statements that seem to be very lightly linked to the actual content of the essays. The recommendations are also usually pristine – being that they’re from professionals, teachers, professors. (That being said, I’ve already received more than one recommendation on behalf of a student that references an internship at another arts organization.)

The areas with which I struggle, on a yearly basis:

  • The cover letter. Typos and mechanical issues are de rigeur, and I say that knowing that I likely catch only half to two-thirds of them. Really, it’s worth it to have someone – and we all have pals who are great at this – look over your materials before you send them in, and comment on spelling/grammar/structure. (I am not a grammar goddess, but I do notice when prepositions are used incorrectly, when you misspell a word in one sentence and then tell me how “detail oriented” you are in the next… it doesn’t inspire confidence.) Also, there are an awful lot of folks telling me why the internship would be great for them, but not very many take the time to tell me why they’d be great for us. It’s a subtle distinction, and one likely born out of youth and inexperience, but I’m always impressed when an applicant shows some knowledge of our operation and draws parallels that make it easy for me to say “sure – let’s schedule her for an interview and learn a little more.”
  • The résumé. I’m not looking for a college junior to have a full page of professional credentials – don’t pad, and don’t use marketing-speak unless you’re applying for a marketing position. (Although if you do had a full page of credentials? Please spin them slightly towards skills/traits that you think I might have interest in, or have asked for in the posting. For example, babysitting/nannying demonstrates responsibility, flexibility.) But please, list your experience in reverse-chronological order. Check the spelling (especially my operatic pals, as spell-check might change Aïda to Aide). Check for consistency – dates are formatted the same way throughout, headings are denoted the same way, etc. Pretend that you’re laying this all out for someone who is – in my case – really really blonde, and make it easy for me to find the important information.
  • The format. I work on both Mac and PC platforms. If I open up your application with an older/newer version of Word, or heavens forbid  from home on my Mac (that does not, at this time, have any Microsoft products on it) using Pages, all of that lovely formatting you’ve done is going to go out the window, and I’ll be wondering if it’s the program or the document that is the problem. Go ahead and .pdf those important documents so that they look the same to everyone involved.

I could go on, as could many, many others. But the reason why I say these things isn’t to lambaste an applicant for not spellchecking or being detailed or for submitting an application at the last minute. I say these things because I want each applicant – I want you – to have a shot at spending a crazy summer with us. But every time I notice one of these tiny things, your shot gets smaller and smaller.

Please, make it easy for me to send that email, schedule that interview, get to know you a little more. Because my end goal is to help get the very best folks into this field, to surround this art form for which I care deeply. Your cover letters have told me how much the arts mean to you: we’re on the same team. Let’s help each other out, shall we?

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