Monday, August 17, 2015

One Page Only: 6 Tips to Shape Your Best Resume

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Your one-page resume. It is a tool used by an opera company to instantly size you up and understand everything about your performance career. When companies look at your resume, the most important thing is for them to find what they are looking for, and find it fast. It can be totally overwhelming to tackle such a comprehensive document, but just take it piece by piece and pretty soon you’ll have a resume that is impressive to the company, and the envy of the competition! Here are 6 ways to tailor your resume for your next audition.

1. Line Up Your Columns

Neatly aligned columns just make the page look clean, organized, and inviting. Do not, I repeat, do NOT send out a resume with messy columns! Most people use tabs to line up these columns, but there is an easier way! Just use tables instead of tabs. Create a table with four columns and enter your information appropriately, and make sure the final column is right-aligned for your dates. Now if you need to nudge your columns one way or the other you can click and drag the border of the whole column at once! Make sure your columns line up all the way down the page. Highlight the entire table and set the borders to “none”. You will still be able to see dotted guidelines for your borders when you edit your resume, but when you print it or save it as a PDF the lines will be invisible, leaving perfect columns behind.

Your resume should represent your brand. Use the same header for your resume that you use for your other materials, and keep your distinctive fonts and colors in mind. For a refresher, see my previous article on branding.

2. Include a Headshot

These days it has become common practice to include your headshot at the top of your resume. Doing this serves one main purpose: in the event that your 8x10 becomes separated from your resume, the audition panel will still be able to reference what you look like. I recommend putting your headshot in the upper-left corner of your Resume, with your name and other info centered or right-aligned in the header. Why? Pages are usually stapled in their left-hand corner, and if a staple goes through your resume it is better for your thumbnail headshot to be obscured than your name and contact info!

3. Use Appropriate Sections

Here is where resumes become flexible and totally dependent on your own experiences. Standard sections of your resume can include Roles, Other Performance Experience, Honors and Awards, Training and Education (including your list of teachers, coaches, etc.), and Special Skills. However, these are not hard-and-fast categories. The key here is to place like items together and label them appropriately. Have a lot of music theater experience? Create separate “Opera Roles” and “Music Theater Roles” categories to separate the two. Have various amounts of concert, recital, or chorus work, but not enough to create separate categories for each? Lump them together into an “Other Performance Experience”. You have total control over each category.

You can create separate sections for scenes work as well. Most of us start out with a ton of scene work to offer. Rather than fill your “Roles” section with asterisks to denote these scenes, why not make a whole separate category for “Partial Roles”? If you have just a few scenes or want to denote covers you have done, I highly recommend using the abbreviations (sc) or (cvr) after the relevant role. It takes up a lot of time for the panel to find a legend (which is never in the same place from resume to resume), then to decipher the symbol, then to go back and forth as they read the entire resume. This goes for future engagements as well. Rather than having yet another symbol to denote a future engagement, simply italicize the entire line and include the month with the date. Your audition panel is smart – they will see that the date is in the future, and know that you mean this is an upcoming performance. Remember that the more time the panel spends looking at your resume, the less time they will be watching you, so make it easy on them!

4. Put the Sections in Appropriate Order

After you have settled WHAT goes onto your resume, you must decide IN WHAT ORDER you want your sections to appear. There is only one rule here: put the most relevant and important information on top. For opera auditions, your most relevant information will be your “Roles” category. If you are auditioning for concert work, list all concert experience first. The least important is your education and special skills. These should fall to the very bottom. Education is important, but your experience and how well you sing will get you the gig, not your degree.

You may have to change your resume constantly depending on what kinds of auditions you take. This is okay! Resumes are a fluid thing. You will constantly be updating and reworking them, so don’t get too attached to a certain order. It is a good idea to include the date in the file name every time you update, so you know how long it’s been since you’ve added new content.

5. List Relevant Content

Young singers just starting out should put everything possible on their resume. After all, performance experience is performance experience, no matter where it was. As you grow older and have more to add to your resume, high school accomplishments and pay-to-sings can gradually drop off the page. More experienced singers who have sung many full roles can begin to drop their scene work or other performance experience not relevant to the current audition. Think about the audition you have in mind, then think about what experience might be most relevant to the company in charge of hiring you. A list of your prior church jobs won’t matter at all in your summer program audition, but it would be the perfect section to put at the top of your resume next time you audition for a church gig!

BONUS TIP: Keep a separate version of your resume with EVERYTHING on it! You never know what you’ll need to include for your next audition. I recommend keeping a Curriculum Vitae (C.V.), or a comprehensive resume that lists anything and everything you’ve ever done, including ensembles you’ve sung with, accomplishments of students you have taught, even your day jobs. I found this to be quite helpful recently when I started doing more concert work. I did not have any sections on my resume for concert and choral work, but I had kept a list of all performances on my C.V. Because of this, I did not have to rely on my faulty memory to remember every concert gig I’ve had since high school. Instead, I just popped over to my C.V. and copied/pasted the relevant information. I had a fully-functional concert resume in half an hour!

6. Fill the Space

In the opera world you only get one page for your resume. Never EVER lie on your resume just to make it appear fuller. Instead, if you need to fill up the page a little more, consider using a larger font size (never larger than size 12). You could also enlarge the size of your header by increasing the size of your name and headshot, add an extra line of space or two between sections, or change the line spacing itself from single-spaced to 1.15- or 1.5-spaced.

For those who need to create more space on their resume to fit in more accomplishments, try decreasing the font size (never smaller than size 9), making your header just a little bit smaller, or decreasing the space between your sections. You can also experiment with the layout of your content. For example, instead of listing your teachers, coaches, and directors in columns, try using just one line per group, with the names separated by commas. You can present your information however you’d like, as long everything is clear and easy to find.

As with all advice everyone has ever given on creating the perfect resume, remember that these are guidelines, not actual rules. Just like in your auditions, it is impossible to please everyone, and everyone has a different idea of what would be perfect. But follow these tips and I know you will be able to be proud of your resume and brand, and be confident that you are putting your best face forward!

Be sure to sign up to participate in our Comprehensive Branding Webinar coming September 12, 2015! Rachael will be available to answer your specific branding questions. Sign up today!

Rachael Colman is a mezzo-soprano and graphic designer based out of Kansas City. She loves to help her fellow singers improve their audition portfolios, offering services from resume editing to headshot retouching to website design. She is currently on roster with several professional choral groups across  the country, and maintains an active opera presence, most recently performing as Nancy in ALBERT HERRING with Opera Breve in Wichita Falls, TX, and as the title role in LA CENERENTOLA with the Midwest Institute of Opera in Bloomington, IL. For more information, please visit and