When you are first starting out, you may not have a lot of experience to showcase on your resume. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have anything to offer though. And while that may make that page look a little empty, don’t give in to the urge to embellish or add unnecessary information just to fill it out.
Since we are in a creative field, we can often get away with more creative fonts – I still don’t recommend using them though unless they are easily readable. Also keep in mind that this is the digital age and you will often be sending out your resume in digital format. Not all fonts can be decoded by all computers. I recommend using the most simple and easily decoded font – Arial. I know it’s not a “fun” font and you probably feel like having a flowery resume shows off your creativity. While that may be true to an extent; if the font you choose is difficult to read, then your resume will probably go straight into the trash. No one is going to spend tons of precious time trying to read your resume just because it looks pretty. So do yourself a favor and KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid), because your second priority when it comes to your resume is getting someone to read it. Your first priority is to accurately portray your acting experience and career thus far.
Now before I go on to tell you about the things that you need to have on your resume, I’m going to tell you about some things you should NOT have on your resume.
This is often controversial, especially for newbie actors who are just dying to have a nice full page resume (we’ve all been there at some point). I’m telling you flat out though: DON’T list extra work on your resume! And DON’T doctor up your extra work to make it look like more than it is. Casting Directors (CD's), Directors, and even other experienced Actors can spot extra work, listed on a resume, from a mile away. Believe me, you aren’t fooling anybody! Extra work can offer good on-set experience when you’re first starting out, but since pretty much anyone can be an extra, it doesn’t demonstrate acting ability and therefore it doesn’t belong on your resume.
(FYI: That’s not a knock to extras, they are an important and essential part of the industry. They work long hours for little pay and we should all be grateful for them.)
I’ve seen plenty of places that encourage you to list your Height, Weight, Hair color, Eye color, Playing range, etc. And I even took this advice in the beginning. I have since learned that this is a bad idea for several reasons.
1. Your resume is stapled to your headshot (or included with your headshot in a digital submission), which already shows most of these things, so it’s redundant. (Black & white is out – your headshot should be in color. And remember if you change your appearance – hair color, haircut, nose job, you’ve aged, whatever – you should get new headshots to reflect this change. Also, if you have wigs and/or colored contacts – you should have at least one headshot for each of these possible combinations.)
2. Listing your statistics may automatically exclude you from being called to audition. For example, let’s say you weigh 125 lbs. – this measurement while absolute, is also subject to the experience of the Casting Director. They may have an idea in their mind about what 125lbs. looks like, but it may not fit you, so don’t give them a reason to not call you.
3. It’s not necessary – this information may be asked for when you fill out an audition form or after you’ve booked a role in order to determine clothing sizes, etc. Until they ask for it, they don’t need it. Don’t make them wade through unnecessary information on your resume. They may get bored or annoyed and just move on to the next resume that doesn’t waste their time.
4. Your stats do not demonstrate your acting ability and therefore aren’t needed on your resume.
This means your home address, your home phone number, your social security number, your favorite foods, etc. (ok, that last one’s kind of a joke, but it definitely shouldn’t be on your resume). They don’t need this information upfront, and in this digital age, if you put all that stuff out there for the rest of the world to see, you’re just begging for someone to steal your identity, spam you, profile you, or stalk you. DON’T put yourself at risk!
Every Single Role You’ve Ever Played
This is mostly for actors who have lots of roles under their belt, but it’s a good idea to consider for you newbies too. Remember to take into consideration what you are auditioning for and your type. If you mostly play the villain and that’s the kind of role you continue to go after, listing that one-off role, where you played the ingénue in your school play when you first started acting, isn’t doing you any favors and may in fact just confuse people about your type. Always take these things into consideration and remember to tailor your resume to your audience.
Remember that your resume is a sales flyer – you’re selling yourself to CD’s. So your resume is part of your Brand Package. A good rule of thumb to follow is that if something doesn’t scream “Buy Me,” don’t put it on your resume.
Now that you know what NOT to do, let’s talk about what you SHOULD do. Here are the things that you need to include on your resume. I’ll start at the top and work my way down. There’s no substitute for an example, so please download these 3 different PDF samples of my old resumes and refer to them to get a better idea of what I’m talking about.
Your name should be the first thing they see when they look at your resume. Format it so that it stands out. You can increase the font size, bold, underline, and/or use a more creative font to make it pop. That doesn’t mean it should take up half the page though or even 1/3 of the page, and it still needs to be readable. It should stand out without being obnoxious. You want them to find your name easily and remember it, but you don’t want to give the impression that you’re a self-important diva who is difficult to work with.
If you’re a member of any of the Actor’s Unions – AEA, SAG-AFTRA, etc. or you are eligible to join a Union, you should list it here directly under your name. I am currently a Non-Union Actor, so my resume does not list any Union Affiliations.
If you are represented by a Talent Agency or Agencies, you should list them next under your name, along with their contact information. If you have more than one agent, you could list them side by side on the same lines. For example, let’s say you have 3 Agents – on the same lines list one on the left side of the page, one in the middle column, and one on the right side of the page. I also include my agent’s logo next to their information because I think it adds a nice touch and demonstrates that I’m proud to be represented by them.
If you're submitting through your Agent, then their contact info is all you need. If you are submitting independently, then you need to include information where you can be reached directly. Both your cell phone number and your email address should be included. (Your email should be simple, clean, and professional – i.e. YourName@MailClient.com. Using your name as your email will make them more likely to remember it and they may contact you more readily than someone using an address like firstname.lastname@example.org. Your name is your Brand and it should be part of everything you do.) And speaking of your name, this is also the place where you should include your website (which should be, you guessed it – www.YourName.com and should include your reels, resumes, headshots, representation, and any other important info).
This is where you list those roles you worked so hard on. You should have a separate heading for each category (in all caps): FILM, THEATRE, TV, VOICEOVER, COMMERCIAL, INDUSTRIAL, etc. The categories should be listed in order of importance relative to the role you’re submitting for. Under each category, you should have 3 columns. For Film, TV, Commercial, Industrial they should be: Title or Project Name, Character’s Name and significance of role (i.e. – Lead, Supporting, Principal, Recurring, Star, Co-Star, Guest Star, Featured, Under 5), and Production Company (and if you want, the Director if they are well-known either in your market or the market as a whole). For Theatre they should be: Production Name, Character Name, Theatre Name (and Director if they are well-known). For Voiceover they should be: Title or Project Name, Character Name, Production Company (and Director if they are well-known). For Commercial you should put Conflicts Available Upon Request. You can also do this for additional categories – i.e. if you are putting together a Film resume, you might list your Film credits, then your Theatre credits, and then Commercial/Industrial/Voiceover – Available Upon Request.
Education and/or Training
This is where you list your college education, any additional training, and/or post-college classes you’ve taken. They should also be listed in columns as follows: Name or Type of class followed by the Instructor's name and Institution. You can also list Workshops you’ve taken here. In this section if you are a singer and/or dancer and have vocal and/or dance instruction, you can also list your Vocal Range and Dance Experience – if you primarily do Musical Theatre, you may list your Vocal Range and Dance Experience at the top of your resume.
This is where you list things that show additional skills you’ve acquired such as dialects and accents, stage combat, sports skills, or any other skills that you may use in an acting situation. You can also list 1 or 2 skills of general interest that could lead to engaging the CD, getting them to ask you questions, and starting a conversation with you. For example, I list Milking Cows in my special skills section – yes, I can milk cows (by hand or machine) and I list this because it’s weird and interesting and often leads to a lively discussion with the CD that may not have happened otherwise. Having a conversation with a CD is always a good thing because it means they are interested in you and you get the opportunity to show them that you are interested in them as well. Don’t try to start these conversations yourself – it’s disrespectful of their time, but if they start one, be sure to engage. And make sure that if you’re listing a skill in this section that it’s a skill you have and can do well – DON’T lie! If you get the chance to have such a conversation with a CD and you appear to know nothing about the skill they’ve asked you about, you’ll look like an idiot and you’ll have lost the trust of the CD that you’re trying so hard to impress.
Additional Tips to Remember
1. ALWAYS tailor your resume to your audience, if you’re like me and you crossover into different categories of acting, you should have a resume for each category. I have a resume for Voiceover, Film, Theatre, and Commercial/Industrial work.
2. When you submit your resume, it can be a good idea to include a cover letter, or for digital submissions, a well-written email.
3. DON’T lie on your resume – you will be found out and depending on the lie, you could be blacklisted.
4. If you have an agent but also work independently, you should have separate resumes for agency work and independent work. You can also have a resume which lists both your agent’s contact info and your contact info for general submissions or for use on your website.
5. White space on a resume is NOT a bad thing. It gives a cleaner appearance and allows the reader the freedom to breathe while scanning your resume.
6. In order to keep it all straight and ensure that you don’t lose any valuable information, keep a MASTER resume – one that has every single role you’ve ever played, every single class you’ve ever taken, and every single special skill you’ve ever had. You never know when that one weird skill or role (that you’ve since removed from your resume) may come in handy and be just the thing that sets your resume apart for a certain job. When that happens, you’ll be able to find and remember it because it’s on your MASTER resume.
7. Also, every single time you update your resume, be sure to save a copy of the old one first, with the date in the title in a folder titled “Old Resumes” – it sounds like a waste of space, but in time, when you suddenly mess up all the formatting in your resume and you just can’t easily fix it or you accidentally delete everything and can’t get it back, or you realize that the brand new amazing format that you came up with isn’t getting you as many auditions as the old one – trust me, you’ll be sooooo glad you saved all those old resumes.
8. Be proud of yourself and the work listed on your resume, no matter what stage of your Acting Career you're in. You worked hard to earn those credits! So maybe you're not listing Hollywood Features yet, just remember that all those stars had to earn their stripes too, so they likely had a resume just like yours at some point. If you're proud of your accomplishments, you believe in yourself, and you maintain confidence and poise, you'll attract positive attention. And who knows, you may just earn those coveted credits sooner than you think!
Next week I'm going to take a small break from the beginning actor stuff and throw out a topic for all the actors out there.
Next Week... Should I Ever Turn Down a Role and Why? The Top 5 Reasons.