Category Archives: job hunting

9 Ways a Theatre Degree Trumps a Business Degree


Some of you may know this about me, some may not. Despite having spent the last 15 years as a PR & communications professional, my college degree is in theatre. I have never in my life taken a marketing class, or a journalism class, or a business class. Yet, by most measures, I’m enjoying a successful career in business.  “So what?” you ask… read on.

I was having a conversation with my friend Sara this week. She’s an actress. Like most actresses, she also has a Day Job that she works to pay the bills between acting jobs. This is the reality for most working actors in LA, New York and the other major centers of the entertainment industry. She was pointing out to me that she viewed her theatre background as a weakness in her Day Job career field, and that it was holding her back. She asked for my advice.

My advice? There IS no weakness in having a theatre background. There is only strength. Here are just a few skills that a theatre degree gave me that have served me enormously well in business:

  1. You have advanced critical thinking and problem solving skills: taking a script and translating it into a finished production is a colossal exercise in critical thinking. You have to make tremendous inferences and intellectual leaps, and you have to have a keen eye for subtle clues. (believe it or not, this is a skill that very few people have as finely honed as the theatre people I know. That’s why I listed it #1).
  2. You’re calm in a crisis: You’ve been on stage when somebody dropped a line and you had to improvise to keep the show moving with a smile on your face, in front of everyone. Your mic died in the middle of a big solo musical number. You just sang louder and didn’t skip a beat.
  3. You understand deadlines and respect them: Opening Night is non-negotiable. Enough said.
  4. You have an eye on audience perception: You know what will sell tickets and what will not. This is a very transferrable skill, and lots of theatre people underestimate this, because they think of theatre as an ART, and not as a BUSINESS. I frequently say (even to MBA-types) that theatre was absolutely the best business education I could have gotten. While the business majors were buried in their books and discussing theory, we were actually SELLING a PRODUCT to the PUBLIC. Most business majors can get through undergrad (and some MBA programs, even) without ever selling anything. Theater departments are frequently the only academic departments on campus who actually sell anything to the public. Interesting, isn’t it?
  5. You’re courageous: If you can sing “Oklahoma!” in front of 1,200 people, you can do anything.
  6. You’re resourceful: You’ve probably produced “The Fantasticks” in a small town on a $900 budget. You know how to get a lot of value from minimal resources.
  7. You’re a team player: You know that there are truly no small roles, only small actors. The show would fail without everyone giving their best, and even a brilliant performance by a star can be undermined by a poor supporting cast. We work together in theatre and (mostly) leave our egos at the stage door. We truly collaborate.
  8. You’re versatile: You can probably sing, act, dance. But you can also run a sewing machine. And a table saw. And you’ve probably rewired a lighting fixture. You’ve done a sound check. You’re good with a paintbrush. You’re not afraid to get your hands dirty for the benefit of the show. In short, you know how to acquire new skills quickly.
  9. You’re flexible: you’ve worked with some directors who inspired you. Others left you flat, but you did the work anyway. Same goes with your fellow actors, designers and stagehands… some were amazing and supportive, others were horrible and demoralizing to work with (we won’t name names). You have worked with them all. And learned a little something from every one of them.

These are the top reasons I’ve found my theatre degree to be a great background for a business career. What are yours?

(The Change Agent is Brian Sibley. Follow him on Twitter @bsibley)

Something in the water?

Is there something in the water, or is this a new job search method being taught somewhere? I didn’t think it was possible, but I’ve received ANOTHER one of those grossly informal cover letters. I appreciate that these candidates are eager and want desperately to stand out, but this is not the way to go about it. Again, I’ve changed the name to protect the innocent offender.

To Whom It May Concern:

I don’t like to boast, but I am not one of the perky multitude whose cover letters are full of adjectives like eager, enthusiastic, and energetic. It’s almost enough to make you wonder if you’re reading about a person, or a puppy. I prefer the more traditional traits of resourcefulness, determination, and creativity.

I am interested in the [intern] position you recently advertised. I am a recent graduate with a degree in writing, and I am especially interested in pursuing a career in promotions and advertising.

My experience in the field has been limited to freelance and internship work on a small scale, but it has been positive experience. I am comfortable working with minimal direction, though I also understand that this is a highly collaborative business. I learn quickly, and have some experience in graphic design and film production.

Thank you for your consideration. I will include one or two short writing samples to counter-balance my sparse resume. I look forward to hearing from you.


Jason Ludwig

New trend in job hunting?

I hope not.

I’ve recently posted an internship position. I’m looking for someone with some experience (so they have a rough idea what is going on), but not too much (so they become opinionated and arrogant). Someone who’s dependable and resourceful. I’m looking for someone who will take direction without needing to hold my hand. Sound familiar? Everyone who’s hiring an intern is looking for this person.

I’m looking primarily for someone with a bit of humility, and someone who knows the game of job hunting and knows how to play it. I want this because it shows me that the candidate understands the value of convention and process.

This morning, I received the following cover letter from a would-be candidate. I’ve changed his name to protect his identity. But I want his mistakes to serve as a lesson to all of you who are looking for internships. This guy has just graduated from college, and in my opinion, he hasn’t earned the right to be so informal. If you want to stand out and be different, then work on the quality of your writing, work on your spelling and usage. Above all, don’t try to be cute.

Read his letter, and don’t write anything like it. (Note: The only words I have changed are the author’s name. The rest is posted here exactly as written by the candidate.)

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Jonny Callison and I am your man. With the utmost confidence I can guarantee amongst the sea of applicants you may be receiving, none have the personal drive that I myself hold. I have a personal record of obtaining the job I want after every interview I have had. You see, once you meet me face to face, it’s hard to deny my enthusiasm for learning the ins and outs of the company. I am a fresh out of college kid who is ready to be molded and sculpted to perform any task at hand.

I have worked several retail possessions in the past which have taught me a great deal about multitasking, handling extremely stressful situations all while holding on to my patented smile. The area that I most excel in is small group interactions. I tend to take charge in situations to lead successful discussions. My years studying communications have taught me a great deal how to react to any communication situation, getting those who would feel otherwise uncomfortable in interactions to speak their valid opinions. I know how to motivate everyone around me and I know how to ask questions. It seems to me that in today’s world, people in general have become too proud to admit they need help. If I am unsure of a point, I will ask for help.

I have perfect attendance with showing up to work on time, because my work ethic has taught me when you have a responsibility, your personal life goes out the door. When there is a task at hand, you complete that task as soon as possible. On top of all these personal attributes, I am an extremely fun person to have around. Despite my own horn tooting this letter has been, I am a very modest person with a terrific sense of humor. People love to work with me, because I am able to maintain a positive, fun nature about me without affecting my professionalism. I am the best worker you will ever come across, and I have a list of references that would easily back up this statement. All that I need from you now is a chance. Once I’m in the door, you will see how true these points are. You needn’t look any further, you’ve found Jon Callison.

Thank you!