Five things that looks bad on an actor’s resume, or are just a huge no-no

As a follow up to my previous article on things that look good on an actor’s resume, I’d thought I’d change it around and share… dun dun DUN! things that look bad on an actor’s resume. Like my previous list, this is not the be all and end all, there are plenty of other nightmare resumes directors have seen. But this list is a good start.

Background work (extra work)

Cartoon clapperboard

There’s a debate on whether film/tv/commercials should have a separate resume from your theater one. But in any case, whenever you include it, guess what doesn’t belong? Extra work! I roll my eyes when I see an actor do this. Being an extra can be grueling—it is work. But it’s not the same as acting. Putting a featured role on a resume is seen as acceptable by many people, but background work is certainly not. (There seems to be many definitions of “featured” from the research that I’ve done, but you can google it.) Does that mean it’s bad to do background work? Not at all! It can be fun and a good experience, despite the monotony. And you get to know what it’s like being on a set. But leave it off your acting resume.

Incomplete or misleading information

Sign that says "left" pointing right, and a sign that says "right" pointing left

It’s possible to do this deliberately or by accident, but in any case, putting incomplete or misleading information on your resume should be treated the same as flat out untrue information. Here’s an example: if you play an instrument, but your skills in that instrument are beginner or intermediate, specify that! There’s nothing wrong with saying you’re a guitarist if you’re still playing at beginner level, but if you blindly write “guitar” when you’ve only just begun learning, a director might assume you can play like Jimi Hendrix or something —and get really upset when they find out you can’t. But it’s perfectly fine to put something to the effect of “Guitar: intermediate, Piano: beginner”, etc.

Inaccurate information

The word "truth" with a magnifying glass over it revealing the word "lies" over and over.

::takes deep breath::
OK… if you really need to be told not to lie on a resume, please quit theater right now. I mean, you shouldn’t lie on any resume. But yes, sadly, there are people who do this. And… just don’t! First of all, it’s immoral. And things catch up to you in life. Especially lies. Second, if you’ve put down that you can do a skill, a director may just ask you to demonstrate that. When they find out you can’t, you’ll likely incur their wrath! When you’re caught lying on your resume a number of things could happen. You may get fired, word may get around that you’re a liar and a flake, and so on. Once that happens, it can get hard to find roles. Don’t say you can do an accent if you can’t. Don’t say you’ve played Richard III if you haven’t. Don’t say you completed a class when you didn’t. It’s that simple! And more than likely, your lie will get found out sooner or later.

Old headshot

A  photography studio

Your headshot should be treated as part of your acting resume because it represents you as much as your experience. Your headshot should look like YOU. So don’t use a headshot that was taken 10 years ago. Or one that’s Photoshopped to the point where it looks like a totally different person. Or if you have a change in weight, or cut your hair short, etc. (You should look nice in your photo of course. You can have editing, make up, and so on. Just don’t overdo it. A headshot should look like you… on a good day.) Handing a director a headshot that looks completely different from the person standing in front of them is a really good way to annoy them. Having said all this, some directors in amateur theater are indifferent to these things, but you should err on the side of caution. Also, sometimes if the situation calls for it, there can be an exception to the rule, within reason. For example, I was directing a show for an instant play festival and I had an actress hand me a headshot where her hair was different, so she just jotted down a note on the photo about how her hair looked at the moment. I didn’t mind that, because it was an informal setting. (But not low quality.) So essentially, just use your best judgment.

silhouette of a photographer

Also, it’s important to note, the photograph… has to look good. If you absolutely can’t afford to have it professionally done, take some measures to make sure the photo looks nice. For one thing, no selfies. Just something as simple as standing in front of a brick wall outside, or any neutral looking wall, and having a friend take your photo with your phone can be enough. It’s best to do this in the shade and not during midday. This is so there’s no harsh light. But I want to be clear, this is NOT as good as having a professional photographer take your picture, but if it’s all you can afford, it’s a last resort and something is better than nothing. Also, I want to reiterate, this kind of advice is more geared to people just starting out, in amateur theater. A director in a professional setting probably wouldn’t appreciate this, but I think it’s safe to assume, within reason, that some amateur theater directors would be OK with it.

Address, social security number

The word "data" written several times in the middle of cross hairs

The only personally identifying information on your resume should be your phone number and email. THAT’S IT! Do not ever put your home address on an acting resume, and certainly not a social security number! An acting resume is different from a resume for a job you’re applying to (9 to 5, retail, etc.) You put your address on a job resume because that’s the standard. Acting resumes are a different story. Especially amateur theater. Directors may throw your resume away and this makes it susceptible to dumpster divers who are out to steal someone’s identity. Also, they don’t need your address—and they absolutely don’t need your social security number. (If you’re with a professional company, meaning you’re making a living as an actor, you may be asked for it down the road for payroll purposes, but it should never be on your resume.)

Man doing a facepalm with both hands next to a question mark

Directors do however need to contact you if you got a role—so, as a side note, for the love of God, make sure to proof read your phone number and email! I’ve heard directors say it was pretty much like pulling teeth to try to contact some actors who had put the wrong phone number, misspelled their email—or didn’t leave contact info at all. Yes, it happens!

Bonus item: debatable things… College work

Cartoon graduation cap

OK, this is a mini rant/bonus item. Putting college work on a resume. I personally see nothing wrong with this but many people, including directors will tell you otherwise. I mean, seriously, what if you played Hamlet in college—would you not want that on your resume?! This would be another “use your best judgement” situation. If you’re first starting out as an actor, I’d say this is all the reason to put plays you did in school on your resume. However, if you’ve done a lot of valuable work since then and the roles you played in college were smaller ones, that’s a good reason to take them off. Some directors, like me, are completely indifferent to putting college plays on your resume, and some will role their eyes at you and write you off. (If it’s the latter, don’t treat it as the end of the world.) Again though, it’s a judgement call.

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