Monday 23 May 2011

So you'd like a placement? Please do your homework.

Hello, this is Hilary, General Manager, dropping in to get a few things off my chest pass on some tips about maximising your chances of getting help, information or a placement out of us.

It's dissertation season, which always triggers a little rush of emails from students asking us for information, and some after work experience. We do our best to help students as much as possible, but we're a tiny, overworked company and despite our best intentions just can't meet everyone's requests by return. So, I thought I'd put together a 'how to get our attention' guide to asking us for something. In a spirit of friendly helpfulness, you understand, rather than a moan. Mostly.

1. Re: [blank]
No subject line and from an address my computer doesn't recognise? Chances are it'll go to my junk folder and never see the light of day. Game over. Go on, stick 'dissertation question' or 'Do you have any placement opportunities?' in there. Doesn't take a second.

2. Dear Sir/Madam/to whom it may concern
If you're genuinely keen to work with us or get that killer quote for your essay, you need to show us that. Addressing an email as if it's a circular from a stationery company just makes me sigh and delete. A quick rummage around our website will reveal the names of company members, so if you don't use a name it just looks lazy, and frankly a bit rude.

3. Here's my dissertation title. Please could you write it for me?
OK, that's probably a bit unfair, but only a bit. Very big or very general questions ("how do you make your work/how do you run a company?") that need 6000 words or more to answer will be filed in the 'to do' folder, and may never be seen again. When we're up to our eyes in tour booking or funding applications or in the rehearsal room (as we nearly always are) this is what we are able to respond to: succinct, focused questions that go beyond what's already available on our FAQ page (go to About and scroll right), an idea of context, and a ballpark deadline by which you need us to reply. Then if we can't help we can at least let you know in a timely fashion. Or help another way, with a 10 minute phone interview for instance.

4. I'll do anything
If it's work experience or a professional placement you're after, we need to know exactly what you're hoping for. We've all done placements or worked for free, and we know how depressing it can be when it doesn't live up to expectations, so you need to be just as clear about what you need to gain from your time with us, so we can be clear about what we can or can't help with. It's no good saying "I'll be happy to just sweep the stage", because a) I won't believe you and b) no stage needs that much sweeping. Yes, of course a willingness to do the small rubbish jobs is an admirable (essential?) quality - we do them ourselves every day - but tell us what you really want. Do you want to sit in on rehearsals? Learn how to market a show? See life on the road? This is important stuff, because we do have 'fallow' periods when there's nothing much to see at Third Angel HQ except a couple of us typing. And I'm guessing that's not what most people have in mind when they imagine a placement at a performance company.

5. I'm great in Panto
What's the last show you saw that left a big impression? What are you reading that excites you? If you've seen our work, tell us what you thought. If you haven't, tell us what has drawn you to us. If you have a CV full of workshops with contemporary artists and site-specific shows then that clearly demonstrates your interest in our kind of work. If your CV is more panto and Shakespeare, you'll need to tell us more about why you've approached us (rather than the RSC), otherwise it looks like you've just fired off an email to everyone under 'theatre' on

6. And finally
The little things count. If there are five people after a placement, the one who has sent a well-written, enthusiastic email that's been proofread, spell-checked and shows they've done their homework on the company, automatically goes to the top of my 'reply to' list. If five people are trying to get information to feed into an essay at the same time, the one who demonstrates some knowledge of our work, and passion for their subject, will be up there too.

All of which is a very long way of saying "do your research and check your grammar". But it works. Really. And demonstrating initiative goes even further. Consider the gauntlet thrown...

First person to spot a typo gets a pack of Pills for Modern Living postcards.


Deveril said...

Very good Hils! I enjoyed reading this! I didn't spot any typos though.
Deveril xxx

fromonetomany said...

Hi Hilary, Mark here all the way from NZ. Hope you are well!

At the risk of seeming fastidious, I MAY have spotted two errors:

1) I don't think 'Panto' is a proper noun and therefore should not have that capital P (your heading of point 5);

2) doesn't any word immediately following inverted commmas (middle paragraph of point 6) have to be capitalised?

And if I'm being REALLY anally pedantic, should there not be a comma between 'chest' and pass, or the words "and passing" between them to make it grammatically accurate?!

Sorry...I'll just go and commit some comma atrocitie's now to atone for my anal retentivene'ss...

Love from Mark

Hilary said...

Hi Mark

I think I'd argue 1) is a stylistic decision as it's in a heading, though I take your point, 2) I don't think that's a hard and fast rule, unless the quote is taken from a printed/verbatim text and is unarguably the start of a sentence rather than just a clause, and 3) as that text is presented as struck through as if in error, I'm not sure you can apply the rules of grammar as if it's part of the same sentence, but nice try!

To err is human; please be divine.