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How to Write Your Music Resume

Budding and experienced musicians have a range of job options available to them. That's the good news. The challenge arises in getting attention from the right people to get the job you want. According to at least one study, people spend around six seconds looking at a resume before deciding if it goes on the "no" or "second look" pile.

Six seconds.


So here's the first tip: Always remember that your resume is a sales tool. It's a tool you need to sell yourself and get an invitation to audition or an interview. Your resume isn't your chance to "tell your story" blah blah blah. It's about showing – quickly – how you have the experience and skills to meet the needs of your potential employer.


The study showing the six second review looked at heat maps to see what recruiters looked at on resumes. They looked for the meat: current position and dates, past positions, and education. They ignored photos, descriptions of volunteer work, and other personal information.


Think about it from the perspective of the person doing the hiring: How stressed are they about making the wrong choice? What are the consequences to their program or their career? You're stressed looking for work, of course. But so are the people responsible for making the decision who to bring on.


At the resume stage, which is the first step, they are squarely focused on creating a short list of applicants who have the skills to meet the program's needs and expectations for the position. They consider issues like "fit" and culture only at the later stages of the application process.


Which is the second tip: Always remember that your resume is about getting the audition or interview – not the job. It's just the first step. Don't clutter things up by adding every little detail. They aren't going to read it now and it will only make it harder for employers to find the information they want to see to decide whether to invite you in.


Alright, the first two tips should guide the rest of the choices you make about the rest of our music resume writing tips: 

  • The top of your resume should include all your relevant contact information. 
  • Right below your name/contact information header, present what instrument you play or your voice type, as relevant. If you play more than one instrument, but are applying for a cellist's position – make sure "Cello" is first on your list. 
  • If you're applying for a performance position, listing your past performance experiences is always most important. Don't fall into the chronological trap. Instead organize them by performance type, such as orchestra, solos with orchestras, chamber music, and theatre pit orchestra. 
  • List your most prominent and prestigious experiences first. Again, forget chronology within the performance experience categories. If you performed with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra three years ago, list this first in your Orchestra Experience section. Don't leave off your more recent orchestra experiences, just list them after. 
  • If you're applying for an administrator, director, teaching or other non-performance position, employers are going to be interested in what you're doing now. So you will need a chronological element in your resume, but it doesn't have to control your entire resume. If your current position isn't terribly relevant to the position you're applying for, you have two choices of how to go after presenting your current employment information. 
  • Prioritize your past work experience most relevant to the position you're seeking, starting with the most recent. If you're applying for a teaching position, list all you past teaching positions in reverse chronological order. Then you can list other music-related positions after that. 
  • You can also organize your past work experience by skill. Let's say you're applying for an administrator position and haven't worked in a music program, but have worked in an academic department. You can use a sub-header "Administration Skills:" and share you administrative experience that way. List the top three to four skills this employer has mentioned and organize your experience around them. This is a good option if you're applying for a position for which you have no directly relevant past experience.

Our bullet list hints at one last over-arching tip: Customize your resume to the position. If you're applying for an orchestral position, list your Orchestra Experience first. If you're applying to join a quartet, put your Chamber Music section first. If you're applying for a seat with the "Bach Now – Bach Forever" summer festival, your first section should list all your Bach performances, regardless of format.


Create a master resume that you can cut and paste into the most relevant resume for each position. Remember – it's about showing the employer you have what they want. Don't make them hunt for the best information on your resume, because they won't.

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