I’ve been working at an artists residency for nearly two months now, as an intern. We just finished accepting all of the applications for the upcoming Fall season, and bundled them off to our jurors. I’ve learned some things throughout this process, and I thought I’d share them.

NOTE: These are all my own overly-opinionated musings. They neither represent my employer, nor do they predict what will happen to anyone who has applied this year–it’s in the jurors hands. Additionally, none of these examples describe specific applications. They are amalgams, chimeras, and are only based on actual events, like Law & Order.

I already knew many of these things, having been a hiring manager/slush reader before. It’s amazing how transferable some knowledge is. Anyway, while these address residency applications, they apply to all sorts of applications, like grants or jobs. The bottom line is to demonstrate just as much conscientiousness as you expect attention. In other words, there are ways to distinguish oneself that have unintended consequences. For example:

  1. Write a 37-page CV. Unless you are a performance artist, and your CV doubles as your work sample, be real. Maybe you have really done 37 pages worth of stuff–but does the residency selection jury need to know that you were on seven different Student Affairs committees? Or that you once worked for Staples and had three different job titles? There’s probably a way to customize that impressive piece of pulp-to-be down to a more manageable size, say 8-10 pages. Six, if you’re really good.
  2. Be unprofessional and or ask unprofessional people to recommend you.
    • Dear creatives, Your twitter profile is not what anyone means when they ask if you have a website. Also, if you feel the urge to use a font anywhere on your application whose name begins with a B, D, F, L, R, or S, squash that urge like a poisonous spider in your bed. That list is not exhaustive, use a font that is unlikely to offend the eye. Your work sample should be where you get to live your life out loud, not official forms or informative documents.
    • Dear recommenders of creatives, Two sentences, scrawled nearly illegibly on a napkin and or sent as a forward from the email asking you to recommend a person, does not constitute a recommendation. Letterhead, salutations, full, and complete sentences. Just like you ask your students to do for you.
  3. Staple things in the order that makes sense to you. Okay, this really only annoys the lowliest of the staff–like say, the interns and admins–but unless the application says to staple things, don’t. Maybe we have to make copies or re-collate in the order that makes sense to us, or separate pages among the jurors. Who knows? What is not fun is unstapling the 4 staples you used to consecutively attach the several small bundles of your application into one large bundle. When in doubt, call and ask. We probably won’t even remember your name. Plus by the time we tear out all those staples and restaple the documents into a useful configuration–your beautiful triple weight paper CV will look like hell. Also, don’t use triple weight paper for your CV, or that grainy gray stuff that looks terrible copied–this is the future, and the future is white printer paper.
  4. IGNORE THE DIRECTIONS. Oh man. Why is everyone always so bad at reading the directions? Teachers joke about how it is on the damn syllabus. Apparently this is a anti-skill people learn early and then continue to hone throughout their lives. When, for example, the directions say “All materials for online applications must be submitted online,” and you wondered to yourself, “Can my professor, who thinks it’s still 1999, fax her letter?” Before you just go ahead and tell your professor to do that, because you are king or queen of the universe and your wonderments become law, ask yourself, “Is this question already answered clearly in the instructions?” Don’t send 4 letters of recommendation if the application only asks for 3. Don’t send a 30 page writing sample, or 25 slides (SLIDES? WHO ARE YOU, EDWEARD MUYBRIDGE?–the instructions said to send a CD) when the application asks for 20 pages or 15 images.
  5. Only follow the instructions that you feel should apply to you. Take the above example. If, instead of wondering, you think “Surely this doesn’t apply to me, since I … ANY SITUATION AT ALL” then put a rubber band on your wrist that you can snap the next time you think such a thing. Instructions apply to everyone, unless they include clearly conditional phrases, such as “unless” or “in the event that.” Don’t assume that you are a special case, or you may become one before you even get to the second round, if you know what I mean.
  6. Wait until the last minute, and then need a lot of help. Please, if you really want to make an impression, wait until the day before the application window closes to call/email with a long list of questions and requests for special treatment. We love that. Especially questions that require research and follow up. We will be singing your name in the halls. We were probably just sitting around bored, anyway, and you were probably the only person who waited until the last minute. We are probably not angrily unstapling your stuff, now, and cursing you under our breath.

All that said, if you follow instructions, are prepared (and failing that, kind), if you ask early if you need to ask often… then the people handling your application will do anything they possibly can to get you the best shot at a residency. They love artists and writers and musicians. They want nothing more than to give everyone the gift of time. And if you do get the golden ticket, those same people will welcome you with open arms, and they will probably put you in the nice room with the good view, instead of the other room, which of course is also nice because they’re all nice, except for the very slight draft/amorous frogs in the pond out back/snorer next door.