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Secret Agent Man

Your Special Skills

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Your Special Skills
'Today you are you! That is truer than true!'

Now that hiatus is over, I'm sure my office will be swamped by the usual increase in actor submissions. That's the way it is every year. We've already warned the guy who brings our mail. I think I heard him whimper.

When it comes to submissions, every actor has the same question: Besides having a great headshot, how can I make my package stand out? Well, there are many ways to do this, but today I want to focus on the very, very bottom part of your résumé. That special skills section shouldn't be taken for granted. It's an opportunity to make an impression, and there are two ways you can do this.

The first is to list legitimate skills that could directly affect the kind of roles you might book. For example, I would love to know if you speak any languages other than English. The key here is to know the difference between being fluent and knowing how to order tuna in a sushi bar. Some other skills worth mentioning are singing, dancing, playing musical instruments, proficiency with accents, unusual athletic skills such as horseback riding or surfing (not softball or jogging), firearms training, military experience, and that sort of thing. None of those will increase your odds of getting a meeting, but they certainly won't hurt.

The second way to make an impression is to list personal qualities that help you stand out as a human being. I get curious when I see things like "reversible tear duct," "competitive clam shucking," and "comic book geek." A recent submission had "plyometrics" in the special skills section. Nope, I didn't know what that was either, but I took a moment to look it up. Those precious few seconds kept that résumé on my desk, and sometimes that's all it takes to sway an agent's decision in your favor.

Also, don't forget to be specific. Telling me you "love to travel" says nothing. Mentioning that you "spent three months exploring Southeast Asia" is much more eye-catching. That sort of thing can lead to an interesting conversation if I decide to bring you in for a meeting.

On the other hand, actors often waste my time by listing skills that are a complete waste of résumé space. For example, who cares if you're an avid reader? No one's going to hire you to read on camera. Volunteering is nice, but as an agent it means absolutely nothing to me. The same goes for crocheting and hiking. Great, you can sew and walk in the woods. Now what? My favorite worthless skill is being a licensed driver. Is that really supposed to make an impression? I work in Los Angeles, a town where nondrivers are shunned by the general public.

If you're not sure what to include in your special skills section, do some homework. Ask your actor friends to show you their résumés. Then pretend you're an agent. Do the résumés make an impression or do they leave you cold? There should be a few useful skills and at least one piece of information that stands out from the rest.

By the way, spelling counts. I hate seeing mistakes on résumés. It just tells me you didn't care enough to have it checked. And if you don't care, why should I? I also hate those stupid emoticons and smiley faces. They have no place on a résumé. Only crazy people use those things.

When that wave of submissions crashes into my office, it's very easy for an actor to get lost in the crowd. So you need to do everything you can to make your package stand out. And that includes making sure there's something special about the special skills section of your résumé.


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