After several years of juggling part-time training with my day job, I am ready to try to make it pay off by getting myself on to casting sites and approaching agents. I’m putting together my marketing materials and uploading profiles in various places. The ‘previous credits’ sections aren’t too much of a problem to complete, as I don’t have many yet (although I’m going to work hard to change that). Where I am getting stuck is when asked to list my skills. I have done courses in singing, accents and combat, but I’m not quite sure which ones I should be flagging up as ‘highly skilled’. I don’t want to oversell myself, but I don’t want to miss out on opportunities by being too shy, either.
John Byrne’s advice
Well done for not just listing your skills, but thinking about how to describe them. A common example of not doing that would be the high number of actors who list “singing” on their CV, but don’t know their vocal range.
Admittedly, not every skill is as measurable, so I understand your dilemma. To decide at what level your skills are, your best approach would be to apply a combination of common sense and honest feedback from friends or teachers who know the business well enough to be truthful without being discouraging. Finding people who can strike that balance can take time and be a skill in itself, so in the meantime, let’s look at where common sense can help.
Put yourself in the place of the producer or casting director who has a lot invested in a project and needs performers to be able to deliver on whatever skill they promise. Unless we are robots or superheroes, most of us will have a few weak spots, be adequately skilled at other things and, in a somewhat smaller number of areas, be able to declare ourselves ‘very good’ or even ‘jaw-droppingly incredible’.
While you should certainly flag up any skills you have that fall into that third category, claiming you have skills you aren’t fully confident in just to ‘get into the room’ is unlikely to do you any good once you arrive. Your CV is certainly no place to be shy about things you can do exceptionally well, but it is wise to avoid over-promising in other areas.
Let’s take languages as another example. Studies suggest there are many multilingual people and this is certainly an advantage in an increasingly international market. The average number of languages spoken fluently by the same person ranges between two and four. If you are listing more than that, be sure you are fluent, rather than just able to manage a few basic holiday phrases, especially if a casting specifies fluency as a requirement.
Accents are another area where confusion reigns. The days of the ‘actor’s foreign accent’ as popularised in Allo Allo are more or less gone unless you are doing very broad comedy. By all means list all the accents you can, but take them out for a test spin every now and then so you’re not caught up in last-minute panic when a short notice casting for one does come in.
Finally, explore the dropdown skills menus on casting sites, even the ones you feel may not apply to you. Just as much as you want to avoid losing out on a part by overselling yourself, you don’t want to leave out something that might make the difference for particular castings.
Contact careers adviser John Byrne at firstname.lastname@example.org or @dearjohnbyrne 
John Byrne is also a writer, cartoonist, performer and broadcaster. Read his advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/john-byrne