Special Skills for Actors: The Complete Guide 
Special skills for actors is always a touchy subject. How do you decide what special skills should you put on your resume? What even is a special skill? Why do some casting directors encourage you to add your driver's license, while others scoff and say you never ever should? How to make sense of it all? And how do you stand out?
Let's explore how to make that bottom section of your resume absolutely perfect. In this comprehensive guide on special skills for actors we'll look at the following things:
- ⁃ What are special skills for actors?
- ⁃ Why are they important?
- ⁃ What special skills are casting directors looking for?
- ⁃ What special skills are often undervalued by the actors?
- ⁃ Irrelevant skills - what to watch out for?
- ⁃ 3 things to NEVER add to your special skills list
- ⁃ The MOST important trick to make casting directors love your resume
- ⁃ The #1 thing casting directors hate the most
- ⁃ Don't have any special skills? Here's what to do
- ⁃ 3 special skills actors can learn FAST & CHEAP
- ⁃ How to make sure casting directors notice the RIGHT skills
With plenty of examples, based on real-life experiences you'll learn the DOs and DON'Ts of special skills for actors.
Without further ado, let's dive right in.
What are special skills for actors?
Special skills are things you can do that enhance your value as an actor for a particular role. They can be anything from doing accents and stage combat, all the way to handling animals and doing a perfect Danny DeVito impression.
It's common practice to add your special skills at the end of your resume as a list or in 3 columns.
Why are special skills important for actors and models?
There are 3 reasons why special skills are important.
- They can help you stand out. Casting directors go through hundreds, sometimes thousands, of resumes and anything that you have over another contender puts you closer to getting an audition. And anything that makes the casting director do a double-take or make them spend longer looking at your resume is a win in your book.
- More opportunities. Perhaps there's a different role that you fit better than the one you applied for. You never know what else a casting director is looking for and a rich and healthy special skills section can trigger the right connection at the right time, and land you a role you might not have applied for.
- Shows who you are. The special skills section on your resume is the place where you can give a glimpse into your personality. The rest of the resume is rather bland, technical, and straight-forward, but your special skills section doesn't have to be. Anything unorthodox is welcome and bound to spark conversation, e.g. “Full Kromanti ritual dance”.
What special skills are casting directors looking for?
Before you stuff your resume with funky and often-useless skills hoping to shock yourself to the top, you must understand that it's probably not going to work. The world of acting has several skills that are highly desirable.
Here's a list of broad special skills categories:
- ⁃ foreign languages
- ⁃ accents
- ⁃ dialects
- ⁃ singing
- ⁃ combat skills
- ⁃ weapon handling
- ⁃ sports
- ⁃ dancing
- ⁃ playing instruments
- ⁃ stunts
Why are they desirable? Because if you look around, you'll notice the overwhelming majority of productions and projects tend to have some of these elements. While bigger productions can afford to provide training and teach you the things they're looking for, the smaller ones usually look for people ready to rock from the get-go.
So having/learning these skills in some form widens the range of roles you can get cast for.
What's more, practicing a wide breadth of skills also has a positive residual effect on everything acting-related you do. For instance, if you sing opera, this can signal to the casting director that you have great control over your voice, and be a significant bonus, even if no singing is involved. Another example: if you're great at handling weapons, you might also be called upon to teach & assist. The examples are countless.
Actors often undervalue their existing special skills
Don't speak a foreign language? Can't sing? A clutz with weapons? That's fine. While those skills can help you land more auditions, they're definitely NOT mandatory, especially when you're just starting out.
You have to leverage your existing skills. The primary criterion a casting director is looking for in a resume is relevance. So even if you're competing against well-rounded actors who can sing, fight, and dance, you can still win that audition with your unique special skills.
Think - natural talents, work experience, hobbies, classes, personal quirks, technical experience, and other cool special skills for actors. Whether you're a natural at swinging a rope, or can expertly operate a forklift - all of these are incredibly valuable to add to your special skills.
Beware of irrelevant skills!
There's nothing worse than irrelevant skills. What makes a special skill irrelevant? Here are two examples.
Let's say you're moonlighting as a bartender. Just adding “Bartending” can have very little meaning, even if you're auditioning for a Bartender role. That's what they're looking for, so all of the applicants should qualify for this even if they don't have any real bartending experience.
The way to stand out is to explore what specific skills you've learned as a bartender that can make you stand out. Perhaps you can juggle bottles, or know cool drink pouring tricks… mention THAT, not the bartending itself.
Let's talk about the ever-divisive driver's license. Some casting directors say you should add it, others say - don't ever do that. What's the right answer? Well, there isn't one. Rather you need to understand the context.
If you live in, let's say, New York, you should ABSOLUTELY add it. Not everyone's a licensed driver and this can be a valuable addition to your resume and it fits right in with other special skills for actors. BUT, if you're applying for a casting call in Hollywood, where everyone has a license, then it's expected of you, and adding it will make casting directors roll their eyes.
3 things to NEVER add to your actor special skills list
Don't lie on your resume. Ever. Can you get away with it? Sometimes. Is it sustainable? No.
While casting directors won't make you do every special skill you've listed, they might ask about one or two that they found interesting. Nothing worse than getting caught brazenly lying. What's more, it casts doubt on everything else in your resume. A discovered lie will sour a relationship to no return. So don't lie.
This includes exaggerating your skills. If you add “advanced Yoga” because you think you're flexible and went to one class, but can't even get into a shoulder-pressing pose during the audition, then don't be surprised if you don't get that callback.
And there are worse examples than that. Here's Actor Will Roberts telling a story of how a girl claimed to know how to ride a horse and what the resulting consequences were:
The story goes like this: she's on the horse, the camera starts rolling, she falls, and breaks both her legs.
Lying is on your resume is stupid. Don't do it.
2. Things you THINK you can do, but haven't done in a long time
Casting directors hate this. Let's say you added “Walking on my hands” to your resume because you used to be great at it a couple of years ago. But can you still do it? Skills are easy to forget. If you don't practice and find yourself messing up, then telling the casting director “I used to be great at this”, you can be sure that they won't be pleased.
Before adding a special skill to your resume, make sure you're actually able to do it on demand and it's not just something you THINK you can do.
3. Useless special skills for actors
Another faux pas when it comes to special skills is adding useless ones. We already touched on the “Bartender” example previously, but there's a whole bunch of skills aspiring actors often add that casting directors just do not care about, or even laugh at.
“Make delicious pizza”; “Great lover”; “Avid reader of mystery novels”; “Stamp collector”, “Superb dog walker” - none of these mean anything to a casting director. Why? Because they're not adding anything to your acting abilities. So, as pleased as you might be with your stamp collection, it has no place on your resume.
Now that you've got a good list, here's the MOST IMPORTANT TRICK to make it fantastic
So let's say you've listed “Ice hockey”, “British accent”, and “Handling animals”, among your special skills. Here's the problem: these skills pose more questions than they answer. How good are you at ice hockey? What kind of British accent? Will you be able to handle an alligator?
When it comes to skills, you HAVE TO BE SPECIFIC.
“I play in a local amateur Hockey league. Cockney accent. Handling animals and insects of all sizes.”
Do you see the difference? Specific is better. The casting director will appreciate this.
Putting broad skills that cover a lot means you're ready to deliver at that audition. If you had “handling animals” on your resume and find yourself saying “Oh, I meant I can handle well-behaved house-cats” to a casting director holding a scary-looking Rottweiler, then you blew it.
The #1 thing casting directors hate the most
The most perfect resume with well-described special skills will get thrown in the trash if… you don't fit the role.
If the casting call asks for significant basketball experience, but all you've got on your resume is Ice Hockey, then THE ROLE IS NOT FOR YOU.
Listen, we understand that it's a rough world for aspiring actors, and over 80% of all actors in the US are out of a job at any one time, but you won't improve your situation by just applying to everything you see. You'll waste not only the casting director's time but your own as well.
So always make sure that you and your special skills are relevant not only in terms of the general acting world but also for the specific role you're applying for.
But I have no special skills to add to my resume
That's incredibly unlikely. Even if you can't speak a foreign language, or aren't very athletic, you're bound to have some skills that you can put on your resume. Some often-overlooked ones are public speaking, casual dancing, being able to quickly lose or gain weight, impersonations, being great at improv, and many other things.
Some actors even make a career of being purposely bad at something.
Still can't think of anything? Ask friends and/or family.
Even if you have no skills, then you should know - actors, especially those starting out, should ALWAYS be learning new special skills that can help in auditions. And here's the usual response: “Of course, but who has the time? And how do I pick a skill? And who's going to teach me? Isn't learning a skill expensive?”
Stop with the excuses, here's what to do.
3 special skills actors can learn FAST & CHEAP
A lot of skills can be learned on your own, in the comfort of your own home, and with minimal financial investment. There are plenty of FREE guides all over the internet, which usually means you just need to fire up YouTube and start learning.
Here are 3 special skills an actor can master in 3-6 months by practicing 1 hour a day.
Learn an accent
Accents are one of the most powerful tools in an actor's arsenal. Using only your voice you can add a whole other dimension to your acting and create a new character, a new persona. Accents and dialects can convey incredible amounts of information about upbringing, class, education, intelligence, and background.
Not only will learning an accent or two give you something to add to your special skills list, but it will also give you an advantage when auditioning - you'll be able to switch to one more suited for that particular role.
While a good dialect coach can be an investment that's bound to pay off for actors, you can also make incredible headway on your own. Just type 'Russian accent training' or 'Irish accent training', or whichever other accent you wish to learn in YouTube search and get started right now!
If you have some disposable income, we recommend checking out learning platforms like udemy.com and taking some of the classes there.
Take up sports or other physical activities
Sports are fantastic. There's plenty to choose from, there are countless personal benefits, and it can help your acting career both as a hard skill, as well as by generally improving your athleticism.
When deciding what to take up, try finding something that compliments your physique and personality. In other words, if you're tall, consider basketball. If you're skinny and flexible, consider yoga. If you've got a beer-gut, consider pool.
But take this suggestion lightly as there's tremendous value in NOT conforming to the status quo. A 5”1 basketball player? A 300-pound gymnast? The stories are writing themselves! If you take up something physically challenging, however, do remember to take care of your health.
While doing both and mixing the expected and unexpected can be very valuable, the most important thing is to enjoy yourself. If you pick up a skill you hate just because you believe it'll look great on your resume, then you're likely to give up on it.
Improve your manual dexterity
This can be anything from basic gun handling to learning kitchen knife skills and doing sleight of hand magic tricks. A toy gun, a fake knife, or a deck of cards cost almost nothing and are everything you need to start learning a cool skill to add to your special skills section.
Fun to learn, and even more fun to do, these skills are easily adaptable to a wide range of situations, from the cool highschool kid spinning a pen around his finger to the veteran poker player twirling a coin across his knuckles.
And once again, YouTube is your best friend. Just search for the skill you want to learn and get practicing.
Note: whichever skills you pick, it's all about perseverance and training. Don't expect to perfect an accent within an afternoon. Watch and rewatch the lessons, and practice, practice, practice!
How to make the MOST from your special skills
When possible, adapt your special skills section (and other parts as well), to the role that you're sending your resume in for. When casting directors look at your resume (which is one of hundreds, if not thousands), they're looking whether you have what they need. So make sure they find it. How?
Adapt your resume to the audition you're sending it in for. It takes less than 5 minutes and can be the difference-maker. Rearrange your experience and special skills so that the most relevant ones are first and most noticeable. If you're auditioning for the role of a bartender, then “semi-professional ice hockey player” is potentially less important than “Juggling up to 5 bottles”, despite the former being more impressive. So put the juggling first.
An additional benefit of this is that the higher a skill is in your list, the more competent you seem in it. It's silly, but that's how psychology works. So if you have “Juggling up to 5 bottles” at the very end of your special skills list, then the director might think “I guess, they're not very confident about it”.
Now you know everything about special skills for actors
There you have it. Now you know what counts as a special skill and you know what special skills to put on your actor's resume.
We hope this comprehensive guide answered your questions about special skills for actors. Now it's time to go and revise your resume and, fingers-crossed, it'll help you get more auditions.