Emerging Arts Leader Tara Scroggins talks about her job search and shares tips for other emerging arts leaders in the same position.
I’m a (self-proclaimed, involuntary) job search expert. To explain, I’ve been actively searching for jobs for most of the last six years. I graduated with a music degree, after which I worked as a waitress, receptionist, and retail manager. This was all very disheartening, as I grew up to the mantra “Follow your dreams and you can do anything!” It was frustrating that no one seemed to understand the benefits of an arts education and the plethora of transferable skills I possessed.
After three years of papering all job openings remotely related to the arts and zero calls for interviews, I knew it was time for more school. The search for the right graduate school is not so different from searching for the right job. Finding a compatible academic philosophy is like fitting into corporate culture; negotiating scholarships is like negotiating pay and benefits.
I moved east to attend Carnegie Mellon and the job search continued for part-time work during school and the oh-so-important summer internship. Then, the big search for the first job of the rest of my life. I had a newly minted Master’s degree in Arts Management and could finally been seen as qualified for the job of my dreams! Right?
Well, it wasn’t exactly like that. Unlike my colleagues in the MBA program, I did not have a perfect job waiting for me after graduation. I was told that the arts world didn’t work like that-told by classmates that graduated a year ahead of me and had already experienced the alternate reality to our professors’ ego-inflating speeches about being the next generation of Executive Directors. So, I moved back to the Midwest and lived with my parents for four months. I tried to convince myself that the situation was better than waiting tables, but it was still difficult to accept-especially when considering my newly-minted student loans.
About three months after graduating, I got a lead for a job in Los Angeles. Not just any job, but an almost dream job. After a couple of phone interviews and a credit card bill for an in-person interview, I got a job offer! Within two weeks I found a place to live, moved across the country, and started as the Community Programs Coordinator at LA Opera. Hooray!
Then the economic recession hit. Six months into my amazing job, I was laid off.
The job search began again. This time I started a job blog for my own personal use. I created a central place that contained all the links to job boards I checked daily. Several people have found it useful. You’re welcome to visit, too. http://appealingartsjobs.weebly.com/resources.html
Okay, okay, enough with the dramatic narrative version. Now I’ll give you the lessons I learned about how to effectively search for a new and better job.
Rules for everyone:
This is especially important for people looking to change sectors or move to a new city. I’m sure you’ve heard, It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. This is true to a point: job applicants with a personal connection to the hiring employer have a huge advantage. Of course, after you are hired, the "what you know" is expected to follow.
Find the local professional networks. In LA we have the Emerging Arts Leaders/Los Angeles (www.ealla.org), Arts Ed Roundtable (http://www.lacountyarts.org/artsed/roundtable.html), LA Stage Alliance (http://lastagealliance.com/), Museum Educators of Southern California (http://www.mesconline.org/), LA Culture Net (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/laculturenet/), and others. Professional networks are almost always welcoming to new members.
Go to Vista Print or a similar company and have calling cards made. People expect to exchange business cards at professional network events and writing your email on a cocktail napkin just doesn’t have the same effect. Don’t print them yourself on those horrible perforated templates, either. First impressions are important, and a professional card will help your new connections remember your professional demeanor.
Always be willing to meet people.
This is closely related to the rule about networking, but could be a little easier to handle for those less extroverted.
There are very few jobs in the arts that do not include some fundraising or marketing responsibilities, thereby requiring "soft skills" or social grace. Always be willing to introduce
yourself, meet new people, and take advantage of introductions. If
someone you respect or admire says, "You should meet Jane," be sure to follow up with that and meet Jane. It’s a small arts world-even in cities like Los Angeles or New York-and there are few things better for your long-term career than connections and recommendations.
Informational interviews: Do them!
It can be a little scary to reach out to an established professional and ask for an appointment, but it will be well worth your time and effort. Believe me on this one! Chances are that a successful arts professional loves what they do and will be happy to talk about it and share the joys of working in the arts with a bright, motivated student, recent graduate, or someone looking to move into the field. The worst that will happen is that they will say no, and then be flattered that you asked.
Update your resume monthly.
It’s pretty easy to get wrapped up in the daily tasks of a position and lose sight of the overall responsibilities that you’re adding to your resume. Take a little time, at least once a month, to reassess your qualities and accomplishments. Looking at other people’s resumes is a great way to find effective words or phrases. Look to your alma mater for a Career Services website with resume advice, or do a search to find one of many colleges that have these documents available to anyone online.
Negotiate salary and benefits.
There are books about why this is important, namely Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide by Linda Babcock. Yes, it is absolutely nerve-wracking, but do it anyway. I’ve seen Dr. Babcock’s presentations about how much more you can earn in your lifetime if you do or do not negotiate. It’s astounding.
If you absolutely cannot imagine asking for more pay or extra vacation days, think of it on broader terms: Do it for the rest of us. We entry- or mid-level arts administrators generally earn much less than we are "worth." There’s no doubt that we are paid much less than equivalent jobs in the private sector. We must collectively demand competitive (no, not just livable) wages and benefits. Once we raise the bar and working in the not-for-profit arts is no longer martyrdom, we will attract more qualified people to work in the field and, among other benefits to the field at-large, solve the so-called succession crisis.
Rules for those actively seeking a new job:
It’s hard, I know. But, a lot of the job-acquiring process is out of your control. Stressing will not make your phone ring.
Volunteering allows you to gain skills you haven’t exercised in your previous experience. Many arts organizations live and die by volunteers. You may have to manage volunteers someday, and it’s important to know how to treat them well. Plus, if you’re unemployed, volunteering will be good for your self-esteem and keep you busy.
Clearly articulate your transferable skills.
Don’t assume that the hiring manager knows how your seven years of experience waiting tables makes you a better applicant. Also, don’t assume that the teamwork skills you perfected in choir (or sharing a studio) will be obvious. Arts education has innumerable benefits, so don’t be afraid to explain them. The hiring manager probably has a lot on their mind, too, and may not have spent a lot of time scrutinizing your resume for these clues.
Have interview clothes clean and pressed at all times.
Just in case you get the question: "Can you be here in an hour?"
Once you send off a job application, try to forget about it.
Do a thorough job of adjusting every application for the position, have every job description and cover letter close at hand, but try to let it go after you click send. There will be jobs that you know you are perfect for, but then you don’t get a call. You can never know what is happening on the employer’s side, so don’t get down on yourself if you don’t get an interview.
Be honest about your artistic endeavors.
If you’re just looking at an office job as a way to pay bills until you "make it" artistically, I suggest being up front about this. Some employers are cool with that, but others are looking for more serious dedication. For those of you looking for a career in arts management, be clear about that, too. Ask about growth potential within the prospective organization.
The job search is complicated.
Feeling desperate about needing a new job is stressful. Remember, the first job offer you get may not be the right one. I could write a whole new blog about the process between getting a call for an interview and the first day of work. Maybe I will…
Anyway, to conclude, always keep your long term goals in mind. Talk to people that have jobs you would like to have someday. Ask about their career paths. If you keep your eyes on the long-term prize, you will do the little things along the way that will enable you to take advantage of opportunities when they arise.
Good luck, and happy searching!
Photos taken by Dawid Jaworski for Emerging Arts Leaders’ 2009 Creative Conversations in Long Beach. Cross posted from artjob.org.