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Career Options for Creatives (Finding a Job)

Many artists hold down a number of jobs in their life. The key is to find a job that allows you to keep making your work and that is satisfying or at least challenging.
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The average American getting out of college today can expect to have five to ten careers during his or her lifetime. If you just graduated, or you have been looking for a job for some time, here are some helpful hints on finding a job.

A study of Harvard students, ten years after graduation, shows that those who had specific goals made salaries three percent greater than the salary of the average Harvard graduate. Those with written goals made ten percent more than the average.

Rarely does an artist make a living exclusively from sales of their work, even if they become fairly well known artists. Many artists hold down a number of jobs in their life. The key is to find a job that allows you to keep making your work and that is satisfying or at least challenging.

Many cities have an arts list-serv; in Los Angeles, it is Los Angeles Culture Net (LACN), a Yahoo users group. You can sign up for the email listings via Yahoo Groups. Most job announcements and opportunities for artists are listed here. Finding one in your own city may help you keep posted about what is going on in the arts in your city. New York Foundation for the Arts has national job listings, not just local ( and Chicago has Chicago Artists Resource job listings (, or Americans for the Arts Job Bank ( There are a variety of other art job listings on the web, but these I can recommend.


Employment Status Definitions


If you can find full-time work that you enjoy and still have time/energy to devote to your art practice, then go for it. A full-time job is generally 40 hours a week. Working full-time gives you better job security, more money and sometimes health and retirement benefits. Some full-time jobs are paid by the hour and others are salary based. The trick is to have enough time and energy to continue making your artwork.


Part-time work is generally paid by the hour. It rarely has benefits such as health insurance and retirement, but it is a good way to try jobs out to see if you like them. It gives you more flexibility for making your artwork, and can sometimes relieve boredom. Part-time teaching often becomes full-time. Consider a part-time job while you are interning at a company you love or while taking classes.


If you want to work entirely as a consultant or freelance graphic designer, you need to do more than just start handing out your business cards. You must start your own business.

Working as a consultant or a freelance job means more than handing out your business card and expecting a call. It means you are in business for yourself. You should make sure that you understand what it means to be in business. Reading the Self Employment and Business sections of the GYST software will help you get started.

The benefits of being self-employed are choosing your own hours, being able to say no to a client, taking expenses off on your taxes and charging the rate you are worth if you can get it. You get to choose your own health plan if you can afford it, and you determine where your business goes.

The disadvantages are not knowing how to run a business, paying for your own mistakes and bearing sole responsibility for job security. There is a lot more paperwork; for example, you need to pay your own social security and benefits.

When you work with others, each new project may be a collaboration with a group of individuals that are brought together for that project. When the project ends, you will either go on to another one with a different group of people, or if it was successful, perhaps work with them again.

Temp Agencies

Temp agencies (temporary work) want experienced people for most jobs and will usually test your skill set. Temp agencies vary widely in terms of pay, but joining one may be a great way to get experience and network. MacTemps, Manpower, MacPeople, Strategic Staffing, Smith Hampton & Devlin, all claim to place desktop publishers and graphic designers, along with word processors.


Many companies and organizations offer internships, which provide experience and training in exchange for work. A few will also offer an hourly wage. On average, an internship lasts for one to six months. Make sure that the internship will actually train you to do something, and get specifics in writing before you start. You should get a job description in writing, along with the number of hours per week, the length of the internship and the skills you will learn in writing. Some internships just use you for busy work, but a good internship can lead to great connections and sometimes full-time employment.


Informational Interviews

One of the best ways to find out about a particular industry or company is to do interviews with current employees, or work in the industry you are interested in. This interview is a way to get information, not necessarily a job. Asking someone to chat with you is taking time out of their day, so treat them with respect, take them out for coffee or tea, or a drink after work.

Try to use this interview to clarify your goals and gain information that may not be advertised. Many jobs are found by word of mouth, so make sure you take the opportunity to get the inside scoop. This is also a good way to practice an interview, and get additional information so you know what kinds of questions to ask at a formal interview.

Finding a person to interview might be as easy as asking a relative or someone you know who works in the field. If all else fails, you can write to the company and request an informal interview with someone who works there, perhaps a department head. If you send a letter, include your resume, and any other helpful materials you may have. Asking for information is a great way to get support if they like you. They just might recommend that you apply for a position.

Be sure to send a thank you note to the person you interview. Dress appropriately and keep it short.


Your Goals

There are six main goals of informational interviews:

• Establish rapport with the interviewers. Get to know them personally.

• Let them know who you are. Be genuine and interested.

• Get advice on your job-search, particularly on improving both your approach and your presentation.

• Find out about your job market. Ask about latest developments, publications to
read, or professional groups you should investigate.

• Get referrals. If you have not received names by an interview's end, it is appropriate to ask for them.

• Be remembered favorably. Before leaving, tell an interviewer that you would appreciate being kept in mind in case s/he hears of anything

• Doing research ahead of time is crucial, as you want to know as much about the industry or career you are asking about.


Some Questions You Might Ask

Prepare a list of your own questions for your informational interview. The following are some sample questions:

• On a typical day in your position, what do you do?

• What training or education is required for this type of work?

• What personal qualities or abilities are important to being successful in this job?

• What part of this job do you find most satisfying? Most challenging?

• How did you get your job?

• What opportunities for advancement are there in this field?

• What entry-level jobs are best for learning as much as possible about this job?

• What are the salary ranges for various levels in this field?

• How do you see jobs in this field changing in the future?

• Is there a demand for people in this occupation?

• What special advice would you give a person entering this field?

• What types of training do companies offer persons entering this field?

• Which professional journals and organizations would help me learn more about this field?

• From your perspective, what are the problems you see working in this field?

• If you could do things all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? Why? What would you change?

• What do you think of my training and experience in terms of entering this field?

• With the information you have about my education, skills, and experience, what other fields or jobs would you suggest I research further before I make a final decision?

• What do you think of my resume? Do you see any problem areas? How would you suggest I change it?

• Who should talk to next? When I call him/her, may I use your name?


Getting To The Interview

Before the interview, make sure to do the following:

• Examine your likes and dislikes in previous work and learning situations -- what kinds of projects have inspired you?

• Determine your careers goals -- what jobs, in what industries, do you want?

• Make an exhaustive list of your strengths, abilities and past experience that supports those career goals.

• Define your preferred employment status -- full-time, part-time, contract.

• Research the companies that you would like to work for.

• Write a thorough, readable resume, which clearly defines your abilities and experience.

• Write a brief, sincere, informative cover letter that explains why you want to work for this particular company, and how you will benefit them.

• Send your resume, letter and samples (if available) to target companies.


Phone Calls

When on the phone with a prospective employer, let the other person do most of the talking. A phone interview should establish your communication skills, not be an opportunity to tell the interviewer your entire career history.

When taking a call from a prospective company or a recruiter, do so when you are ready and comfortable. If a call comes at a bad time, say so and reschedule.

Be prepared, but be yourself.

The employment interview is one of the most important events in a person's experience, because the thirty minutes to one hour spent with the interviewer may determine the entire future course of one's life.

Interviewers are continually amazed at the number of candidates who come to job interviews without any apparent preparation and only the vaguest idea of what they are going to say. Other candidates create an impression of indifference by acting too casual. At the other extreme, a few candidates work themselves into such a state of mind that they seem to be in the last stages of nervous fright.

These marks of inexperience can be avoided by knowing what is expected of you and by making a few simple preparations before the interview.


Preparing For The Interview

Preparation is the first step for a successful interview. Thus, it is important to:

• Know the exact place and time of the interview, the interviewer's full name and correct pronunciation, and the interviewer's title.

• Do your research. It is helpful to know the age of the company, what products or services they supply, where their plants, offices or stores are located, what there growth has been, and what their future growth potential is. There are a number of publications that provide information about prospective employers. Most of them can be found in any college or public library. A brokerage office or your bank may also be able to supply you with pertinent information about companies.

• Prepare the questions you will ask during the interview. Remember that an interview is a "two-way street." The employer will try to determine through questioning if you have the qualifications necessary to do the job. You must determine through questioning whether the company will give you the opportunity for the growth and development you seek.

Some probing questions you might ask:

• Can you provide a detailed description of the position?

• What is the reason the position is available?

• Is there an anticipated indoctrination and training program? Do you get paid during the training?

• Are advanced training programs available for those who demonstrate outstanding ability?

• What are the earnings of successful people in their third to fifth year?

• What are the company's growth plans?

• What is the next step in the hiring process?


Things To Do and Not To Do

You are being interviewed because the employer wants to hire people, not because he wants to trip you up or embarrass you. Through the interaction which will take place during the interview the employer will be searching out your strong and weak points, evaluating you on your qualifications, skills and intellectual qualities, and will probably probe to determine your greatest value.

Creative people can enjoy a more diverse dress style than some other professions. However, be sure to research the interview on this point. If everyone else wears suits, you can expect they will look for the same in prospective employees. Nowadays though, creative agencies have relaxed the expectation of formal dress. Nevertheless, it is usually better to overdress a bit than to be under-dressed.

Drive by the interview site if you have not met people at the job or seen the operation. See how people going in and out of the building dress and what the atmosphere is like. Visiting the site will also ensure that you know how to get there.


More Do's and Don'ts

• DO plan to arrive on time or a few minutes early. Late arrival for a job interview is inexcusable.

• If the employer presents you with an application to complete, DO fill it out neatly and completely.

• DO NOT rely on your application or resume to do your selling for you. Most employers will want you to speak for yourself.

• DO greet the employer by their surname if you are sure of the pronunciation. If you are not, ask them to repeat their name.

• Give the appearance of energy as you walk. Smile! Shake his/her hand firmly. Be genuinely glad to meet the employer.

• DO wait until you are offered a chair before sitting. Sit upright in your chair. Look alert interested at all times. Be a good listener as well as a good talker. Smile.

• DO NOT smoke even if the employer smokes and offers you a cigarette. DO NOT chew gum.

• DO look a prospective employer in the eye.

• DO follow the employer's leads, but try to get the employer to describe the position and the duties to you early on in the interview so that you can relate your background, skills and accomplishments to the position.

• DO NOT interrupt or finish questions for the interviewer.

• DO NOT answer questions with a simple "yes" or "no." Explain briefly but in complete sentences. Tell those things about yourself which relate to the situation.

• DO make sure that your good points get across to the interviewer in a factual, logical, sincere manner. Stress achievements. For example: projects completed, processes developed, savings achieved, systems installed, etc.

• DO NOT lie. Answer questions truthfully, frankly and as "to the point" as possible.

• DO NOT ever make derogatory remarks about your present or former employers or companies.

• DO NOT "over answer" questions. The interviewer may steer the conversation
into politics or economics. Since this can lead to a tricky situation, it is best to answer these questions honestly but briefly.

• DO NOT be defensive, or say any more than is necessary.

• DO NOT inquire about salary, vacations, bonuses, retirement, etc. during the initial interview UNLESS you are positive the employer is interested in hiring you. If the interviewer asks what salary you want, indicate what you have earned but that you are more interested in opportunity than in a specific salary amount at the present.

• DO always conduct yourself as if you are determined to get the job you are discussing, even if you have reservations. Seem interested. Never close the door on an opportunity. It is better to be in a position where you can choose from a number of positions -- rather than only one.


Be Prepared To Answer Questions Like . . .

• Why did you choose this particular vocation?

• Why do you think you might like to work for our company?

• What do you know about our company?

• What qualifications do you have that make you feel that you will be successful in your field?

• What do you think determines a person's progress in a good company?

• Can you get recommendations from previous employers?

• Can you take instructions without feeling upset?

• What is your major weakness?

• What have you done which shows initiative and willingness to work?

• Are you willing to relocate?

• How do you spend your spare time? What are your hobbies?

• What type of books do you read? How many books per year?

• Have you saved any money?

• Do you have any debts?

• What job in our company do you want to work toward?

• What jobs have you enjoyed the most? The least? Why?

• What are your own special abilities?

• What types of people seem to rub you the wrong way?

• Define cooperation.

• Do you like regular hours?

• What contributions to profits have you made in your present or former position to justify your salary level there?


Negative Factors Evaluated By An Employer

During the course of the interview, the employer will be evaluating your negative factors as well as your positive factors. Listed below are negative factors frequently evaluated during the course of the interview and those, which most often lead to the rejection of the candidate:

• Poor personal appearance.

• Overbearing, overaggressive, conceited, "know-it -all."

• Inability to express thoughts clearly: poor poise, diction or grammar.

• Lack of planning for career: no purpose or goals.

• Lack of interest and enthusiasm: passive and indifferent.

• Lack of confidence and poise: nervousness.

• Overemphasis on money: interested only in the best dollar offer.

• Evasive--makes excuses for unfavorable factors in record.

• Lack of tact, maturity, courtesy.

• Condemnation of past employers.

• Failure to look employer in the eye.

• Limp, reluctant handshake.

• Lack of appreciation of the value of experience.

• Failure to ask questions about the job.

• Persistent attitude of "What can you do for me?"

• Lack of preparation for the interview - failure to get information about the company resulting in inability to ask intelligent questions.


What to say and not to say

There are many fatal mistakes that a candidate can make during an interview. Many HR Managers, Department Managers, Vice Presidents and Presidents have talked about the pitfalls of candidates that look good on paper, but in person they lack the skills needed to secure a job opportunity. Here are just a few tips on interviewing that may help you.

• Arrogance, righteousness and the inability to listen will certainly eliminate your chances of receiving an offer.

• Be concise in your conversation and in answering questions. Many candidates talk themselves out of a job by talking too long and get into trouble by being contrary. Limit each response to 60 seconds or less.

• Others are rejected in the interview because they lack enthusiasm and energy. DO NOT put your listener to sleep!

• Show interest, but DO NOT oversell yourself. If you oversell yourself it may come back at you on the job.

• Your job is not only to sell yourself to the interviewer but also to find out if the job is a good fit for you. You do not want to accept something that is going to be counterproductive or not good for your career.

• Prepare for the interview. Be well groomed and neat. Most important, know something about the company, its culture and its competitors. Ask about the needs of the company.

• Have good questions about the job. Ask about the future of the company. Ask the interviewer what kind of person that they are looking for. Then be quiet and LISTEN!

• DO a self-assessment. Be prepared. Be positive and do not put down your previous or present employer.

• Be aware of the interest level of the interviewer and be sure to ask for their card.

• Be on time, do not smoke, drink or chew gum. Thank the interviewer for their time. Close by asking what will be the next step.

• A follow-up call to your recruiter and a thank you letter to the interviewer is a must.


Arts Related Jobs

There are many jobs available for fine artists. Working for a gallery, nonprofit arts organization or museum may require knowledge of art history, art restoration, exhibit design, selling, management skills, budget planning, writing skills, people skills, database management, precise organization and other specialized knowledge. These skills can be learned through non-art related jobs and then applied to the needs of an arts organization. Remember that there will always be a learning curve when working for any arts organization -- each has a unique focus, specific client base, donor base, office dynamic and arts focus.

There are many arts related jobs, including:
museum/gallery personnel
arts administrator
teacher or professor
art restoration
lab and shop technician
slide librarians/photographers
office staff
art librarian
artist assistant
writer for hire
web designer
graphic/commercial artist
interior design
entertainment industry work
design fabrication
commercial photographer
computer/video work
decorative murals
cake decorator
art photographer
art store employee
entertainment industry work (fabrication, set design etc.
editor (all media)
art journal publisher
landscape design
any hybrid between the arts and another profession

Through volunteerism, internships and work/study programs, you can build your resume and train in art-related work. Ask yourself the following questions:

• Do you have software skills?

• What about imaging software (Photoshop, scanning, layout programs)?

• Do you have graphic arts experience?

• Do you have experience working with prints and/or printers?

• Do you have any language skills, or marketing experience?

• Are you good with people (the public) or are you a back room kind of person?

• What kind of salary or hourly wage/hours do you need to cover living and studio expenses?

• Do you need benefits such as health insurance or a retirement plan? Can you do without it?

• Do you need to work for someone else or do you have the skills and drive to be self-employed?

• Do you need flexible working hours in order to do your work, or can you work a 9-5 job?

• Are you an inside person or an outside person.

• What kind of job would be good for you to learn new skills that will support your artwork?

Look for job listings on the web, in publications, list-servs and at your local university of college. Contact personnel offices at companies that pique your interest. Ask all your friends, your current or former teachers, other artists, professionals, and people who have a high regard for you.

For hybrid careers and artists who run their own businesses, see my previous article on Huff Post Arts - "Artist-Run Businesses Matter."

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