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How to Get a Job in the Art World: Branding Yourself through Resume, Grooming and Other Important Stuff

We’re pretty involved at our alma mater, the University of Michigan School of Art & Design. In a couple weeks we’ll be meeting with students at the Portfolio Expo, a great event where students get to share their work with professionals that can give them insight on internships and jobs, what approach to take to achieve their next goal and general advice for exploring the art world.

I remember how nerve-wracking it was trying to get my foot in the door at a gallery. There’s a steep learning curve involved with molding into the culture of dealing with clients and that’s something that can’t be taught. Since the bulk of my background has been in gallery and art administration, I’ve interviewed and hired a few interns over the years. For the most part, I knew my future intern within two minutes of meeting them. But before that, the resume tipped me off on who I should look out for. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Include organizations you're involved in. The 1st Slideluck Potshow Chicago, 2009 Image: Casey Kelbaugh.

RESUME

You are a brand, and your resume is a product of that. I really appreciate a thoughtful resume with attention to font, spacing, color and if it’s relevant, a logo. It’s especially effective if the content of your resume stands up to the aesthetics. Many times I see gimick-y resumes but there’s little to no content or not enough text to tell me what skill sets students possess or what they did at their last job. Conversely, a resume that’s content heavy but runs text all the way to the margins when it says they’re graphic design majors, is just as disconcerting. Striking a balance is difficult and every interviewer or potential employer is going to look for different things. My advice is to send your resume to at least three professors and/or professionals in the field that have the time to give you feedback on both aesthetic and content.

Here are a few other tips:

  • Curate and edit. Keep your resume to one page, if possible. The second page is usually overlooked, mostly due to time constraints.
  • Don’t fill up the page with an extra large font if you’re short on experience. Own the fact that you’re green and be honest about your ambitions during interviews.
  • Please use spellcheck. I cringe thinking that you’re not only sending it to me, but lots of other potential employers as well. It’s indicative of the type of work you’ll produce.
  • If you don’t feel confident on your design skills, do a trade with a graphic designer to spruce up your resume.

A panel discussion on the artist's role in society

GROOMING + INTERVIEWING

I once had a student show up for a 9 a.m. interview at 9:15 (Strike one. I’m a stickler on punctuality, especially for interviews)! We had a nice conversation but I knew right away that she wouldn’t feel comfortable on the gallery floor. The collectors I dealt with would walk all over her. Plus, she hadn’t brought a copy of her resume (strike two). As she was speaking, I noticed that her hair was a bit unruly. As she turned to the side, I saw a huge matted knot on the back of her head that stuck straight up. Bedhead. (Strike three. Must brush hair to work in gallery). After she left, I never heard from her again. Then there was the student who showed up in a tight white, see-through waffle shirt and dark, red lipstick – all over her teeth. She wasn’t called back.

Last year, our good friend John Luther, the Career Development Coordinator at the School of Art & Design, sent me notice that Kelsey would be calling to meet when she moved to Chicago. She was open to various positions but was really hoping to get into a design consultancy that handled all kinds of creative campaigns and products. Although it wasn’t my realm of expertise, we had a great conversation about the art scene. Not only did she show up on time and brush her hair, she was dressed appropriately, brought copies of her resume (although I had already seen it electronically) and had done research on the gallery. Consequently, Kelsey got herself a great position from meeting the President of a major company just weeks later.

It may seem obvious but I used to have friends during art school that didn’t shower. And one notorious friend who didn’t brush his teeth (gum was the stand-in). Whether you know it or not, people will recognize you from gallery openings and class which could affect your outcome in getting a job later. Brush your hair. And your teeth.

There are some great perks to working in a gallery.

There’s an old saying that goes, “Dress for the job that you want, not the one that you have.” There’s a lot of truth to that. My first year of art school, I couldn’t afford a lot of interview clothing. My “uniform”, as it came to be called, consisted of black long sleeve shirts, a black sweater vest, black dress pants and black boots. I pegged myself into the stereotypical artist garb but I never had a problem with matching outfits or looking underdressed. I always made sure my hair was coiffed and kept out of my face. I interviewed for two jobs this way and got them both. The point is, do your best and carry yourself like you mean it. Here are a few points to remember when interviewing:

  • Practice out loud. Make sure you can answer simple things like, Tell me about yourself? or Why do you want this job?
  • Answer the question. Don’t get caught up in telling long stories and forgetting what they wanted to know in the first place.
  • Research the organization or company you’re interviewing with. Even one factual tidbit will let the interviewer know that you’re serious.
  • Bring your resume, no matter how many times you know they’ve seen it.
  • Smile and try to have a good time!
  • Follow up. Thank you note or not, it’s a helpful reminder to email or drop a line to keep your presence fresh in their mind. If not for now, maybe down the road.

It’s a daunting but exciting feat to obtain an art-related job. Internships are competitive and really test your ability to thrive under pressure. In between final projects, tests and papers, it’s hard sometimes to figure out what you want to brand yourself as and ultimately, how. Think about your business card, your website and consider how cohesive they are to representing you and your work. Art school is a competitive business but don’t be afraid to show your work to peers and ask for feedback. We should all be well-versed in giving active and helpful critique by now so offer to do that same for your friends too.

We’re hoping to acquire an intern as our business grows down the road. Who knows, maybe it’ll be you. Best of luck to each and every one of you!

-Y-

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To infinity, and beyond.

Many times in life I’ve interacted with people that show up to work or class, and do exactly just enough to get by. They usually do what’s required, but that’s it. There seems to be no drive or personality in their actions.

Brijit Spencer is currently an art student at the University of Michigan’s School of Art and Design. Her interest is photography, which she has a firm understanding of, as well as some drawing and painting. It’s photography, though, that she’d like to pursue, post graduation. It’s no surprise that some of her favorites include Sally Mann, Nan Goldin and Diane Arbus. Her work, past and current, seems an ongoing documentary of the life she knows and is getting to know. Among other photos in her Integrative Project (which can be seen here) are two photos of a boy and his Halloween candy. Both images hold innocence, but the first leaves the viewer wondering if the slight frown worn by the child is just a random moment or in response to an unwanted request. The other photo perfectly captures the subordinate eyes of the child, as a piece of candy hangs in the balance. People are capable of acting out these emotions, but for a child this age, staged photos are extremely rare. The credit here is due to Brijit.

These images represent only a slice of her photography and style, and it’s safe to say that as a student who is set to graduate in a few months, she has little free time. Yet somehow she is doing something that few students do: she’s reaching out to people before graduation.

It’s never too late for anything, BUT if you have the chance to contact potential employers and/or artists you admire before entering the fast paced real world, do so. Good grades and solid work are definitely good things, but they don’t always set you apart. Be aggressive, be persistent. Simply put: be like Brijit.

More of Brijits work can be seen here.

-N-

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