Thursday, 18 December 2014

Career Advice from the Pros: A How-to Guide for Arts Students

Today’s post was written by Nicole Hoffman, CAPS’ Communications Intern. Nicole is in her final year of her Bachelor of Arts Degree at the U of A.

Careers in the arts aren’t always straight-forward. Professionals in the arts tend to hold many positions before they find one that suits them, and many Arts students aren’t sure where they’ll end up after graduation. When faced with this uncertainty, it’s easy to get discouraged about one’s career prospects, which is why CAPS began hosting the Arts and Culture Career Crawl. The crawl was created to show U of A Arts students what careers in the arts look like, and to give them an opportunity to hear from professionals working in the arts. I had the opportunity to join this year’s crawl, during which 12 students and I visited Edmonton Public Library (Stanley Milner location), the Citadel Theater and the Winspear Centre. We also heard from Adam Rozenhart, digital strategist for Calder Bateman Communications, who talked with us about his career path. The people we met at these organizations had some great stories and advice to share with us. Here is what they had to say about putting your Arts degree to work:

Keep an open mind about your future career. Don’t limit yourself to one line of work; expand your ideas of your future career and be willing to step out of your comfort zone.

Adam Rozenhart, who graduated with a degree in Psychology has since embarked on a diverse career path which has included journalism, the creation of and most recently, designing promotions plans for other organizations. Adam’s advice? “Say yes to everything.” If you’re presented with an opportunity that excites you, give it a try. It might just lead you to your dream job.

Neil LaGrandeur, whose goal since moving to Edmonton was to work at the Citadel Theatre, says that you have to work your way up to get where you want. After several years working as an actor, Neil got a job working in the theatre’s box office. “You have to be willing to start anywhere and be patient,” says Neil. “You have to be willing to wear many hats… You have to work your way up.” Neil is now the House Manager at the Citadel Theatre, handling the theater’s media relations, talent scouting and program development, among many other things.

Alison Kenny-Gardhouse began her career singing in theatre and opera, became a voice coach and teacher, and ran her own consulting company for several years before transitioning into her current position as Director of Educational Outreach with the Winspear Centre.  She says that her career didn’t turn out as she had imagined it would:  “Thinking back to when I started this all 30 years ago, I don’t think that I would have ever predicted this pathway at all, and yet it was a really natural one for me, and I’ve had a really fabulous time.”

While the choices presented to you throughout your career may not be obvious ones, it is important to keep your ears and eyes open for something that catches your interest, or will open the door to the career you want.  

Be confident in your skills and your ability to learn on the job.

Sean Chinery started at Edmonton Public Library (EPL) doing cataloguing. He was accepted for the job despite having no cataloguing experience. His advice is, “If you don’t have the qualifications for the job, go for it anyways.” Convince an employer that you have the required soft skills and are willing to learn, and they will provide the technical training.

Meghan Unterschultz from the Winspear Centre agrees that the values, attitude and capability of applicants are their most valuable attributes. "A lot of the people that work here learn on the job,” says Meghan. “We want them for who they are."

Getting a job with an Arts degree is all about recognizing the skills you’ve honed in university and understanding how they will help you to perform well at work.

Get some work experience.

Karen Chidiak from EPL says that getting work experience while you’re in university can not only help you to make contacts; It can also help you to decide what you want to do after graduation. “Working and volunteering while you’re in school really gets your foot in the door. If you have something in mind in the industry you wish to work in, get that experience,” she says. “It will give you a perspective of the things you want to do once you graduate.”

Ken Davis from the Citadel Theatre says that donating some of your time to organizations in your area of interest is great for skill development. “I have made volunteerism a part of my career for forty years. I’m always volunteering at two or three different organizations over and above my work week,” Ken says. “I’m giving back from what I’m learning, but I’m also getting to practice what I know in different arenas. I’m getting to test my knowledge against a lot of different kinds of problems. That has incredible value back into your career.”

Work experience on your resume can put you ahead of competitors from an employer’s perspective, but more importantly, having that experience will give you new perspectives and skills that you can bring to the table in your next position.  

Build a network. Make professional connections that can give you leads into your next job.

Adam goes for the direct approach with networking, suggesting that if you meet someone who you think is interesting, you should approach them. Ask if you can buy them a coffee, and start a conversation about their work.

Ken says that the key to building a professional network hasn’t changed much in the last forty years: “Making sure that you are connecting with people in fields that you are interested in, building that body of people that are on your side and are willing to help advance you, and then making sure that when you are given an opportunity, you show up and give it absolutely everything you have.”

Actively seeking out new connections and following through on opportunities that they give you shows that you are dedicated and engaged in your career, and showing people that you are hardworking and enthusiastic in your work will gain you the appreciation and respect of your connections.

Follow your values and do what you love.

Holly Arnason from EPL started out with a degree in Political Science. "A lot of the reasons that I was passionate about political science - providing access to information and resources, supporting the public, and facilitating learning in a public space - are the same values that we support at EPL.” Holly now helps to facilitate the Makerspace in Stanley Milner Library, helping the Edmonton community bring their own ideas to life through technology.

Karen, a Senior Marketing Consultant with EPL, stresses that above all, it is important to follow your passion. “Look for jobs that will leverage your strengths. Match your core values in the jobs that you’re looking for. I love marketing, and I’m happy to be at EPL because it matches my core values as well. It’s not just about profit; it’s about impacting the daily lives of others and to me that’s more meaningful than getting another bonus.”

Having a job that pays well is great, but feeling like your work is important is more valuable to your happiness than a little extra on the paycheck. 

Find a mentor; someone who can give you advice and guidance.

Neil from the Citadel Theatre says that finding a mentor is often as easy as asking, and can be extremely rewarding. “I think something that is very important is finding those mentors that inspire you or have those positions that you want, and just reaching out. Ninety nine percent of the time those people are going to come back to you and be willing to help you out, answer your questions and give you feedback.”

Alison at the Winspear Centre says that oftentimes you’ll find a community rather than a single mentor. “I think everybody in the arts tends to mentor each other. We all have strengths that we can offer. I find a generous spirit in the arts community. We know we need each other, so we all help each other.”

Having a mentor to go to for advice will help you continue learning long after you graduate.

Being unsure about your career path won’t prevent you from having a successful and happy career. What’s important is that you follow your interests, continue learning, and pursue any opportunities you are given with dedication and passion. 

1 comment:

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