Lessons from the job search in the arts

The job hunt takes both an emotional and physical toll but is something that we all go through at various points in our lives. It can be a rollercoaster of high highs and low lows, which for some of us lasts longer than others.

This piece is a product of several months of reflection and learning from my own experiences, of which I have learned patience is the greatest virtue. While I am not yet where I would like to be, I am proud of where I have been and the obstacles I have overcome.

Each day has presented challenges that have taught me more about myself and about the fortitude I possess that I didn’t know I had.

In publishing this, it is my intention to bring some points to light that are not readily discussed and to give others in a similar position some hope and encouragement. That being said, here are just 20 of the many lessons I have learned from the job search.

  1. Take note of who stays by your side when you hit your lowest point. It is these people who will unconditionally love and support you through thick and thin. Know and build this inner circle of people who make you feel safe enough to share your disappointments and will celebrate you in your success.
  2. Network for the sake of building genuine relationships, not because you want someone to give you a job. People can tell when you are trying to use them and when you actually care about getting to know them. Make it worth each other’s time and effort to show some character and sometimes people will even offer up unsolicited help. Jobs will come and go, but your network is here to stay.
  3. Gathering advice from your network/community is often far more valuable for the long-term than any single lead or referral. This will help you grow both personally and professionally and find new opportunities in places you may not have expected. Once you get in the practice of asking for advice, you will stay constantly learning and evolving, which will inevitably make you a stronger candidate for the jobs you end up applying for.
  4. Take breaks. You’ve heard this already, but I’ll say it again. Countless studies have shown that taking mental and physical breaks from work to do things that bring you joy and relaxation has endless benefits. Don’t feel guilty or think it’s a waste of time; this counts towards your investment in your long-term health and productivity. There is no shortage of jobs out there, but there is only one you. Take care of yourself.
  5. Seek out hiring managers more so than job titles. One of the most important parts of finding the right fit is company culture. Even if the organization’s outward mission aligns with your own, you won’t be happy if you don’t find yourself working alongside your kind of people. The only way to find this out is by hearing the experiences of those who already work there.
  6. Create a schedule of alternating between submitting job applications and reaching out to people for informational interviews. Sending out one application after the next can be exhausting and demoralizing, especially if you don’t receive any feedback. Talking to people who want to help in any way they are able can really boost morale to keep going strong. Additionally, their advice can offer a fresh perspective on your job search and things you can be doing differently to improve your chances of success.
  7. Rejections are not the end of the world. Let’s face it, no one likes being told they were not good enough, but remember that you are not the only one receiving the news. There are plenty more people just as qualified as you who did not win that seat at the table, and that “no” does not dictate your worth as a person and the amazing things you have to offer. Think of rejection as a redirection; something else that is an even better fit will come along–usually when you least expect it.
  8. Find a mentor (or two, or three…). You are not alone in this process. There are many people out there who have been in your shoes and have felt the same feelings. These people will recognize a younger version of themselves in you and will be especially inclined to serve as a mentor figure. Find someone whom you can refer to for questions, advice, and use as a “check-in” to keep your progress on track. If you do it right, this is not a one-way street. Even if there isn’t anything you can give back in the short term, always leave the door open and keep this person in mind when you are in a position to do something nice for someone else. One day, you can continue the cycle and be a mentor for the next generation.
  9. Not everyone is going to recognize what you bring to the table. Especially if you come from an unconventional background as I do, not everyone is going to understand where you are coming from. Nine times out of 10, starting a conversation to explain how my background and interests fit into my desired industry results in a deeper understanding and appreciation from both sides. Despite this, sometimes you will run into people who have no interest in listening. Even if they seem like the perfect connection to have, move on. There are plenty of other people out there who are happy to offer their support. Seek out these people, because they are going to be your partners in pushing the envelope to make real progressive change in the world.
  10. Challenge yourself to see the bright side. I recently received a rejection email from a company that mistakenly forgot to hide its list of recipients. Instead of sulking over yet another rejection, I reached out to the other people in the thread and formed over a dozen new friends in my industry, thereby expanding my network. It has been really beneficial to learn more about the backgrounds and stories of other professionals who were at one point competing for the same job and has humbled me greatly in the process.
  11. Keep talking to people. Whether or not they are a friend, family member, or someone working outside of your professional field, these connections are essential. Seeking out individuals outside of your intended track can yield valuable and applicable advice. You may even see things from a new perspective and think more outside of the box.
  12.  Alumni networks are more powerful than you think. This is a built-in group of thousands of professionals that you can always rely on and is particularly useful in your early career when you are beginning to grow your network. I am especially thankful for all those alumni who have already served as pivotal figures in my development. Go Toreros!
  13. Go local. It is easy to submit hundreds of applications to nationally advertised job postings and never get past the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to get your resume seen by a real human. A better approach is to look for smaller, more local job boards and groups to get an easier foothold in the door. Similarly, recruiters often use specialized LinkedIn groups to seek out potential candidates that may already be in their network, so it is best to get connected that way.
  14. Don’t be afraid of asking for help. Sure, you can do anything you want if you set your mind to it and work really, really hard for an undetermined length of time. Sometimes, it’s just not worth the blood, sweat, tears, and insurmountable stress if you can get the same results by asking for a little bit of assistance. It may feel awkward or you might feel inclined to think that you are bothering someone, but people are generally far more receptive to the idea than you would expect.
  15. Success is not linear. There is not any one singular recipe to getting to where you want to be. As competition in the job market increases, most of the time you will have to get a little creative and take the nonlinear route to get to where you want to eventually be. That is perfectly okay. As long as you are making moves, you are going onward to the next stepping stone.
  16. Don’t compare yourself to others. I know this sounds cliche and people say it a lot, but it’s so important. You are going to see people updating their LinkedIn and Facebook accounts to brag about their new jobs and accolades, while you may feel stuck in a rut. Comparison only serves to make you feel worse about yourself. Try to remember that everyone is on their own path and no one journey is the same. Some people just happen to be in the right place at the right time, while others have to work longer and harder to achieve the same goal. Even if it takes you longer to get a job, no one can take away the learning and growth you gained along the way. This time is not lost or wasted.
  17. Get involved in passion projects. While looking for a job is a full-time job in itself, side gigs or passion projects keep you focused on your big-picture goal and remind you of what you are working towards. Whether this takes the form of blogging, volunteering, creating art, or something else, it breaks up the monotony of the job search process and offers self-gratification to boost your morale.
  18. Hire a career coach. No matter who you are, there is always something you can do to improve your resume, interviewing or application approach. Little tweaks can make a huge difference in the response and boost your confidence. That being said, this is an expensive luxury that not everyone can afford. There are many free online resources, but be wary of which sites you use, because not all advice is good advice (and most of them contradict one another, which only adds to the confusion of it all!).
  19. Take the leap. If something feels right, do it. Try new things, attend networking events, reach out to those you wouldn’t otherwise. The worst thing that can happen is it doesn’t work out. The best thing that can happen? Go find out!
  20. Help others when you can. When you find success, remember that everyone starts somewhere. Going the distance to reach out to someone in need or offer a small act of kindness can make a huge difference in a difficult time of their life. Be the person that you would have wanted when you were in their position.

Happy job hunting & best wishes,


Originally published by Sara Stith here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/lessons-from-job-search-sara-stith. Sara is a member of our Art Jobs in NYC community.

One Comment

  1. Mariama

    Thanks Sara for this advice. My favorite advice that I really needed to hear was the last sentence of #16. So true, and humbling!


Leave your thoughts

Contact Us

(865) 630-0626

(865) 630-0626

(865) 630-0626