Thursday, February 21, 2013

On Becoming a Competitive Candidate: my notes from training sessions at the CAA Conference

Image from IBM Archives
As we scramble to transition from graduate student to successful artist or educator, it is habitual to hoard all of our opportunities, for fear of being beat to the punch.  I am too frequently guarding my precious lists of job applications and juried show openings, hoping that somehow my secrecy will limit the number of people that apply, bettering my chances.

Several times over the past few weeks, I have heard that it is the community that makes the artist, and our peers and friends are the ones that help us get the jobs and get into the shows.  In that spirit, I wanted to share some of the tips I received attending workshops and during mock interviews last week at the College Arts Association Conference in New York.

I know that many of our classmates were not able to take the time or money out to attend, and there is a stigma about the value of attending without any scheduled interviews, but I found the workshops very helpful and am making the best out of keeping up with all of the connections I have made. Perhaps this information is old news to most of us, but I found the repetition of it very valuable, so here it is for anyone who wants to know...

On Preparing Documents

Curriculum Vitae

The College Art Association offers a format for CVs, although this format is not required, many schools are expecting a standardized format and everything you can do to make it easy for an employer to find the information they are seeking is in your favor.

1. The education is always first, in order from most recent down.

2. Teaching Experience (I always presumed that I should put my shows first, no dice, move those down). Teaching assistant positions should include the name of the course. List at least the past 10 years (everything since grad school) for positions and descriptions of duties for the most recent or most impressive.

3.  Shows: Show histories seem to be very valuable in an education format, as schools are looking to hire people that are relevant in the contemporary art scene. Apply for any shows you can find. Juried shows and solo exhibitions at community colleges are excellent opportunities.
Separate any solo shows you have had (especially in Galleries, College Galleries, Museums, Art Centers), these are valuable. Avoid placing venues such as banks, cafes and the like in the solo section. If your thesis show is your only solo show, group it with the rest of the exhibition history.
Regional shows are okay. National shows are better. International shows are superb! Don't forget to put the locations of the shows, do not presume the gallery name is sufficient.
List whether the shows are juried or international.

4. Lectures and Workshops come next. Need to build these up? Ask the professor you are TAing for to let you teach for a day, contact your undergraduate program to see if they would be interested in you coming for a guest lecture or to help with critiques in a course you excelled in.

5. Everything else: Publications, Awards and Grants, Fellowships, Commissions, Residencies. Foreign languages and extra skills are a good thing to point out.  One of my interviewers noticed and mentioned that as a valuable asset.

Cover Letter or Letter of Interest

A cover letter should not be longer than two pages. If you are just coming out of graduate school, a page to a page and a half is a good length.
Each letter should be unique. Make sure that you know the program you are applying to. Mention items from the mission statement of the program and cater your description of skills and experience to the exact position you are looking for.  If you are applying for foundations, do not spend the entire letter writing about painting courses.
Most schools are very interested in your dedication to service and scholarship in addition to the time you would spend teaching. Look into what each school means for these terms and put in a paragraph about what you have done and would do. Diversity, multi-cultural and interdisciplinary approaches are big right now as well.
Do not waste your time applying for positions that would not be a good fit.

CDs and Image Portfolios

Most schools I have come across request 20 images (good thing we just photographed our work for 4th wall!). 1000pixels on the longest edge seems to be the standard, it is good to have an image list to go along with this. Printed and saved on the disk with the CD.
Student work is also very valuable, do not forget to photograph work of classes you teach during the final reviews. Most institutions request 20 images of student work.
Make sure your CD is well designed, do not write in sharpie, especially if you are applying for a design position. Why would they hire someone who does not take the time to make a well designed package? CD labels are easy to print and look really professional.

Dropbox: For schools that are requesting an email application (as opposed to mailed or an uploaded portfolio), I like to have a folder on dropbox with all of my images sorted as I would on a CD and I just send them a link.

Artist statement

I vote add one to the image CD and send in a hard copy.

Teaching Philosophy

Write one, even if they do not ask.


Employers want to know that you have courses prepared. One of my interviewers told me that even if they are not requested, packages with prepared syllabus samples automatically go higher up in the pile. And we all want to get higher up in the pile!

On Opportunities

It is tough to know what to apply for. What do we seem the most qualified for, and what is too far of a reach and not worth the hours prep it takes to send out an application?  

Post graduate fellowships, residencies at colleges and community colleges are good ways to get experience.

Keep looking on the College Arts Association website, in both jobs and opportunities sections, things are constantly being posted. Many people are just finalizing their "steps-up" in education...this means that the jobs they are leaving are going to be available I right?

On Interview Etiquette

Wow!  You are lucky enough to have scored an interview!  The only one I have had so far, the job was cancelled last minute. But here are the notes I have on Interview Etiquette and followup.

Don't have an interview? Follow up with your applications...I am terrified of this, but there it is.

The Interview

Prepare a sort of artist/teaching statement for yourself: conveying your strength and goals in a few sentences.
Be confident and approachable, begin a dialogue with the interviewer. Do not wait for them to ask you questions, but do not speak over them. Take a moment after each question is asked to think before you answer, you will seem thoughtful and will avoid many of the "ums and likes" we are all embarrassed by.
Do not make assumptions about what the interviewer has seen or read about you and do not be afraid to ask for clarification if you do not understand a question.
Always know about the institution and if possible, your interviewer. Have thoughtful questions prepared to ask when the time comes.
Bring ALL of your materials as hard copies, do not presume that the interviewer has all of that information.
Smile :)

The Followup

After you leave, make sure you send out a thank you email or letter.  If you are one of the last to have been interviewed, email is best, if you were among the first, go for snail mail. Do not forget to ask towards the end of the interview how fast the committee is reviewing.
Say something about the campus or job that you liked, show that you are really interested in the position and were listening to what they were saying.

The Presentation Round

Hooray, you have been called back and must now do a presentation of work to faculty and teach a class to students.
As you prepare your presentation for the students, make sure it is not just a lecture. Since they are new to you, they will rarely be engaged.  Make them engaged. Ask them questions, find a way to communicate with the students to pique their interest.
Talk about something that is your strength and that you can do without notes.

On Social Media

Everything is online now a days, and your possible employers will look you up!
Make sure your facebook is presentable.  
Do a google search for yourself. Are you the first thing that comes up or do you need to work on that. Do an image search, what is coming up under your name?  If it is something inappropriate or from your past, remove it or ask whoever is the owner to remove it.
Make a website. You can use several of those pre-made things that everyone has, or make one yourself. HTML is surprisingly easy...I also will add a plug here that I make websites...give me money, I make for you...yes.
Make a blog, title your images with your name, this will increase your visibility. Do it!
Assume everything that you put on any social media, or anywhere on the internet, will be seen by a potential employer.

Have business cards.

In conclusion, please receive my humble offering of notes and super limited experience, and let us all go forth and get jobs!  And not live in our parents basements for eternity!  To action!

Much love,

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