For the hundreds of Yalies looking for jobs in industries such as finance or consulting, the job search process is, though difficult, straightforward. A cover letter, on-campus recruitment fairs and an impressive interview can spell a success story. But for students looking for a career in the arts, the story is quite different.
Career counseling processes in the arts, both for undergraduate and professional art school students, require months spent building portfolios, preparing for auditions and organizing performances or exhibitions to showcase student work. While Undergraduate Career Services Director Phil Jones said looking for a job in the arts is a more involved and individualized process than in other sectors, student art majors have often had to forgo UCS and search for jobs of their own volition, often turning to departments and professional schools for guidance.
And given the current economic crisis, searching for jobs in creative fields, such as architecture, art, music, film and drama, poses new challenges for graduates and creates new incentives to amp up career guidance at the graduate arts schools on campus.
“There are certain fields, such as banking, consulting or teaching, with extremely predictable hiring cycles, which are prominent in recruiting on campus,” Jones said. “In the arts there are job openings only when someone leaves or when the company decides to expand. When does that happen? When it happens.”
LITTLE GUIDANCE FOR THE ARTS
The role of UCS in this job search process largely involves connecting students with industry professionals and alumni in the fields who have agreed to act as mentors to Yalies, Jones said. Because there is a lower demand for careers in the arts at Yale, Jones said, UCS does not have many arts contacts. But he added that looking beyond the specific job positions students want can introduce aspiring artists to career options they would not have otherwise considered.
But the undergraduate art majors interviewed said they did not find UCS’s career counseling in the arts helpful for their job search.
Alice Buttrick ’10, an art major who is still undecided about her career path, went to UCS at the beginning of the semester in order to begin thinking about her job search process but said she received little more than encouragement and the advice to start networking.
“They’re pretty useless, actually,” Buttrick said. “They just told me to start networking and offered comforting platitudes. I found them soothing, but I don’t think they have much of an ability or leverage in the arts.”
For theater studies majors planning to pursue acting upon graduation, the job search operates outside UCS’s typical framework. Theater studies major Erin Capistrano ’10, who has never used UCS, plans to move to New York City and begin auditioning for shows after she graduates.
Still, while Capistrano said she can seek advice from theater studies professors, she wishes a more organized counseling program existed at Yale.
“I would love it if there was a stronger program for counseling through the Theater Studies Department — something a little more standardized,” she said. “If Yale could sponsor showcases in New York, for example, that would be great.”
To fill the void, undergraduates have taken it upon themselves to organize career-oriented events where they find UCS or arts departments lacking.
Ink + Vellum, the undergraduate architecture society, is working to sponsor a panel inviting professionals from various architecture backgrounds — a campus planner for Yale, project managers, developers, city planners — to speak about what they did after graduation, architecture major Kyle Briscoe ’10 said.
For architecture students, a résumé without a portfolio is rarely enough to secure a job in the architecture world. To this end, the major requires that all students complete a portfolio before graduation and invites a professional portfolio designer to lead three workshops with seniors on how to prepare portfolios.
After toiling for many hours in her studio in Rudolph Hall as an undergraduate, Yasemin Tarhan ’09 left Yale with a portfolio rich with sketches, designs and photos of her models — a foundation on which to build her future.
“It’s great that we were required to complete portfolios,” Tarhan said. “This way you don’t start from scratch, and have something to build on.”
Avoiding UCS as an undergraduate, Tarhan, who currently works at an architecture firm where she did an internship in the summer of 2008, found her New York architecture job through an alternative venue — the School of Architecture.
Professional art schools, unlike Yale College, are expanding their strong infrastructure for guiding students into the workforce, but these counseling services are targeted at graduate students at each school. Although undergraduates can sometimes benefit from professional school services through classes and professors in their departments, this happens on an informal and individual basis.
Students, like Tarhan, find the resources for graduate students can be helpful. For example, the architecture career program is both increasing counseling efforts and tailoring them to the grim economic circumstances, said School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65.
“We decided in the past few years to ramp up more dramatically what we were doing in career counseling, and as we were ramping up, the economy was ramping down,” Stern said of his school’s professional program. “Our timing became very prescient, but also we had to adopt a different kind of approach, taking into account that not every student would be able to get a job at least in the immediate present.”
Likewise, the School of Drama created the position of Associate Dean Joan Channick DRA ’89 earlier this year to develop career counseling opportunities for students.
Channick said the school organizes acting showcases — the drama equivalent of a portfolio — theater festivals and design exhibitions, inviting industry professionals to see the work of actors, directors, playwrights and graphic designers at the school.
Aurelia Fisher DRA ’09, who started her job as executive director of a theater in Chicago last Tuesday, took advantage of these career counseling opportunities: Fisher used the $550 that the Drama School offers all third-year students to spend on job search efforts to attend a conference on theater management. There she met the manager who offered her a full-time job after months spent e-mailing back and forth.
“Network, network, network,” Fisher said, describing her job search process and echoing the advice of career counseling professionals in the arts.
The School of Architecture is currently focusing on creating a strong network of alumni and trying to decentralize the process so that it is more accessible for students, said Assistant Dean Bimal Mendis, who leads School of Architecture career services.
Mendis said it is also important for career counseling efforts right now to take into account the effects of the stimulus package on the industry.
“Firms specializing in mass transit, and renovations and upgrades to facilities would stand to gain from this investment,” Mendis said. “As a career path, these kinds of firms have not been the most popular amongst our graduating students, but given the prevailing economic conditions, these preconceptions may need to change.”
PURSUE PASSIONS, EXPLORE ALTERNATIVES
Across the board, at UCS and the professional schools, the economic crisis has revitalized a focus on the diverse paths artists can explore. Phil Bernstein ’79 ARC ’83, who teaches a professional practice course at the Architecture School, said he advises students to begin exploring different alternatives at a time when many firms are laying off architects by the hundreds and construction nationwide is at a standstill.
“In previous years we were more direct about what kinds of practices we thought were appropriate, but this year I tell students to stay in the orbit right now and find their way back to the center later.” Bernstein said.
He explained that he has laid out for students a structure of the industry with the traditional practice of architecture at the center and concentric circles around it signifying alternative fields such as construction and building operations. Said Bernstein: “If you stay in the concentric circles, you can always find your way back in.”
But this is hardly the consensus at the school and, in fact, reflects a larger debate: Should graduates pursue their artistic disciplines or compromise for the time being?
Looking back to the 1990s, when a similar recession limited the amount of jobs available to graduates, Seher Erdogan ARC ’09 said Stern and some professors insisted students stick it out through the economic downturn without straying from the course of formal architecture practice.
“The dean told us that there had been a similar situation in the ’90s and very few qualified architects made it through,” Erdogan said. “They encourage us to stay with architecture so that we don’t become another lost generation.”
Following the dean’s advice, Erdogan is currently working part-time at the school, developing projects with professors. She hopes to eventually find a job at a traditional architecture firm.
Fisher, like Erdogan, remained committed to finding a theater management position, though the jobs in that area had dwindled significantly. When July rolled around and all her classmates from the theater management program had found full-time jobs, Fisher continued searching for the right job. Though other opportunities presented themselves, she did not succumb to the temptation of applying to positions outside of her interest.
“The longer I was unemployed, the more concise I was about where I wanted to be,” Fisher said. “I really wanted to have a job; not doing anything for 3 ½ months was unbearable. But I thought, ‘I went to one of the best programs in the country. I’m capable; I know what I can do. I’m not going to settle.’ ”
But while students at the professional schools have an institutional framework in which to explore career choices, the undergraduate art students often need guidance catered to their liberal arts background without professional training. For architecture major Briscoe, the guidance at the graduate level is too specific.
“They seem to be very set on trying to push us down the traditional path of architecture: take a few years off, work somewhere, go to architecture school, and then work in a large New York-based firm,” Briscoe said. “And anything other than that is frowned upon.”
While students interviewed said they are sometimes frustrated about the lack of institutional guidance that will help them find a job, a career in the arts — a historically unreliable career path — was never just about the payroll after commencement.
School of Drama Dean James Bundy DRA ’95 said developing students’ skills and voice is more important for careers in the arts than procuring an immediate position.
“Promoting the authentic voice of students is more important for long-term career prospects than loading students up with lots of aphorisms about how to get a job,” Bundy said. “The goal is to both have each student able to match their own desires up against the field and also develop skills that will serve them in a variety of ways.”