Friday, March 23, 2007

Career Day

Yesterday, NYU's Tisch School of the Arts held its annual Career Day, which consists of various entertainment-themed companies setting up a table along the outskirts of a square, black room while a bunch of desperate seniors and alums try to land a job.

The reality is that the lines are ridiculously long (I believe the line for CBS was somewhere out the door), most places aren't hiring or are only offering internships, most of the jobs that aren't production based aren't even in New York (so if you're not a film major, good luck), and you're one out of a billion in a no-win situation. Your odds of landing a job out of something like that are about as good as winning the lottery. It's sad if you're not expecting exactly that. But then again, there's something equally sad about expecting to be let down.

Two years removed from college, obtaining jobs in the entertainment industry (in New York anyway) is still something of a mystery to me, though my hunch is that, as in most situations, experience begets jobs. I would propose that you just have to suck it up and gain your experience without pay. Does that mean interning during the day and waiting tables/being a prostitute at night? Maybe. Though not all companies hire from within, being an intern at least sets you up to be an assistant somewhere, and depending on what you want to do, there is plenty of overlap.

Cake Man was with me yesterday, and he's only now just graduating from NYU, and though he mainly wants to write, he would rather have a day job in an entertainment field. He's been scanning the usual websites and exhausting most of his contacts for months to no avail. He refuses to work in restaurants. I want to stay hopeful for him, but I honestly don't think it's going to happen.

While my views are obviously cynical, there is an unbiased truth that graduating from an arts school and trying to land a job in your field is incredibly difficult. What makes the situation worse is that in my experience at NYU, in two different undergrad departments, that reality is one that no one makes a real effort to prepare you for. It's obviously mentioned over the course of a four year education, but I wish it was hammered home, perhaps with doomsday-like emphasis. I wish someone had told me to start interning as soon as possible and to just stick like glue to wherever I end up senior year. I wish I'd been taught things, as a writing student, like how to write a good query letter. It might have been nice to see a list, no matter how small, of people in the business that are generous and will allow people right out of school to volunteer, give their time, offer their services. It's not pay, but with most, seemingly all, doors closed, it would have been nice to know that someone's door is open if you're willing to walk through it.

In the drama department, I wish everyone interested was allowed to participate in the agent showcase, but no. There were auditions, and less than ten percent of the graduating class was selected.

There can obviously only be so much emphasis placed on career planning or job placement in an arts school, and if the philosophy happens to be that "our students are doomed, so let's train their brains out so they're as good as possible when the leave," I guess that's okay. Or was. Tisch is going to cost students (including an estimated 11K for room and board) over fifty-thousand dollars next year. That is a cool $200,000 for a BFA in the arts.

And there's really no better way to help students get a job than a handful of disinterested companies taking over a small black-box theater for three hours?

It's nothing short of a shame, and walking back to my completely non-arts related job after the event ended, I was with three of my friends, all League members, all having graduated since December, and I could see those first hints of betrayal. They gave so much time and effort for their education, loved their teachers, gave their classmates their all, and they were rewarded with unemployment and maybe the dawn of the most taxing emotional period of their lives to date.

I'd like to tell them that it gets better, but two years later, I still get bitter about it. Every once in a while. It's something people should know about and prepare for, and schools need to start focusing on job placement. Otherwise, it's getting less and less practical to break the bank on undergraduate education.

This isn't to deter anyone in a prestigious arts school, or some argument against them in general. There are ways to be wise to the circumstances and to prevent unemployability. But it needs to happen early on. And it might actually be more important than the training itself.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and though if given the option, I would still come to NYU, I would do almost everything there differently.

Write on...