Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Career Realities and the Importance of Volunteering

Good morning friends!

This post is not meant to be a bitter rant but to give you and idea of my experiences with the realities of applying for arts-related jobs and what I did to make the best of the situation.

I've been involved in the Ottawa arts community since my music studies in 2006 and have been exposed to an array of experiences working in the music realm. Since graduating, it has been challenging to get hired in an arts organization that has decent salary or paid internship positions. I can't tell you how hard I worked sprucing up my resume and cover letter which had been reviewed and praised by placement agencies and professionals.

Unpaid internships. Perhaps that was my first mistake. I set the bar too high and refused to take any of them. I chose this because well...student debt and basically living as an adult with bills. I'm sure if you've ever received a student loan and had little financial support post-University, you'd understand.

With my degree in Music and Arts Administration as well as a tremendous amount of volunteering, you'd think I'd be a perfect candidate to work in an arts organization. Unfortunately, I never got that call for an interview yet I checked off every skill and qualification on their job description. WHY?!
It is likely they already had someone in mind for the job or the competition was just too high. So what do we do? Move on to the next opportunity.

I'm not looking for a pity party. I'm a realist. With student debt racking up I needed a decent paying job quickly so I went into the finance field and worked contracts at the University of Ottawa. I am certainly grateful for these contracts since I am gaining experience regardless of where I am. But...

Call me bitter, or too inspired but don't call me the entitled twenty-something. I've realized what hard work takes so save your "you have to earn it" speech, thanks. All I'm saying is that it can be discouraging when you have so many ideas and projects to bring to the table yet you can't apply these ideas into your full time job.

That is when volunteering comes in.

Oh don't worry, I haven't given up on getting that dream job. Someday it will happen. For now, the best I can do is to keep applying and volunteer my heart out.

If I can't apply these skills in my job, I can still gain the experience in volunteering, brainstorming and networking.

I've volunteered as choir manager for semi-professional choirs since 2011 which is typically equivalent to a part time job with little social life outside rehearsal. It's hard work and certainly tests all the required skills needed to remain organized and receptive. You also work with plenty of professional artists which is a good opportunity to network.

Another tip for networking is to attend events (if it's within budget) and get chatting! You have fun and meet new and interesting people.

At this moment, I am currently in the works of transitioning into another choir management position and am also the social media assistant for the Music and Beyond Festival (, writing artist profiles for social media and live-tweeting the performances. This role has tapped into my creative writing skills (apart from my blog) and research. So much fun!

On top of that, I am brainstorming choral projects with colleagues and will also begin participating in a focus group on youth and opera with Opera Lyra Ottawa.

You may be asking yourself: "How has Amy not spontaneously combusted from all these projects?"

Remember - balance your work/life commitments. I've once gotten sick from burning out which left me looking like a zombie clad in bright yellow flats. Not fun.

It's always easier to volunteer for a choir or company that you're already performing with. Why not join the executive board of your choir? Help sell tickets at the door for an ensemble you support? Offer to assist with social media for a project?

Trust me, the feeling of volunteering for something you passionately love results in growing from that experience and passing along your wisdom to inspire others.

"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others" - Gandhi 

If you'd like any more tips or suggestions on finding the right volunteer role, write a comment or send me a message!


Blonde in the Choir

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