Going from being ignored by recruiters, I learned how to get a job in the arts industry without having to show my resume. The art world is very exclusive and opaque. To break into the industry through an art internship abroad, you need to know the game and how to play it right.
My Attempt to Find an Art Internship Abroad
After graduating as a valedictorian from the Sorbonne University, one of the most prestigious universities in France, I thought it would be a piece of cake to get an arts internship in New York City. I quickly got a reality check and spent six months sending out hundreds of applications for multiple positions. Most organizations did not write back and the few who did answered negatively as they did not sponsor visas.
What happened? What did I do wrong?
When applying for art internships abroad there are two major obstacles you will face: internal and external. Internal factors are problems you can personally improve, while external are those you can’t control.
My external problem was the visa sponsorship. Organizations are often reluctant to spend time and efforts in sponsoring an internship visa for a non U.S. citizen.
My internal problems were that I was unfocused and my resume was too broad.
How to (Successfully) Get Art Internships Abroad
Before you even begin to consider art internship opportunities, you should take time to prep your resume, assess your career options, network, and plan strategically.
1. Prep Your Resume
A recruiter once told that to get an internship in an industry as competitive as the arts, you need to be very precise and tailor your experience toward the position you are applying for.
- Be Precise - Recruiters need to understand exactly what you’ve done. Report accurately your previous internship experiences or involvement in school or other organizations. Do not use broad descriptions like “managed the project”; this does not speak to a recruiter. What did you do when you managed the project? Maybe you planned the timeline, created the budgets, and liaised with the different project’s shareholders. The more specific, the more credible your experience will be.
- Tailor Your Experience - If you are applying for a job in a communication department of a museum, see how all your previous experience can be angled toward skills and experiences required for this kind of position. For each position you apply for, look at your resume and see how you can make it even more relevant, using keywords that the organization wrote in their job description.
2. Assess Your Career Options
A resume with a clear objective and angle is a great way to start but you also need to focus your efforts and know which types or organizations and positions you will be targeting. There are two great ways to identify specific career options:
- Personal Assessment - I found it very helpful to take time to complete both a skills assessment and a self-evaluation. You will be less overwhelmed when you know what your current skills are, and which ones need to develop in order for you to reach your dream job.
- Knowledge of the Industry - It is crucial to learn about how the art industry functions internally. This will give you a clearer view of which departments and art internships you want to apply for. Learn who the key players are and who are the main influencers you will want to connect with professionally.
When you create your game plan by assessing your career options, it will be easier to build your network. And who knows, you might be able to turn your internship into a full time job, so be sure to choose a placement that fits with your career goals.
3. Start Networking
After several rejections by arts organizations, I still didn’t take no for an answer. I booked a ticket to New York to achieve one goal: find an arts organization that would not only hire me, but also sponsor me for an internship visa. Before leaving Paris, I reached out to everyone I knew to ask if they could introduce me to any arts professionals in New York. I went to NYC with only three contacts in my phone. After an intense month of networking, I got an internship as an assistant to a theater producer, who later became my mentor. Since then, I never had to apply online or submit my resume to get a job in the industry again.
The art world is very insular and it is all about who you know. The best way to secure an art internship (or a job for that matter) is to establish solid connections. Keep in mind, the purpose of networking is to build a genuine relationship with those who came before you and experienced what you’re about to experience. Two pieces of advice about networking: don’t be afraid or ashamed of asking for help and cultivate your network, be in touch with people, even when you are not asking for help.
A question that students often ask me is: if you have zero contacts in the industry, where do you start your networking?
- Your School - You should take advantage of every single resource your school provides. Talk to professors who are professionals in the industry, make appointments with your career center, and connect with the school’s alumni in your department.
- Events - Bring business cards and attend industry events. Research the main events in your city. It is important to know when and where the major art fairs and theater or film festivals are happening. Since the art world is quite small, you will probably see familiar faces after attending a few events.
Engage with people. You might be standing next to your future supervisor at any given moment, so make the most of it. Professionals are often busy, but many still want to nurture the next generation. They want to help students who are new to the industry thrive, but only if they see the passion, ambition and humility in your attitude. A great way to network is to ask for guidance, because people love talking about their own experience and giving advice. You will be surprised that most professionals will make time to meet with you if you approach them in the right way.
4. Plan Strategically
The arts industry is global and leaders in the arts world travel constantly. Leverage yourself by interning in major art hubs around the world, such as New York, Berlin, Hong Kong, London, Beijing, and Paris. Create connections there, and then use them as a leverage to find better internships and permanent positions wherever you end up. Having a professional network in different regions is a valuable asset, especially in the arts industry.
5. Make it happen!
Going to school, attending events, enrolling in arts programs, and experiencing different art hubs can be quite expensive, so it shouldn’t be surprising that is requires work, and a legitimate strategy to make it worth your time and money.
Think strategically about what resources, network, and education you will need to build a solid foundation for your career and develop the skills you need.
Ready to intern abroad? Find an art internship abroad now!
This article was contributed by ArtBound Initiative (ABI), a global internship program which connects students and recent graduates with established arts and design organizations in New York City, Berlin and Hong Kong, ABI will help you secure your perfect internship and coordinate all travel logistics (including visa sponsorship, housing, insurance, and more). With our expansive network of arts & design organizations, we can help you find an internship that will best fit your career goals. Join our program to become part of an international community of artists and art & design professionals.