In a previous post about a current internship I’m doing, I mentioned that I would get into the detail about this internship/job searching process. I’ve come across some pretty neat opportunities over the last few years, but what my resume doesn’t tell you is that every opportunity I find comes with at least five rejections. The recent economy crisis brings that number to at least ten. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Finding positions in our field isn’t like finding positions in other fields.
Although not the most important point on my list, every person new to this field should understand and accept this. It doesn’t make it easier to find something, but knowing this will make it easier to deal with when your friends pick up salaried jobs with ease and you’re still hopelessly begging for an unpaid internship after being rejected for the 10th time. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of competition out there and our positions are usually the first to be cut when funding becomes a problem. So what can you do?
This is the most important strategy for us. This is important no matter what field you’re in, but especially so in ours. The dirty secret is that many available positions are announced in private and passed around like chain letters, making job positions difficult to find for those who aren’t part of this private club. Science/medical illustration is small compared to other fields, so employers who are looking specifically for someone trained in this field will likely contact directors of graduate programs. The directors of these programs then pass them on to current students and alumni. Sometimes positions are e-mailed prior to the official public announcement, giving us an early start. Other positions never make it to the public. Therefore, knowing people who can pass information on to you makes a big difference.
People also post position openings in newsletters or pass them on through mailing lists of related associations such as the GNSI or AMI. The bottom line is the more people you know, the more chances you’ll have in finding out when something becomes available. I highly recommend joining GNSI, AMI, or any other association of your choice. Sign up for newsletters, put your name on the mailing list, and go to conferences to meet people. If you are not ready to commit to anything that requires a membership fee, I suggest finding people who are more experienced in the field and e-mailing them with relevant questions.
Choose the right categories.
As I said before, science/medical illustration is a small field. This means that most positions you qualify for won’t say “science/medical illustration” in their title unless the employer is specifically looking for someone who is certified or has a degree from an accredited school. However, if you look carefully, you can often find jobs under a different title that will fit your background and interest.
Don’t be frustrated if you can’t find a category called “science illustration.” Look elsewhere, but be aware of key words such as “science,” “medicine,” and “health care.” Unless you want to work in a lab or a clinical environment, you won’t find anything there. First, find a company you would like to work for. Then look under categories that resemble the creative field such as “graphic illustration” and “visual information.” If you are feeling brave, explore the “advertising,” “marketing,” and the miscellaneous categories. Sometimes you will find medical illustration jobs under “advertising” if the company sells medical products. You get the idea.
It’s okay to look beyond your boundary. Even non-creative companies need illustrators. Creative but non-scientific industries would also love to have your expertise. If applying a skill set is more important to you than focusing on the scientific and medical subjects, think about what additional skills and interests you have and expand your search. Your unique background can make you stand out in a pool of applicants.
Some positions don’t exist until you convince someone to hire you.
It’s true. Sometimes a potential employer will tell you that nothing is available, and a week later your friend/classmate/nemesis somehow acquired a position working for them. The right timing and good people skills can get you somewhere. It also takes us back to the most important point of all–making contacts. Keep talking to people. If you talk to the right person at the right time, it can happen. When someone wants to hire you but the appropriate position does not exist, they will create a position for you.