Good Basic Advice At Any Career Stage

Juilliard Professor Benjamin Sosland shared some advice he gives his students as they think about developing their careers. Some of the advice is pretty common across most career advice articles, but there were a number of suggestions I hadn’t seen very often and wanted to share.

(I would share a fair bit more but MusicalAmerica seems to take pains to inhibit easily excerpting from articles on their site.)

• Are you meeting people who can offer guidance and a helping hand? (Networking is not a dirty word. Really)


• Do you maintain a mailing list and is your website and use of social media reaching the audience you hope to attract?
• Is there a self-generated artistic project that you have always dreamed of realizing?
• Have you gained the necessary financial literacy to plan and advocate for such a project? (A good budget is based on research, not wishful thinking.)
• Do you write thank you notes to anyone and everyone who ever offers even the slightest bit of assistance? (Not to get all Emily Post or anything but, wow, is this ever a powerful tool.)
• Have you developed a vocabulary to be a convincing advocate for your art? (Here is a good exercise. Defend this sentence: The arts are important.)
• Do you have role models whose careers you admire and do you know the story of their journey? Case studies on successful people are fascinating. (Hint: there is no such ting as a self-made man or woman.)

I don’t believe I have mentioned the self-generated artistic project too much here on the blog, but I bring the topic up with students with a fair bit of frequency. I just had such a conversation about two weeks ago.  Sosland’s follow up point about financial literacy to plan and advocate for the project is one of my motivations for such conversations. Of course, I often talk about the need to develop these skills regardless of the method.

Some of these suggestions are good regardless of the stage you are in your career. As much as I write on the topic, I don’t feel I am as adept as I should be when it comes to speaking extemporaneously as an advocate for the arts.

If you have read my blog for any length of time, you will know I heartily support that last suggestion about examining the career journeys of people you admire. I am a big proponent of breaking the illusion that success and talent are exclusive blessings from the heavens rather than the result of a long term (often unexamined) process and effort.

Finally, the thank you note suggestion I could definitely do a much better job at. Despite my mother inculcating the practice in my siblings and myself, my sisters are much better at the follow through than am I.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


1 thought on “Good Basic Advice At Any Career Stage”

  1. My son is now in the stages of applying for internships and much of what you have outlined here is valuable.

    The most important bullet point is the thank you note. I believe that though the written note stands out (I mean who actually does it anymore!), the timeliness of the formal email (Dear…..) can also stand out as well since email has become such an informal medium as well. And I would add that 24 hours is the max before it should be sent.

    Your other items regarding vocabulary appropriate to the industry is correct as well. And mentors and role models (healthy ones) are also important when starting a career in any field.

    Good post. I enjoyed reading it!


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