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Getting off the Ground

It’s job-hunting season, and that means I’m trying to market myself to prospective employers. As a teacher, it can be difficult to figure out how to do that. The sea of applicants any school gets for any job can make it so that hardly anyone has anything truly exceptional that leaps off the page. Only once in a while do you get those award-winning educators with a list of references from the best schools in the profession. The rest are a mishmash of random side specialties and extra-curricular skills.

For me as a music educator, part of the package that I try and present to employers is the diverse kind of music experience I can bring to whatever school. I try to illustrate the ways I can enrich a given environment. For example, not many people come into a school with even a little experience in teaching the basics of African drumming – but I can. Not all music specialists will have additional background in jazz music as well as classical and pedagogical streams – but I do.

For that, however, you have to get an interview, which sometimes can be just as hard as winning the job itself. Many other professions experience this dilemma – everyone looks good on paper, so how do you select the best applicants to talk to? No one is going to put things on their resumé or portfolio that reflect negatively on their skills or ability to work with others. Resumés are valuable to weed out some people who just have fewer qualifications, but then what?

There’s times that I have considered developing a video portfolio or online portfolio, so that when I deliver a job application, especially electronically, I can make a connection through the medium of technology that will make me stand out from others. The problem with this is of course that not all people will want to bother to look at your online information: some people just want to see that resume with the references.

So I’ve developed an overall strategy:

1. Stress first of all how much you want to work for them. Make it sound like you’re excited to get the job.

2. Whatever you do, don’t blurt out the first thing that comes to mind in the interview. It’s okay to take 30 seconds to think through an answer. Especially in my field, having a coherent thought about your teaching philosophy is a LOT better than rambling on for five minutes because you just let the floodgates open immediately.

3. If you feel strongly about something, show that. It’ll be difficult to hide that feeling once you have the job, and if you’re passionate in a similar way to the interviewer, you may earn bonus points.

4. Have something to ask at the end, but make it intelligent. I try to use my end-of-interview question to illustrate to the interviewer that I am thinking about this position as a job with a future, one that involves me. Not everyone goes into an interview (as the employer) thinking about 1, 2, or 3 years down the road. If they like you and you can show that you ARE ready to think that far ahead, you just become a more attractive, stable option.

In a lot of ways, doing this sort of thing is a lot like the branding I might do as a professional musician: you show all of your best skills and make it seem like everyone should want to be around you and benefit from your contributions. However, it’s more subtle and difficult than the public advertisement you can do as a musician because you only get those 20-30 minutes to sit there and do all of this with the interviewer.

It’s causing me lots of stress, because I have no idea where the next job will come from, and hovering in limbo is not a feeling I enjoy. But since I can’t actually wish for anyone to lose their job (well, I could, but then I would feel terrible, so I won’t), I have to keep shoving my smiling, Internet-rendered face and qualifications upon the world until something comes up.

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