How NYU Tisch prepares its grads for the artist’s life

[For Sabrina] Tisch Office of Career Development (TOCD) provides students in the arts with very specialized services that the Wasserman Center is not equipped to offer. There is, for starters, the fact that creative resumes look very different from the standard resume organized primarily by experience. But the primary challenge of sending Tisch grads out into the world is preparing them for non-linear career trajectories. To this end, TOCD offers two main resources: career counseling and a mentor network.

Assistant Director of Career Services, Lili Hung, explained that Tisch students must begin thinking early on about how to earn an income while pursuing their craft, and that individuals vary broadly on just how related they want their day job to be to that craft. An aspiring writer, for example, may not necessarily want to pursue technical or copywriting. Lili works closely with students to think through these considerations.

The second way that students can get career advice is by taking advantage of the Tisch Mentor Network. There are over 200 professionals—most, but not all, of whom are Tisch alumni themselves—who make themselves available to Tisch students and grads. The LA program exists mainly to allow recent transplants to the area a way to get their bearings in a supportive group environment. The NY-based program, by comparison, allows every student and alum who wishes to tap into this network the chance to connect one-on-one with industry professionals.

Before they are allowed to access the network, however, everyone is required to attend a thirty-minute training session. (First-year students are furthermore required to attend a counseling session.) The purpose of the training session is threefold: To manage student expectations of the mentoring program; to go over the rules of conduct; and to warn students of the quirks of the online mentoring system.

The Tisch Mentor Network is a self-guided program, meaning that TOCD only intervenes if problems arise; it is up to the mentor/mentee to decide how far and in what direction their relationship goes. TOCD staff emphasize that the mentors vary on their availability and willingness to contact mentors: while some are willing to meet for coffee every now and then, others can only spare enough time for an informational interview over the phone.

TOCD staff underscore that the program is designed to provide guidance. It exists to give Tisch grads access to people with industry knowledge and career paths they’re interested in. On this front, it’s very important to manage student expectations. Students and alums are instructed not to ask for jobs, seek representation, or ask for donations to their Kickstarter campaign. They may ask someone to read a script if they have already developed a deep relationship with their mentor. Mentors, however, state up front the level of involvement and type of interaction they are comfortable with (informational interview; resume/portfolio critique; job shadowing; longterm mentoring; in-person; over email; over the phone; via Skype, etc.).

On the whole, however, students and alums are encouraged to take responsibility for building this relationship. To encourage relationship cultivation rather than superficial contact, Tisch restricts everyone to three initial contacts a year. Students and alums are encouraged to report back if they have trouble getting a response so TOCD staff can facilitate the connection (and it often is a matter of emails being sent to spam folders).

TOCD encourages students and grads to undergo a lot of preparation before writing the initial email reaching out to potential mentors.

  • The first step is to go over career basics through the career development office, so they don’t waste their mentors’ times with basic industry questions.
  • They are also encouraged to clarify for themselves their professional interests and career goals, so they can have a certain focus when meeting mentors. These plans may of course change once they start working with a mentor. (These are super important points.)
  • TOCD urges everyone to cast their net broadly when seeking out potential mentors. Partly this is due to the quirks of the database search function, but mostly it’s because of the non-linear nature of artistic career paths. (E.g., a TV professional may not have majored in film/TV, but dramatic writing.)
  • Students get to read through the profiles of mentors, which ideally has information on how they found their first job; how their education/internships prepared them for their career; what their career path has been like; and what they do in their current job. TOCD also suggests they Google their potential mentors to get more information on them.
  • Using this information, Tisch students must then write an email requesting contact. The email must not look like a form letter, but be very specific about why their interest in speaking to a certain professional.
  • Likewise, after their initial contact, they are instructed to send a thank you email with references to any advice they may have received.

I think this is such a great service and I’ve been surprised to learn about Tisch grads who are completely unaware that it even exists. Doing my best to spread the word!

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