Break down the door

An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision.
(James McNeill Whistler)

Time to ‘Grab the brass ring’ - an old American idiom meaning to reach out and take what you want. A saying from merry-go-rounds – carousels – which once had a small arm that extended toward riders that dispensed iron and brass rings. If someone was able to grab a brass ring – no easy feat – you won a prize... and the deep satisfaction of giving that small ring to your partner. The carousels in Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara still let you try for that ring. Go for it!

This is an amazing country, with 2,000 free or near-free junior colleges waiting to teach you graphic arts skills. There are no artificial limits due to sex, race, religion or class in this game. Decide what you want and go get it. That simple.

You've done your research. Found three – four – maybe five top companies you'd like to work for. You know what job positions you can go after, and how you fit their requirements, even if it's a stretch. Ready to interview, looking good. But – for most places – not overdressed. Can't afford a suit? Go to a church thrift shop (think Episcopalian, Presbyterian). Something in dark gray, if possible.

The next step is getting in the door. Face-to-face with a key person who can hire you – or pass you along to another person who can.

It can be tough, when you're confronted by yet another anonymous glass-fronted corporate building, by a faceless receptionist who takes your resumé, promises to give it to the right person, but won't tell you who that person is.

Even worse, most places – and all places with defense contracts or high-tech intellectual property secrets – are guarded by badge-reader security systems. Now, you can 'tailgate' – walk in close behind an employee, like around 8:00 AM when everybody's coming to work – but, sooner or later, someone will call security. Oops.

Now, there are cracks in the wall. If you can't just phone up the main number and get the information you need – like who's in charge of what – it's time for plan B. Many places have a company cafeteria, next to the reception area, that is open to both employees and outsiders. Have a coffee, start talking to someone nearby. Find out who runs marketing communication, technical publications, elearning. If you're lucky, you'll bump into someone who can actually introduce you to your target.

Once you find the name and title of the right person, you can send your resumé with a cover letter. The letter – keep it simple – should always close with a sentence like 'I'll call you in a few days... to set up a time to show you my portfolio.' Lots of online advice about this!

Internet searching

Besides the obvious web job hunting, you can also do a little digging over the internet. Many professionals are registered with LinkedIn. Join it, explore, start building a contacts network.

Another possibility is to use Google Groups ( to find out the email format for the company you are after. There's also a useful advanced search page. You can just enter to start finding email names, like Then, if your target's name is Thomas Jefferson, you would email your resume to with a pretty fair chance it would arrive.

Or, you can search in the Groups directory, going from My Groups to All groups using the 'Search for a group' box, enter 'marketing communications' – and shazam! There you are. Very helpful – easy enough to start finding contacts, and then send then your material.

Professional associations

Every defense, high-tech, or biomed position has an associated professional group. Like Technical Illustrators, Or Aiga – for the graphic arts. As a note, don’t get caught up in winning association art awards. Nobody with money cares. All that matters is whether your work sells their products!

Goal: go to a meeting in your area, and meet people. More important, use the time to set up a further interaction later. Lunch, a coffee date, whatever. You get jobs from people you know, not from sending out resumes. Have a target company? Ask everyone you know if they know someone, anyone, who works there – and get in touch!

As the old saying goes, 'What's a stranger but a friend you haven't met yet?' Remember this when you finally get that interview. If you're very nervous (who isn't), just keep in mind that it's only an hour of your life, the sun will still come up tomorrow morning, so relax. Can't look 'em in the eye? Just stare at the bridge of his nose. And, whatever you do, don't start laughing. Tacky!

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