It might be cold now, but it won’t be long until the snow melts and the semester ends. As far away as it might seem, it’s already time to start making your summer plans. Finding that perfect summer experience – whether it’s a festival, study abroad, job opportunity or internship – can be daunting. Although I’m still in the midst of this process for this year, I have been lucky enough to participate in a variety of awesome (and not so great) internships and other summer programs. So, I’ll share some of my insights and strategies with you.
1) Know what you want.
This might seem really obvious, but it’s crucial to know what you want in order to get it. Do you want to develop your musical skills more? Orchestral, solo, or chamber? Try your hand at music administration? Is there a particular teacher you want to study with or a city you want to work in? Make sure you focus on your core interests or priorities.
2) Know what you don’t want.
This is even more important than knowing what you actually do want to do. What are your deal breakers? Is it okay if the teacher(s) at a summer festival promote a different technical style than yours? Is there some type of work you despise and usually avoid at any cost? Well, then don’t apply! No matter how good it might appear on paper, you’ll be miserable and won’t get as much out of your summer compared to doing something less prestigious but more enjoyable.
3) Know what you need.
Yeah, larking about in Europe for an entire summer would be fantastic, and the cultural exposure would be great, but it’s not the most effective way to spend your summer. What are your long-term goals, and what can you do to help meet them? Are you applying for grad school in a few years (or sooner)? Do you want to play in an orchestra? Do you want to run an orchestra? What skills will you need to succeed in your endeavors? Only target opportunities that help you gain relevant experience. Or, at the very least, help you network. You can still go to Europe for example, so long as you do something to further your career at least part of the time.
4) Be realistic.
Unless you are an internship-finding genius, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to find the perfect experience. Paid internship in London for the summer? Sadly, only in my dreams. Figure out what’s actually possible for you to do. What can you swing financially? Is an opportunity in another city or an unpaid gig feasible for you? Do you have the appropriate credentials for a position? Is your musical mastery at a high enough level for your favorite festival? Shoot for the stars, but be honest with yourself about your chances. It’s like applying for college; consider some “reach” and “safety” opportunities, but mostly stick with things in between. More prestige is nice, but if something less lofty can give you the same experiences, then it’s just as worthwhile. In my experience, sometimes it’s better to work for smaller or lesser-known organizations, especially if they tend to give interns more independence and higher-level tasks. With that in mind, I’m applying both to super-competitive internships as well as for positions in smaller nonprofits.
The Search Begins
5) Search engines are your friends.
The Almighty Google can even help you find internships and festivals! Type in some key words and go. This approach can give you a general idea of what’s out there and can help you narrow down your preferences. I also recommend looking at your college’s careers center website. Often, there are some really awesome resources on there. My favorites are the school-sponsored search engines. These jobs have already been filtered by the university, so you know the internship is legitimate and there’s often an alumni connection to facilitate your application process. I’ve probably found a full quarter of the internships I’m applying to through this type of service. Alumni usually have access too! For music, one of the best job databases is Bridge. I’m going to put in a shameless plug for Eastman now, and tell you to check out their website for more resources like that: http://www.esm.rochester.edu/iml/careers/jobs_gigs_auditions.php
6) Check out your favorites.
Have a favorite orchestra, festival, or other arts organization? See if they’re hiring! Many conservatories, summer programs, orchestras, and non-profits have summer internship programs. And they often prefer musicians, because we understand how the arts world functions. Plus, since you already are interested in the organization, you’ll appear more enthusiastic and knowledgeable in any interview. I’m currently an intern at my city’s philharmonic, so this tip certainly worked for me.
7) Network, network, network.
Talk to people about what you’re looking for. You never know. Your parents’ friend’s boss might just be your summer employer. You would be surprised at how powerful word of mouth and random recommendations can be. Who hasn’t gotten a performance gig this way? It’s the same for any other job or internship. Your friends, family, peers, and colleagues know how competent you are and can be your best resource. They want you to succeed. Take advantage; you would (and should) do the same for them.
8) Be creative.
Stumped? Try to think outside the box. For example, did you know that the Library of Congress sponsors and promotes its own concert series? There are many different ways to get the skills you need. Based on the experiences you want to have, look for ways to gain them that aren’t necessarily typical. Interested in music administration, but can’t find enough opportunities? Try nonprofit administration in general. This is obviously a pretty limited example, but you get the idea. Anything you can do to expand the pool of available internships that can meet your goals is good.
9) Be prepared.
Have all your basic documents – resume, rep list, sample recording, etc. – ready in advance. Sometimes you’ll find a great opportunity, only to discover that the application window closes in a few days. Keeping everything up to date can save you a lot of grief along the way. Further, make sure you keep track of your application deadlines, and always let any recommendation letter writers or references know well in advance of the due date.
Proofread and edit everything you attach to an application, then do it again to make doubly sure. Your application is the only thing prospective employers will know about you. It needs to be as close to perfect as you can make it. After a while, you’ll get in the habit of using certain formats or repurposing material from previous applications for new ones; this is a great time-saver, and something I highly recommend. However, make sure that everything matches up with the new application!
11) Make the odds be ever in your favor.
Honestly, it’s really hard to find even a good unpaid internship right now. For paid positions, the competition is even more fierce. There are a lot of qualified applicants. As a result, you may have a low probability of getting any particular internship or job. But you can always improve your chances by applying to a larger number of opportunities. If you submit a large number of applications, the odds are that something good will come through.
12) Accept disappointment gracefully.
Did you get rejected from a festival you really wanted? Never even heard back from that awesome internship? It can be really discouraging and frustrating. Believe me, I know. But your only options are to give up or move on to the next thing. And we all know which course of action is better.
Well, that’s all I have for you. Best of luck on your job/internship/festival applications!