Landing the Job Despite Scary Odds


By Brittney Saline and Connie Frigo

Statistics are interesting, don’t you think? We use them to gauge the likelihood of success or as a way of summarizing the state of affairs in a given population. Sometimes they’re just entertaining bits of trivia (at the time this post was written, there were over 187,000,000,000 emails sent today worldwide*). You can’t let statistics run your life, but sometimes they’re worth paying attention to – so that you can take measures to make sure you come out in the favorable percentage. Take this statistic, for instance: in the academic year of 2010/2011, there were only 52 job openings for woodwinds in university music programs across the US, including adjunct and combined positions. Not a woodwind player? Well, there were only 40 openings for brass, and 39 for strings.  And that’s an improvement from the year prior, when there were only 27 for woodwinds, 21 for brass and 42 for strings.**

But, here’s the good news:  The scarcity of jobs in the music world doesn’t preclude the possibility of you finding gainful, fulfilling employment. You just need the right tools in your arsenal – and how to use them.

Many of the tools out there to help you in your attempt to get a job are common knowledge; in fact, they’re so common that we often gloss over them without applying our own relevancy to that position.  Here are five of the most common tools for getting that coveted job, whether you’re writing a cover letter or preparing for an interview – and what they really mean:

Do your homework.

Translation: Research the organization until you know what its values and vision are as clearly as you know your own. Know what audience it serves and how it’s serving them. As best you can, get a sense for the culture of the organization, who works there and how it’s structured.

Now, research the position. What exactly is the job description telling you? How does that position fit in with the overarching vision and goals of the organization, and what are the key skills involved? Most importantly, know exactly how you match up with all of those things. How do you align with their values and vision? How do your skills match up with the position? What kinds of contributions can you make?  It is very likely that you will be asked “Why are you interested in this position? Why this university?”  Have a thoughtful answer that goes beyond the generic and represents why you are the best fit for that particular position.

Prepare to answer this question: “Tell us a little about yourself.”

Translation: Prepare to answer this question: “Tell us how your skills, interests, past experience and future goals match with who we are and what this position entails.” This is not the time to summarize in chronological order where you went to school, who you studied with, what competitions you’ve won, where you’ve taught.  Your c.v. provides this information. This isn’t the time to talk about how you love to ski – unless you’re applying to be a ski instructor.  This is the time to put into context the unique attributes you bring forward as they relate to the position and institution/organization to which you are interviewing.  One of the questions I was asked by the Dean of Arts and Sciences during an interview was “Tell me about yourself.  I’ve read over your c.v. and know what you’ve done.”  (My c.v. was spread out on the table in front of her as she asked this and she kept flipping through it as I was speaking.)  Needless to say, she was not interested in a summary of my accomplishments.

Highlight your strengths.

Translation: Illustrate specifically how your unique skill-set aligns with what they’re looking for. Hint: “Detail-oriented” is not a good enough answer! Prepare scenario examples from your experience that highlight your strengths in such a way that shows how you would perform in the context of the position you’re applying for and your unique vision for it.  If you are detail-oriented, share what events you have organized or what administrative experience you have that supports this statement.  If you are a self-starter, provide examples of a chamber ensemble you started or a new program you put into place where you currently teach and why you were inspired to start it.  If you say you are highly motivated to excel, state what you have learned from the competitions you’ve entered.   If you have endless curiosity, share positive opportunities that came your way because of your curiosity.  If you have mad computer skills and know how to program code, make sure you think about how these mad computer skills can help the program to which you are applying.

Practice your interviewing skills.

Translation: Don’t just read over your notes beforehand – do a mock interview, preferably with a mentor or teacher – someone you’re a little less comfortable with than a buddy. This is your chance to experience having to put your thoughts into words in front of someone else and see what bugs come out – this is your dress rehearsal!  If a Skype video call or conference call is a part of the interview, which is common these days, practice both of these scenarios with a mentor or teacher.  Warning: phone interviews can be awkward because of the lack of dialog.  Practice with multiple people.  The embarrassing gaffs and loss of words need to be flushed out.  Confession: During a (first) mock interview for my first university teaching position, the mock interviewer asked me, “Why the University of  X? What makes you interested in working here?”   And to that I replied, “Well, it’s no secret that there is a shortage of jobs in my field.  I am thrilled that a full-time applied position on my instrument exists right now.”  FAIL.  Miserably.  But boy am I glad I had the chance to experience during a mock interview why that was the worst answer I could have ever given that could have cost me the job.    My mistakes and embarrassment in the mock interview allowed me to prepare authentic and thoughtful answers that ultimately helped me get the job offer.


Translation: Do more research! Research the people at the organization and their alumni networks. Even if you’re not applying to a university,  find the connections between who works there now, who worked there in the past and where the threads could connect to you.

Choose your references wisely. References can be what makes or breaks you: You want someone who is not only willing to give you a rave review, but who knows you well enough  – in the context of the kind of work you’ll be doing – to highlight all the positive and relevant things you’ll bring to the organization. Don’t name-drop unless the names you’re dropping actually know you on this level, otherwise your plan may actually backfire.

You have the power to be a “good statistic”. All it takes is a little effort and a willingness to seek out and utilize the resources around you. The Road of Creativity’s Music Entrepreneurship Retreat will serve as a resource for all these topics and more – take advantage of this opportunity to learn from some of today’s top music entrepreneurs, industry and leadership experts. Now offering a limited number of Early Bird Discounts!

*Statistic courtesy of the Radicati Group, Inc.
**Statistics courtesy of the College Music Society

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