So there you are, feeling sorry for yourself in a corner. The popular girls whispering to each other across the classroom and passing notes that you are all to sure that hold the keys to the universe. They seem so happy don’t they? In their own little universe, seemingly untouchable and isolated while you sit in the back of the class silently moping. Well the tough news is that those girls aren’t going to be your friends unless you introduce yourself. If you want to be a part of the group, then you have to make it happen, and you have to do it in a way that doesn’t seem annoying or as if you are trying too hard. I’m talking of course about the creative professionals for whom you wish to work for. The popular girls are merely a metaphor, but the same basic principles of introducing yourself to these people ring true, years after middle school.
The reality is, as much as you don’t want to hear it, is that only you are in control of your career as a photographer. Nobody is going to just magically stumble upon your website, call you up, and ask for your hand to lead you into the promise land of shooting solo for big name clients like Nike, Chanel, Budweiser, or Pepsi. No matter what denomination of photography you specialize in, i.e. fashion, food/beverage, fine art, product, photojournalism, photo manipulation, beauty, etc, you have to work REALLY hard to get those types of clients, and more than likely you’ll have to work for someone else first. You’ll have to work a lot for other people in fact. Don’t get me wrong, there are some lucky people who graduate and immediately get swept into an awesome job with seemingly no effort, but this can’t happen for everyone. Something that they don’t tell you in school is that the photography industry, especially in New York believe it or not, is all about playing the social game. Wait! Don’t panic! I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking, “oh god! I hate people! I thought photography was all about locking yourself away from society in a studio where you don’t have to deal with anyone but your product and the camera! If I had known I would have gone into ____ (insert boring non social job here). Relax, you can still be a hermit and a successful photographer too. The key is learning how to play your strengths; Or, If you are a social person, just be yourself!
From the moment you make contact with someone you want to work with/for, you absolutely have to stand out. Photographers are extremely busy. So busy in fact, that they cast away perfectly qualified potential assistants just because they don’t have the time to read the piles of resume’s on their desk. That’s right, I said piles. There are a lot of people trying to get jobs in this industry out there, and it can get pretty ruthless. Here is when the social part comes in. Think about it, if you were one of those photographers, or the popular girl in school, you wouldn’t take someone shopping with you if you didn’t know them. That could get awkward, so you call up one of your besties. Same with photographers, they prefer to work with someone they know. I’ll talk more about assisting later, but right now this brings me back to my original point. You have to get to know these photographers before you start making money, and in order to do that, you have to stand out. “How do I stand out,” you ask? Well let me tell you.
Back to the popular girl scenario: there you are in the room, the popular girls are across the room and you are wondering how to approach them. You can go a number of different routes and you are stumped. You could do something clever or creative, or you could say something deep or daring. Well, in order to choose which path to take you have to ask yourself where you want to fit into their world. How could you help them out? What kind of message do you want to get across to them? Like in the movie the Wolf Of Wall Street with Leonardo DiCaprio, how are you going to sell them the pen? If you don’t know, just study your client! If you are trying to work for someone, study what kind of work they do. For God’s sake read their website! They have an “About Me” page more than likely. Use it! The about me is like a pristine window into the soul of your potential new employer. Too often, fresh faces like yourselves get pushed to the wayside because you sent a promotional piece or an email that doesn’t make any sense for what kind of work the photographer does. You want these people to realize that you can pay attention and have an eye for detail, because that is what they are looking for. They are counting on someone to catch the stuff that they miss, and to keep them on the right track. Try to send your message (i.e. resume, cover letter, marketing package, or whatever it may be) with consistent branding to them, and you’ll find it to be much more effective.
The other key to getting some kind of response from someone you want to work for is strategic constant contact. Don’t be annoying and call them up every single day because that will have the exact opposite affect you desire. Like that first interaction with the popular girls, you want to seem confident, cool, and someone they would benefit from knowing. If you push too hard then it will seem like you’re trying and you’ll be at the butt of some nasty joke they go off gossiping about and forget about you. Make a schedule and stick to it. Set reminders on your phone to email the people on your list at a certain interval. About once a month to three months should do it. Also, make sure there is a legitimate reason for emailing them. That reason could be an inquiry about an open position, but try to vary it a little bit. A little flattery goes a long way, try saying, “Just wanted to say I saw what you did with ‘a new project they completed’ and I was really inspired! I’d love to chat about your approach and your thoughts behind that sometime!” Just feel it out and try to vibe with the photographer. You should be able to tell after one or two emails what they are like and what they respond to. Just remember to keep up the contact, or else they will forget about you. You want to be the first person they remember when a position finally comes up and if you don’t keep reminding them of your existence then they definitely won’t remember you.
Keep your head up, and don’t take things personally. You are exactly the kind of assistant that someone is looking for so don’t be discouraged. The best you can do is introduce yourself to a bunch of people that you want to work for, and just don’t give up. You’ll eventually get a response, even if it is, “I don’t have anything right now so leave me alone”. They acknowledged you, so that is definitely a win! Possibly, a couple of weeks down the line, one of their buddies could call them up and ask if they knew anybody and your name could come up.
So, my advice, do some research, be consistent with contact, and just be yourself. Those popular girls will eventually have room in their circle because Becky moved away and you’re sure as hell going to be the first one to take her place, killer.