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DEMAN Weekend: How young creative professionals found their first jobs

DEMAN Weekend on Nov. 2 and 3 will offer a host of new sessions, including one on how to find your first job in a creative industry.
DEMAN Weekend on Nov. 2 and 3 will offer a host of new sessions, including one on how to find your first job in a creative industry.

Fall marks recruiting season at Duke, with financial and consulting firms making offers for summer interns and full-time positions. Students with a stronger interest in creative fields often feel left out among friends returning from the summer with full time job offers. 

DEMAN Weekend can be a key networking event for students looking to enter creative industries. Creative professionals from around the country will return Friday and Saturday to host information sessions, talk to students and share their expertise. One new session this year highlights young professionals who will discuss how they got their first jobs in the field.  The Chronicle spoke with some of the young graduates returning for DEMAN Weekend, and asked for their expertise in how to find a first job.

Getting in the door

When Chris White, Trinity ‘17, graduated as a visual media studies major with documentary studies and arts of the moving image certificates, he did not have a job lined up.

“Most of my close friends were in different industries, and they had their jobs lined up pretty early on,” he said. He took solace, though, in his experiences at DEMAN Weekend, which takes its name from the Duke Arts & Media Network. There he heard stories from Duke alumni still managed to find success in their preferred field, even though some graduated without any job offers. 

A few weeks after graduation, White got a call to work as a grip on a movie set. White initially considered declining the offer due to his lack of experience, having only worked as a grip once for Freewater Productions, but changed his mind.

“I tried to make each day better than the last, and it ended up being a really, really great experience,” White said. He went home and watched YouTube tutorials after working 12-hour days to take full advantage of the job.

The confidence White gained working as a grip allowed him to ask to be an assistant director on another short film. He said putting himself out there, even when he did not feel completely qualified, helped get him where he is today.

He is now in the T3 program at Turner Studios in Atlanta, designed for recent college graduates to work their way up to a full-time job. He rotates every month for 11 months in the editing department and assists editors in different networks.

White said he did not see himself going into film editing, as he was first interested in film production.

“At the same time, I wanted to do anything I could to get in the door,” he said.  

He said he foresees himself staying at Turner, but is open to other opportunities. He would like to become a producer or editor in the long term.

Taylor Jones, Trinity ‘18, is a member of the NBCUniversal Page Program in Los Angeles. She was a political science major at Duke and completed the policy, journalism and media studies certificate. Her experience in the Duke in L.A. study away program sparked her interest in the entertainment industry and showed her how many opportunities there are in the field.

“I learned that I have a lot of interests, and I really wanted to find a job or a program that allowed me to explore them in a lot of different ways,” she said.

Jones loved the city so much that she stayed for the summer, taking an internship at HBO.  

After graduating this year, she worked as a freelance writer and applied to a number of jobs, including the August cohort of the 12 to 15-month NBC program. She is currently an assistant data analyst in Universal Cable Productions, looking at industry trends and helping NBC making better business and creative decisions, and will rotate to three more departments during her time there. 

She said her job shows her almost every aspect of the entertainment industry.

“Right now, tech companies are really becoming media companies,” she said. More and more of her job is taking stock of what Netflix, Hulu, Snapchat, Facebook and Amazon are doing.

Jones said she might be interested in exploring this trend after her program ends, or looking at social justice and diversity work in the media.

“This program is helping me shape my interests in a way I can’t even predict,” she said. 

Other graduates coveted a job at a particular company.

Jenna Poczik, Trinity ’17, is a growth marketing associate at Artsy, the world’s largest online art marketplace, and combined her interests in art and technology. She had been interested in Artsy as an undergraduate, even incorporating it into class projects.

"I loved Artsy’s mission to expand the art market to support more artists and art in the world … so I followed job postings closely throughout my senior year,” she wrote in an email.

She interned at the Nasher Museum of Art with the marketing team for her sophomore, junior and senior years. This experience helped her get an internship in the digital media department at the Whitney Museum of American Art the summer before her senior year.

Being a member of the Nasher Museum Undergraduate Student Executive — Nasher MUSE — allowed her to network with museum professionals, as members were able to attend a board dinner with the board of advisers and Nasher staff each year.

The Duke difference?

Amanda Lewellyn, Trinity ’17, is an audio producer at theSkimm, working on programs including “Skimm Notes” and “Skimm’d from the Couch.” She had an internship there the summer before her senior year and started as an editorial assistant after graduation. She then worked in a research role.

Practical experiences at Duke, like working in the Reporters’ Lab and creating a biannual magazine at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, also helped Lewellyn develop the skills necessary for her current position. What she learned — like fact checking, research and managing a team — have proved useful after graduation.

But sometimes the experiences you don’t get are just as important as those you do.

Lewellyn said getting rejected by clubs and activities at Duke was a key part of her experience, as it made her work harder and push herself out of her comfort zone.

"In media, nobody is going to tell you where to go, much less how to get there,” Lewellyn wrote in an email. “You have to decide for yourself.” She said being proactive by asking questions and reaching out to mentors, even if it only led to rejection, was necessary.

Chris White did learn practical skills at Duke, like how to edit videos using Adobe Premiere, but he said problem-solving skills and learning how to work with a lot of different people have been more useful in his post-graduate life.

“Problem solving is probably the number one thing that everyone on my team does,” White said. “Editing is very creative, but it’s also a puzzle.”

Jones agreed, saying a good attitude is more important than skills.

“As a Duke student, people know that you’re smart, and most people in Hollywood come from really good schools,” Jones said. “They care about your ability to be charismatic and do things with a smile.”

Many tasks in Hollywood, like going on grocery store runs or being an assistant, may seem menial, Jones said. Doing these tasks with a good attitude is what gets you noticed by your superiors.  

Network, network, network

As with all careers, networking is key for entering the creative industry.

“All it really takes is one person to get you in the door,” White said. He recommended reaching out to alumni in desired fields and showing work.

Jones said students interested in pursuing creative passions like writing or directing should get involved while undergraduates.

“If you can create a portfolio now, even if you think it’s trash, somebody is going to look at it and appreciate the fact that you carved time out in your schedule to invest in your creative work,” Jones said. “You’re never going to have as much time as you do in college.”

She also said connecting with as many Duke alumni as possible is also important.

“There are a lot more Duke alums in the entertainment industry than people like to think,” she said.  

Poczik wrote that media and art jobs do not have the clear paths set up in other industries.

“It can and will feel stressful when everyone around you has a plan,” she wrote. The best piece of advice she received was from a Duke alumna working at a museum, who stressed the importance of being patient and waiting for the right opportunity.  

Lewellyn advised to not worry about the future too much. She urged undergrads to think of choosing a career as a process of elimination, not picking the perfect job right out of the gate.    

“Chill out,” she wrote. “It’s fine if you’re 20 and don’t know how you want to spend the rest of your life.”

Jones said working in creative industries involves taking risks, whether that means moving across the country or working for a less alluring salary than one might get on Wall Street. But waking up among palm trees in Los Angeles and heading to NBC Studios every day makes it all worth it.

“To work in this industry takes courage,” she said.

Correction: A previous version of this article said Jenna Poczik graduated in 2018. The Chronicle regrets the error.

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