Everyone loves the idea of being discovered. Lana Turner’s discovery at a Hollywood drug store is a show-business legend. (According to Wikipedia), sixteen-year-old Turner skipped a high school typing class and bought a Coke at the Top Hat Cafe located on the southeast corner of Sunset Boulevard (not Schwab’s Pharmacy), where she was spotted by William R. Wilkerson, publisher of The Hollywood Reporter. Wilkerson was struck by her potential and referred her to the comedian and talent agent Zeppo Marx. Marx’s agency immediately signed her on and introduced her to film director Mervyn LeRoy, who cast her in her first film, They Won’t Forget (1937).
That was then; this is now.
Jenna Fischer of The Office, (she plays Pam), writes this about being “discovered” on www.dailyactor.com.
“Here is how I got ‘discovered.’ I had been living in LA for about 2 years. A friend wrote a TV script and wanted to do a live stage version as a way of attracting TV producers. He asked me to play a small role. It meant lots of rehearsal for very little stage time and no pay. Along the way I questioned why I had agreed to do it. But, it was very funny and he was a friend, so I agreed. After our 3rd performance, his manager approached me and asked if I had representation. I said, no. She offered to represent me saying she thought I had a real future in television comedy. Naomi is still my manager today. “
Jenna Fischer’s story is closer to what it takes to be “discovered” as a jobseeker today. We all hope that our resume is like Lana Turner; so gorgeous that we can just sit on a stool and someone will walk by and offer to change our life forever. But most of us would do better to follow Jenna Fischer’s path.
What Jenna did right was to work on her craft first and worry about breaks later. As she put it in the same essay, “Most actors think their first priority after moving to LA is to get an agent. I disagree. I think the first priority should be to build a body of work.” As an actor, that meant working on projects that she was interested in and which built her skills and visibility. You can bet that Jenna worked as hard in rehearsals for the low paying – and no-pay – jobs as she did on her paid work (what little there was of it.) She believed that if her work was good enough, someone would notice. Meanwhile, she’d be doing what she loved, at least part of the time.
How do you translate her story into your career search? Many jobseekers are focused only on “real” job opportunities. They tend to overlook opportunities to build their skills or their audiences, which are often disguised, and don’t tend to look like a job search activity. The end result is an ‘all or nothing’ job search – and if you don’t find the “real job” quickly, there’s a long period of nothing.
So here are some opportunities to build skills or audiences for your work that are overlooked:
- contract work
- temporary assignments
- volunteer opportunities
- asks to help out at special events
- requests for assistance from people who can’t offer you jobs
In other words, gigs. I’ve been writing about gig work for over a decade because I believe that gigs can lead to fulltime jobs, if that’s what you want. But you can also make gigs your job.
Even in a difficult and uncertain economy like this, you might find problems that need to be solved, work that needs to be done. What opportunities might you have overlooked over the past few months that could have built your skills or provided some income?