Reality Check for Millennial Arts Students Looking for a Job

May 12, 2016

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

Reality Check for Millennial Arts Students Looking for a Job

May 12, 2016

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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Business Man With Cigar

It’s that time of year again – when we are overwhelmed by students and recent grads looking for gainful employment.

As a business owner, it never ceases to amaze me how clueless some millennials are when it comes to applying for jobs and their expectations of the work world.

If you are an arts student or recent grad and you want some honest tips to set yourself apart from your peers – please continue reading.


If you are an arts student, or a recent graduate of photography, video, graphic design, animation etc…the only reason you have read this far is probably because your mother forwarded you this article because she wants you to get out of her basement.

And, you will probably stop reading now, because you’re too good for this, I’m just a crusty old guy who doesn’t understand your art and you would never want to work for someone like me anyway.

Well, you’re mostly right – I am a crusty old(ish) guy – but guess what – I don’t care how long you live in your parents basement, so please stop reading now.  Here is a link to some videos of cats doing stuff.


Art Is Nice – Business Pays For Food

OK – if you’re going to read on,  let’s get one thing straight.  I don’t care about art.

Well, not art for arts sake anyway.  I am a business owner.  I care about making money, and when I’m not making money, I am thinking about ways of making more money.

It just so happens that I am an artist, and the product that I sell is my creative talent and the creative talent of my employees (more on that later).

In a perfect world where money doesn’t matter and we all work to better ourselves – like in the 24th century in Star Trek: The Next Generation (sorry if you are too young to get the reference) – I would like nothing more than to travel the world and explore my creativity.

However, in the real world, the kind of lifestyle that you think you deserve costs money (otherwise you wouldn’t be applying for a job) – so we have to accept a balance between pursuing our artistic ambitions and paying rent – which is not necessarily a bad thing.


Job Hunting Do’s and Don’ts

This should all be common sense – but sometimes it seems that common sense is in short supply these days.

Never, ever, ever send an email or even a text to a potential employer that is not formatted correctly, with real English words, and proper spelling – it doesn’t have to be perfect (because god knows my English isn’t) but it does have be respectable.

i dont care how much u luv ur iphone if u send me a email or txt that looks like this i will delete it without a second glance do i really need to tell u to correck ur f*cking spelling the damn phone highlights ur spelling mistakes on its own if u r two lazy to use proper grammer spelling and even sentence structure why wood i possibly trust u to work for my business

If you are a graphic designer – I expect your resume to look good.  It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, but it cannot be a crappy Word template either.

Speaking of resumes – I don’t care if you love live action role playing or that you have three cats – if it’s not relevant to the job you are applying for – don’t waste my time telling me about it.

Along with a formal resume, you need to have an online portfolio!

You guys are supposed to be the internet generation.  You’ve all been online, all the time, since you were born – so why do so many of you not have a f*ck!ng online portfolio?

Use a template site, a free blogging platform, or even just a freaking free 500px account – I need to see your work!

But don’t show me school projects.

Do you know how I know its a school project?  Because its ridiculously perfectly done and it doesn’t fit with anything else in your portfolio.

Oh ya – that beautifully lit wine bottle, that studio portrait with flawless Rembrandt lighting, that awkward composite – school projects.

I want to see your work – your projects. I want to get a feeling for your artistic vision.


Millennial Employment Expectations

I could spend an entire column outlining the ridiculous expectations most millennials seem to have about how hard they have to work, what they will be paid and how long it will take for career advancement – but every generation has had its own contingent of those who think the world owes them something.

Hell, it wasn’t that long ago that I would have been part of that same group.

However, it seems like the idea of overnight success has reached epidemic proportions.

Experience is valuable and experience, by definition, takes time to acquire.

Think about it this way – if I have a Senior Designer on staff who earns $120,000 and I can hire a new grad for $40,000 (or less) – why wouldn’t I just replace the single senior employee with three new grads?

I would get three times the work done right?

Wrong – the Senior Designer’s years of experience are worth more to my business than the work of three new grads combined – which is why she is earning $120k+ and you are starting at $40k-.


Top 3 Things Employers Want

It doesn’t matter what job you are applying for or in what industry (but especially for the creative industry), there are three key traits that employers want.

1. Independent Thought & Problem Solving

I don’t want to have to program you like a computer – I want you to be able to think for yourself and solve your own problems.

I am happy to provide guidance and direction, and help solve big problems – that is what I am here for – but most of all I want to hire someone who will take the bull by the horns and get their work done independently and reliably.

In other words: don’t come to me with problems, come to me with solutions.


2. Personal Ambition

I want to hire employees who have the personal drive to achieve their own success.

Personal ambition isn’t schlepping for promotions – its taking initiative to improve how things are done, improving quality and efficiency and looking for ways to increase sales and profitability.

The more success you achieve, the better it is for my business – so everybody wins.


3. Talent

It might surprise many new grads that talent isn’t top of the list – but without independent thought, problem solving and personal ambition, talent is useless (from a business perspective anyway).

Talent is probably the easiest employable trait for applicants to showcase – especially in the creative industry – so if you want the job, show me some amazing work that is relevant to my business.


What Do You Think?

Are employers unreasonable in what they expect from new grads?

Is the world unnecessarily harsh towards millennials?

Are you a business owner who has had problems hiring millennials?

Are you a business owner who has hired an amazing new grad?

Leave a comment below and let us know!

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JP Danko

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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13 responses to “Reality Check for Millennial Arts Students Looking for a Job”

  1. Joseph Noah Avatar
    Joseph Noah

    The struggle for many pretentious student with money.

  2. Fazal Majid Avatar
    Fazal Majid

    I don’t hire arts graduates but programmers instead, which may explain why my experience is different from yours, but I am very happy with my millennial hires.

    If there is a generation that deserves to be chastised for narcissism and entitlement, it is Baby Boomers.

    1. DonWannit Avatar

      More baloney.

  3. Dra Man Avatar
    Dra Man

    Battling pretentious art school grads with a condescending and demeaning breakdown of the technique and thought processes that you assume they all have disguised as “advice” or a “reality check” is not the way to go. You want to flaunt your self righteousness, fine, but don’t be dishonest about it. Every generation looks down on the upcoming generation for trivial reasons that are based on opinion and not facts. It’s human nature and if you spend your time hating younger people then it’s just a matter of time before you and your business become outdated. Watching seniority ruin businesses like this is strangely satisfying because it’s their own fault for not being self aware and open minded. Good luck to this bro guy businessman.

  4. Chris Rogers Avatar
    Chris Rogers

    I’m 26. I don’t think any of this too much to ask.

  5. Fernando Avatar

    You need an open mind on this business which links to creativity in a certain way. You think that by putting your money “secure” on experience people, you will get better results… let me tell you something, I know some photographers that think like you and they are all outdated, which means the new generation (young, graduated or whatever you want to call them) are doing better “creativity” jobs and the “old super photographers” like you are going mad trying to make the run for this new generation of artists. Keep in mind that people and business will change with generations. The people who love your job today, will find out soon a new crazy, young, creative, graduated, school boy… that will stand up from the crowd and then we will have Mr. JP Danko trying to make better things or hire that young, school, creative and crazy basement boy.

    Don’t get me wrong because I know the money stands up and business are business, but … you need to open your mind because this may lead your business to go outdated in a near future.

    Once this happens, you will call the young guy to lift you and your outdated “photography business” up.

    With all due respects, change your mind and stop trying to be the new Donald Trump of photography.

    1. DonWannit Avatar


      1. Fernando Avatar

        Thanks for taking your time to read the comment, JP Danko anonymous personality.

  6. TheInconvenientRuth Avatar

    Shout out to all job hunting Graphic Designers; Y’all be sending in funky graphic designs for your CV, “inspired” by what you see on pinterest and creative magazines. Coolio. The problem is, many times your beautifully designed, full-color with bleed A4 CV gets seen by a HR Person first who then photocopies it and puts a B&W copy on file, sends one to his HR boss and possibly even faxes (yes, people still do that!) it to another office. Remember that your glorious design gets seen/handled by people who are NOT designers and are not ‘graphic savvy’, (especially in big businesses) so your design needs to be built for that. If it becomes illegible after photocopying, faxing or scanning poorly, then your effort is wasted. In an ideal world everyone would be e-mailing your PDF and viewing it on a hardware calibrated reference monitor, but LOL no. (NB, this is Ruthy’s husband posting on her account, I have worked as Art Director for 20 years before switching to full time photography. My pet peeve was “art” graduates with no concept of the real-life usability of their designs..)

  7. Dale Murray Avatar
    Dale Murray

    What do I think? I think Danko has very poor communication skills, thinks very highly of himself, and tends to ramble aimlessly. A skilled editor could have cut this diatribe by no less than 60%, made it more concise, and much more informative.

    Fortunately I am not in the job market.

    1. DonWannit Avatar

      Are you in your mom’s basement watching cat videos?

  8. skykidone Avatar

    I’m not entirely sure what employers are seeking, but from what I’ve heard and run into many of them want most grads to feel grateful that they can be interns or work for exposure. Student debt concerns are put on the back burner because young professions have to earn the right to earn a living from their work. Work for free now in the hopes that someday you’ll gain the experience to create something that others will be willing to pay for. I should have looked away when initially prompted to. “Give up on art and focus all efforts on making money. Work independently after given an assignment. Make photos that make consumers want to buy more of x Product.Be talented.= Employment.” I’m glad photography is simply a passion for me and not a career choice.Good luck to the rest of you if this is what you have to look forward to.

  9. Doug Sundseth Avatar
    Doug Sundseth

    The basic rule of hiring is that I want to hire someone who will make me money. Convince me that you can do that (ideally by showing me how you have made other people money, though that’s not really an option for a new graduate) and I’m interested. Actually make me money and I’ll want to give you more money to keep you from looking for a new job.

    It’s not rocket surgery.

    If you think you can make yourself more money elsewhere, you should probably try that. You’ll know pretty soon whether you were right. Neither graphic design nor photography requires a prohibitive capital investment.