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  • The Move to LA - chatting with Justine Taormino

    Anyone moving to Los Angeles after graduation certainly has a lot of questions and worries.  Is LA the place for me?  How do I meet people, and how can I stay in touch with them?  Where should I live?  When can I start… and where?  Can I make it in LA?  Many of us may be feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and panicked; others may be excited, eager; and for some, the reality of moving hasn’t set in yet.

     The Women’s Film Initiative was so fortunate to have a Meet and Greet event with Justine Taormino earlier this month.  As the Assistant Director of Alumni Affairs in Los Angeles for Berklee, she is the person to know to answer your questions and ease your worries about the big move.  She also runs the Women in Tune Networking group, which supports and connects female musicians in the Los Angeles Area.  She came to speak to us about the next step in our careers and how best to prepare, covering topics from living in Los Angeles, maintaining our network, applying for jobs, and navigating the industry.

    Los Angeles can be quite different from our east-coast hometown, she explained.  Unlike Boston, LA is quite spread out, with many different sections: the Valley, the East side, Beverly Hills, Downtown LA, West LA, and the South Bay.  Because of this, yes, you need a car, and yes, traffic is as bad as you’ve heard.  Justine says there is never a “wrong” time to move, but it is important to know the cycles of your industry, whether you will be working in TV, film, or touring.  She suggests the 2-year rule as a guide for getting settled in LA.  In the first year, you’ll spend your time trying to meet people, introducing yourself, and getting onto their radar – essentially letting them know you are in LA now.  It takes until about the second year when things start to take off.  It finally hits people that, “Oh, yeah, you live here now!  Let’s get coffee.”  This, in itself, may take another month and a half because everyone is so busy, but it’s getting somewhere, and that is what’s most important.

    So how do you meet the people you need to know?  Put simply, networking is reaching out to people.  The best way to meet someone new is to take the initiative – just say hi, introduce yourself, and ask about what they do or why they are in LA. Networking now while you’re at school is crucial, because once you graduate, you will never be in the same proximity of so many people who want to do what you want to do.  Start making connections now from your own group – friends, classmates, colleagues, professors.  Once you get to LA, attend a Berklee Alumni event – the alumni in LA have an incredibly supportive community.  Remember: try not to write anyone off – it’s possible that you may not click with someone now, but people change, and he or she could end up being your best friend in the future (or your boss!). 

    And of course, the question we all want to know the answer to: how do we land that first job (especially one that’s related to our degrees and actually pays the bills)?  Even Justine can’t give us the exact answer, because there is no sure-fire way to land a job.  The most important way, though, is to use this network that you have established and take advantage of your resources.  Have a positive online presence and a solid résumé, and have work to show when your potential employer asks for it.  The biggest thing to remember is that other people will ask their own friends and networks for recommendations – and your name has to come up – so keep in touch with your connections well before you need to ask for a job.

    Surviving in LA boils down to a few vital points

    The only ticking timer is money – if you can pay bills, you can stay in LA indefinitely.  Keep expenses low, have money saved, transfer jobs from Boston or home, and be open to saying yes to anything.  According to Justine, it is survival of the fittest, not necessarily the most talented.  Have a good attitude and solid work ethic, and you will be able to stay in the game.  The longer you are there, the better off you are.

    Justine had two especially wonderful pieces of advice for all of us looking to build a career in Los Angeles.  The first is that, when looking for work, you should never think “What can you do for me?”  Rather, you should consider “How can I help?”  Be the person your boss cannot work without.  Bring your skill set to the team and help make everyone’s job easier.  By presenting yourself this way, you will appear very positive and proactive, and will be more likely to receive the next interview or position.

    The other is something we should all take to heart: Helping others build their career helps you build yours.  Focus on the skills you have that can solve problems for others, and share what you know.  In turn, people will share knowledge with you.  By keeping in touch with others you have helped and who have helped you, you can pull each other up the ladder and onward to career success.

    So what’s next?  Take a pre-move visit, reach out to alums for coffee or informational interviews.  Catch up with old friends.  Gather content for your online presence.  Learn from your faculty, chairs, and colleagues.  Even apply for internships – it’s never to soon to get some experience.  Whatever you do now as a student will help you in the long run. 

    Good luck, and hope to see you in LA!

    - Emily Joseph