Congratulations! You’ve made it through your music therapy internship. Hopefully you kept your head down, performed well, didn’t get involved in any company drama , and got your passing grade and now have a diploma. If things are working in your favor, you might even have a job lined up!

My first job as a music therapist was at a Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Institute run by the state of South Carolina. I didn’t have any pearls of wisdom from my professors upon beginning there, and I wish I had. As a result of that desire, I am going to share with you some valuable pointers for starting your first job. Of course every situation is different so temper these to your own environment. Since I have also started a private practice, I’m going to share some pointers for that situation as well!

As an employee:

Observe: I know that this was stated in the internship post, but it if a very important skill to have when entering a new environment. Just like we observe our clients in our work as therapists, observe your co-workers and supervisor(s). If you take a week or two to notice the dynamic and patterns of those around you, finding the rhythm of your new job will be easier, not to mention you will have something of a heads up on what to expect should there be any difficulties to navigate.

Educate: I cannot stress this enough. I unfortunately, was not given the opportunity at my workplace to give an in-service to staff about what music therapy is. As a result, I had to do a lot of one on one education with staff. Needless to say, the information didn’t always trickle and I found myself in several positions where I had to defend what I was doing and why. This conversation actually came up recently on Facebook with my professor from Georgia College and State University, Dr. Douglas Keith.

Listen to the old timers: I can tell you; finally having that degree feels so good. But you still have a lot to learn. One of the benefits of being an employee is that you have others to learn from. These can be people in your field, or in related fields (ie. I learned so much from the psychiatrists that I worked with!). Of course, temper what you chose to use with your own judgment and knowledge of the person’s background.

Grow: One of the best things (in my opinion) about having your first job be an actual employed job is that you have the opportunity to focus on developing your skills and your program. Operating a private practice requires your brain to be in several different areas at once. When you work for someone else the details become their job, your practice is yours. I was able to really find my voice and style and to define what I was and wasn’t comfortable with while I was an employee. You do this as an intern under guidance, but doing it on your own is a whole different experience. It is for this reason that I highly recommend taking an employee position before considering starting a private practice.

As an Entrepreneur:

Have a Plan: Brainstorm everything that could potentially happen and come up with how you would handle it. Not just bad things, but things like: handling scheduling, payment policies, absentee policy, referral incentives, snow day policy (who would have thought in South Carolina??), etc. Know how you plan to handle things. The more you define now, the easier it will be to make congruent decisions down the line.

Know your Resources: Is there a Small Business Development Center? Does your local college offer business seminars? Are there support groups, advocacy groups, and related professionals with a large client base? Who can you go to for help, assistance, and maybe some free advertising? Do you have a professional supervisor to talk to? Define these before even opening your doors.

Social Media: Once again, following on the footsteps of Know your Resources, social media is a wonderful tool. It took me thinking about starting my business before I really got into it. I wish I had before because I never felt so connected in my field!

It was this connectivity that allowed me to write the next (and last) post in the Preparing to be a Professional series. Hopefully we won’t have any more technical difficulties and it will go up on Tuesday as scheduled.

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out the rest of the Preparing to be a Professional Series: Things to Do as a Student, and Egos and Where to Put Them.