Although there is a little bit of freelancing in the business, almost all models work through an agent. Your agent is responsible for getting bookings and ensuring that you show up on time, no matter how hungover you may be. Good agents will also advise you about clothes and hair, and generally guide you through the various stages of your career.

There are several tactics you can employ to get an agent:

  • Many successful models started their careers effortlessly. They were strolling through the airport with mom and dad on the way back from Disneyland, when a scout from a top agency spotted them, recognized their potential, and gave them a business card. Must be nice. Since you probably haven't been quite this lucky, proceed to the next method.

  • Periodically, agencies open their doors to hundreds of local hopefuls. This is known as an "open call." You herd together in the hallways of an agency with all your competitors, you wait and wait for a turn, and when you finally do get to see someone, it seldom takes more than 30 seconds for the pros to size up what they consider to be your potential. Welcome to the world of big-league rejection. And the good news is that open calls are almost always free. Dress casually in form-hugging clothes so the agent can see what your body is like. Keep the hair simple, and the makeup naturally minimalistic. They want you to present a blank canvass to them-not your glamour look. Don't waste money on professional photos. If you want, you can just bring in a few informal snaps: full body shots (in a conservative bikini or trunks) from a few angles, one nice head shot, and a casual clothed shot.

    Here are some of the top agencies (all of which are based in New York):
    111 East 22nd Street
    New York, NY
    Phone: 212-529-9700

    142 Greene St, 4th Floor
    New York, NY
    Phone: 212-219-6500

    IMG Models
    22 East 71st Street
    New York, NY
    Phone: 212-529-9700

    220 5th Avenue, Suite 800
    New York, NY
    Phone: 212-989-0100
    Email: [email protected]

    23 Watts Street
    New York, NY
    Phone: 212-925-5100

    Boss Models (mostly for male models)
    1 Gansevoort Street
    New York, NY
    Phone: 212-242-2444
    E-mail: [email protected]
  • You don't have to wait around for an open call. If you get on the phone and the agency tells you their open call is six months off, ask if you can just drop by. Don't stop at one; go around to as many of the top agencies as you can.

  • Several large agencies tour the country with a model search, a beauty contest with the purpose of finding the next Christy, Tyra or Claudia. Thanks to events like these, all the seemingly gawky Betty Sues out there can get a shot at proving their exotic supermodel potential (they never would've got off the farm if the fashionistas hadn't come to Pig Snout, Nebraska). As long as there's a reputable agency behind it and the entry fees aren't too extravagant (most, though not all, model search contests will have entry fees), a model search is a good way to at least meet people in the industry.

  • The most expensive option is to attend a modeling convention. Entry fees tend to be high, but you get the opportunity to meet representatives from several different agencies all at the same time (and the chance to learn more about the industry in general). If one of these should happen to open in your city, by all means, check it out.

  • Register with www.modelsandtalent.com on the net. This is a well-respected service through which model scouts browse. It's a place to post an electronic profile so that the pros can check you out. Also try Minx Models.

Once the agency gets a look at you and decides it likes what it sees, an agent will arrange for you to have portfolio pictures taken, a composite card printed, and a résumé put together. Again, you must remember that you are trying to make money, not spend it (see Step 3), so don't waste cash on portfolios until you get signed up with a manager. The agency will probably have a specific look in mind for you anyway, and they'll want to start from scratch. A portfolio (or "book") is what you take along to modeling job interviews, called "go-sees." In your portfolio are a series of shots taken by an agency-recommended photographer, and it reflects the agency's marketing strategy for you. Composite cards, or comp cards, are what you leave behind with the prospective employer: a single printed sheet of photos to help them remember you.