Want to work in the cultural and creative industries after university? Read on…

Recruitment has never been more competitive in the graduate market within the cultural and creative industries; there are far more applicants than there are jobs to go around. So what can you do right now, as a student or as someone about to graduate, to ensure you have the best chances of getting your foot on the creative ladder?

1. Get a job

Now I realise that this may seem a bit counterintuitive. We are telling you to get a job so you can get a job that you may struggle to get. What I mean is get any job you can, literally any job. Pulling pints, stacking shelves, washing cars, any job that is a solid form of employment that doesn’t interfere with your studies. The reasons for this are as follows:

  • It is easier to get a job you really want when you already have a job. It boosts the confidence of the employer knowing that you have experience out in the real working world. They know that you are able to respect the hierarchy of the work environment, that you turn up on time, and are, essentially, hireable.
  • While being able to pour out 10 shots in 10 seconds may be a handy skill in your job behind the bar (or indeed at a house party) this skill won’t necessarily help you get the job you really want. What will help you are skills such as customer service, organisation and communication, attention to detail, cash processing, stock management etc., all the skills you use every day in your job. By developing these skills on the job, you will have good, real life examples to call upon when the interviewers as you to “describe a time when…”
  • You’ll most probably develop your team working skills, and being left to get on with your job on your own with little guidance. These are skills many organisations in the cultural and creative industries look for: often you are working as the only person doing that job, so you need to be able to work autonomously, but when a big project comes in you need to be able to switch gears and work as a great team player. So while working that Christmas shift in a department store may have seemed pointless and stressful, you have probably developed your autonomous- and team-working skills without noticing it.
  • Conflict management? Yep, you’ve probably got a lot of experience of this if you get a job with an element of customer service work. While the cultural and creative industries can be a pretty cheery place, there are times when creative passions run high and a situation needs to be diffused.

If you get a job, or already have a job, think about keeping a note of key examples of each of the points mentioned above. It will be a great help when you come to prepare for interviews, or want to give examples in your CV to back up your knowledge and experience.

2. Get experience in the sector

So I’ve told you to get a job, eating into your precious free time, and now I’m telling you to get experience. You have every right to feel a bit annoyed, but this is the way the world works. The reality is that it is unlikely that you will land a job in the cultural and creative industries with no experience beyond your degree in the sector. However, there are lots of opportunities out there to help you gain this vital experience and without taking away the last of your free time:

  • The easiest place to get experience is to get involved in the various societies and groups at your university. By getting involved I don’t mean just turning up, or joining in the social excursions to the union, I mean actually get involved in the running of the group or society. Official university organisations will have a budget and objectives, and as such they will have a team of students who look after various aspects of the organisation to keep it ticking over. Can you offer to work as the group’s secretary or treasurer? Perhaps there is an event or show coming up that you could offer to help out with? Check out the university orchestra or choir, drama group, photography club or dance troupe; there will be something you can get involved in and have fun doing so.
  • Want to spread your wings beyond the ivory tower and get some experience elsewhere? Lots of cultural and creative industries organisations will let a volunteer in to help out for a few hours a week. This is particularly common in the museums and galleries sector where volunteers are the backbone of day-to-day public-facing operations. If you have a sector you really want to work in, it is never too early to gain some experience in or close to that field. Drop them an email to enquire about the possibility of you helping out — you might be surprised what a volunteer position can lead to.
  • For those on the artistic creative branch of the sector, think about what you can create on the side of your degree outputs. Think about building a portfolio beyond your university coursework, and see if you can get any feedback from leading figures in your field. Are you in a position to sell your artwork, or work to commissions? Many university cities with art colleges have a gallery or two that sell student work, and with the advances of the freelance marketplace online, picking up small commission jobs has never been easier.

If you can achieve both of these things during your studies, you will find it a lot easier to secure that first graduate position in the sector you want to develop your career in. The experience will help to boost your skills, knowledge and confidence, so now is the time to start building the foundations for that awesome career you have been dreaming of.

Dr Rachael Durkin is a Lecturer in Music at Edinburgh Napier University specialising in music history, as well as providing careers support for students. Follow her on Twitter for all things higher education, music, and student development.