The creative job search: networking in the creative industries

How graduates with arts degrees can use their creative skills to find job opportunities.

A creative career search involves a creative, active approach to researching career opportunities and making applications. Rather than waiting for an opportunity to appear before making an application, use your initiative. Not everybody will use all the aspects of creative career searching. You can use a ‘pick and mix’ approach to choose the most useful aspects; this will boost the effectiveness of your professional development.

Why use a creative career search?

The creative career search is particularly important for visual artists and designers when there is much competition for relatively few jobs, or for the more popular jobs such as those in the media or culture sectors. In these sectors an understanding of the recruitment or commissioning process is key.

Step one – doing your research

This stage is essential because any potential employer or funding body will be interested in you showing them that you have at least gone to the trouble of finding out the basics. Find out as much as you can about the work in which you are interested and focus on the sector you are targeting (community, media, design practices, etc):

  • Use books, videos and reference sources on the internet.
  • Read relevant trade, national and local press and directories.
  • Use libraries (public, academic and business).

Step two – networking

Artists and designers nowadays are familiar with professional networking as part of their work, collaborating across geographical and art-form boundaries. Even when you are just starting your career, you are already within a network of artists and designers:

  • University staff
  • Guest speakers on campus
  • Relatives, family friends
  • Colleagues inside and outside university.

Remember when networking that your first contact does not need to be a person actually doing the work that you want to do, but they might be able to put you in touch with the right person. This is what networking is all about: once you’ve found the first people to start your network, others will begin to fall into place. Be proactive in developing and maintaining contacts – this will inform you on making the right career choice. Most visual artists enjoy talking about their work and are usually happy to help others who show interest.

Step three – information interviewing

‘Information interviewing’ is basically talking to people about the work they do and it can be a great help in making decisions. It will enable you to:

  • Gather information about artists’ careers
  • Learn what types of opportunities exist in a given field or organisation
  • Develop contacts with key people who either do the contracting or who know those who do.

Speaking to a variety of professionals in a non threatening, open-ended situation will build your confidence and improve your interview skills. Remember, you are not asking the person for a job: you are gathering information on which to make choices. Explain how you obtained the person’s name, for example the professional arts circle you have or a friend who works in the same field of work. Unless the person has asked you to call them directly, it is best to write a letter or send an e-mail requesting a meeting. Follow up your letter with a phone call to set the appointment time, asking for just a few minutes.

Remember to do your research first, so that you come across to your new contact as a clued-in and interested person over whom it’s worth taking time and trouble. Always dress appropriately and professionally (quick judgements are made at the first visual impact). Take a notebook in which you have prepared the questions you want to ask and where you can record information gathered. Be prepared to take the lead in the conversation, if necessary. Remember, you are interviewing. Respect the person’s time, and do not wear out your welcome. Recognise that everyone has their own attitudes, biases and feelings, which must be evaluated. By talking to several people, you will gain a variety of opinions.

Step four – promotional approaches

Speculative applications are those you make when you don’t know whether there is an opportunity but which still allow you to promote yourself. The old-fashioned method is to send out lots of CVs but generally the response rate is low. There are, however, a number of techniques you can use to increase this response rate dramatically. Some people use a shortened, one-sided CV for promotional approaches – a busy manager may be more likely to read this than a longer document. You might use the following:

  • Business stationery – headed paper, business cards and postcards
  • Brochures – visual illustration of your ability
  • Showreels – keep them short (about three minutes)
  • Portfolio – relevant to the client and containing recent examples of work.

Follow up with a phone call, letter or even a ‘thank you’ card that gives you an opportunity to update people on your own work.