Having graduated from Drama School in 2009, I have, like most graduates, struggled for work. Not knowing quite the path that I was meant to take, I have stumbled and fumbled my way into this industry – but by doing so I’ve learnt a few things along the way. Hopefully the below will be useful for recent graduates. Some of it is obvious but needs to be said, and some of it is perhaps more difficult to accept. Skip to the bottom to see advice from other arts professionals.
1. Talk, discuss and network
The thought of networking still freaks me out. Where conversation is stiff and forced, “so ,what is it that you do?”, “how interesting” “blah blah blah”, but the truth is, if you want to get anywhere in the arts, you have to network. Networking doesn’t have to mean attending networking events, it could just be using Twitter to connect with others, discussing a show with a fellow audience member or just asking a friend to introduce you to someone else working in the arts. A simple conversation that sticks in someone’s mind could lead to work. Always remember to give people your name and let them know what it is you do, and how best they can contact you, and leave the rest to time.
2. Be brave, be inventive and be unique
There are thousands of recent graduates who are now queuing up to find an arts jobs. What sets you apart? In my experience it is about knowing when to put yourself on the line and to be brave, to offer a sense of inventiveness and to be unique. Of course these things are never easy, they require risk and commitment, but those who do manage to put themselves out there further are normally the ones who get noticed. Think about your strengths and decide how you can use them to make yourself unique. What do you bring that no one else brings? How do you market this and how can your strengths work for others?
3. Get advice over tea (or beer)
Is there someone you really admire working within the arts that you would really appreciate some time to just talk to? Get in touch with them and ask them if you can buy them a cup of tea (or beer if the occasion suits) to talk about how they got to be where they are. You’ll be surprised at how receptive people can be when you ask them for their time. Even half an hour firing questions at someone working in your dream job can be useful.
4. Online identity
I often give lectures to students on marketing and branding, and the one thing that seems to stick the most is the need to have an online identity. Do you have a domain name, email address or social media handle? See if your name is still available as a .com or .co.uk address. If it is, buy it. You’ll be amazed at how many people share the same name as you (a quick search on Facebook will reveal how many of “you” there are!), and as the global population increases and as we become more internet dependant, the need to have your space and identity online is becoming even more important. Do a quick online search for your name. Are you happy with what comes up? Will a future employer be happy with what they find? There are ways of building an online identity and ensuring that the right information is displayed for you: do your research and make sure that your online identity truly reflects you. If you’re not ready to have a website yet, at least you’ll have the name for when you are.
5. Support network
As a recent graduate you’ve not got it easy, so make sure that you know who you can turn to, be it for advice, financial support or just a good hug when things get you down. We all need support and there is no shame in admitting that, but identifying who those people are is important for when you need them most.
6. Do it yourself
I always recall something that Alan Lane of Slung Low once said which is (and excuse the paraphrasing): “If no one will put on your work, build your own theatre. Do it yourself, don’t wait for others to do it for you.” I love this idea, and whilst it may seem daunting it is sometimes the gutsy approach that is needed. If no one will give you the work, why not make the work yourself? I founded A Younger Theatre because there was nothing that fairly represented young people in the arts. I didn’t wait for someone to give me the space, I made it myself. Whatever you’re trying to do in the arts, stop and take a moment to see if there is something you can do by yourself. Build it. Make it. Believe in it.
7. Fail, then fail again
Failure should be embraced. If you fail once, expect to fail again. There is nothing wrong with failure, it is all about learning, and building from those failures. And failures can be on many levels, from making a mistake, losing lots of money or just forgetting a cue whilst operating a show. As a recent graduate you have the time and space to fail, so try something completely daring, and if you fail, accept it and embrace it. There is nothing wrong with failure as long as you can appreciate it for what it will give you for tomorrow’s task.
8. The long-term plan
If there is one thing that I’ve learnt since graduating it is that despite the energy and excitement I had about entering the arts, and however much I wanted everything to happen at once, work comes slowly. Think carefully about what the long-term plans are for you, and don’t be afraid to set these out and then to change them. I’ve spent the past four years carving out a path for my work without quite knowing what it is was I was doing, but looking back it becomes obvious that all this time I’ve been heading in the right direction. Each choice I’ve made has been part of building a career for myself. So remember: your career in the arts is a slow and steady one.
9. Working for free
Oh this is a thorny issue. As a recent graduate should you work for free? No, you shouldn’t. No one should ever work for free, but it can help if you are looking to gain experience and to build up your portfolio of work, or to show a commitment to the arts. If you’re trying to be an actor then taking the unpaid work to build experience is important, but remember that you can’t do this forever. There has to come a point that all the free work you undertake has to pay out. For those that can’t undertake unpaid work, consider apprenticeships, or see if there are grants or bursaries available that can support your work or training. One thing I’ve learnt since graduating is to do the thing you love you have to offset this work with other work that seems less appealing and exciting. At times this is at a very low wage or indeed free, but by doing this it helps to build on the work I really enjoy. The short answer is you should never work for free, but sometimes experience is required: how do you balance the two?
10. The portfolio career
If you want to work in the arts then you must be adaptable, and you must be able to demonstrate that you have a varied skill set. The term ‘portfolio career’ is becoming increasingly popular amongst arts professionals. No longer do you just do administration, you also do management, marketing, development and at times artistic work. If you’re a marketer, you’re also a dab hand at Photoshop or Final Cut Pro. Your skill set has to be varied and you have to embrace the fact that you’re going to have to do some very random work within your own work. Make sure that you know what your skills are and use them to your advantage. If you speak more than one language then be sure to make that clear when applying for work – it’s a great skill to have. If you can edit videos and record music, brilliant. Constantly think how the skills you offer can grow and support your work.
Further Advice From Arts Professionals
If you made it this far, congratulations! It’s all very well me going rattling on about my advice, but what do people who actually work in the arts suggestion for recent graduates? I put the question out on Twitter, and had a fantastic response. Read the Storify here on the question, or see some of the highlights below.
@jakeyoh Expect it to be hard. Find communities. Big names are just people, talk to them. The worst anyone can say is no so ask them.
— Pat Ashe (@patrickashe) July 7, 2013
@jakeyoh Apply for jobs you don’t feel qualified for. Argue you’ll learn on the job, because you will.
— Jane Howard (@noplain) July 7, 2013
Have some advice for recent graduates? Leave a comment below.
Image obtained via a Creative Commons license. Image by JD Hancock.