7 things they didn’t tell me during an arts degree, or maybe I wasn’t listening…
If you haven’t been listening either, maybe it’s time to start. Or maybe no one’s telling you these things that I had to figure out on my own.
During uni I never spent one minute worrying about finding a job once I was finished my degree. At the start of the course they gave us the impression that hundreds of companies were out there, just waiting to snuffle up graduates like us. Of course, a university would say that. At the beginning. How else do they lock in your fees?
And then at the end of my three years I found myself with a bachelor degree and no job. And no likelihood of getting one, if the first six months were any indication. I felt like Deakin had pulled one over on me. “You know all those jobs we told you were available at the start of your degree? Psych! There are none. Thanks for all the cash! Cheers, bye xx.”
I felt like there was no follow up, no nurturing or preparing for the real world once the training wheels of university were removed. (In high school, they refer to uni as the ‘real world’—it’s not.) I looked on in envy at nurses and teachers who all got ‘placed’ in graduate jobs or internships. While it had seemed easy at the time that my degree didn’t contain a mandatory placement, now all of a sudden I felt ripped off. Where was my head start, my foot in the door?
And three years later I am still trying to get a foot, a pinky, in any arts door. I have applied for over 100 jobs by now, broadening my search further and further, and received two interviews.
What is wrong with me? Where did I go wrong? My sister used to joke about my arts degree, calling it the ‘Bachelor of Unemployment’. Boy, do I feel bad about teasing those philosophy majors now.
I spent a long time feeling like a failure, and still do some days. I have dreams of being a writer but instead I work in retail, the industry I started in when I was 16, never imagining I would still be here.
I chalk my first mistake up to naively turning down an internship that my journalism teacher offered to put me forward for. “No thanks, journalism isn’t really my thing” was my reply. Oh, silly girl.
That brings me to my first point.
1) Take any advantage or opportunity presented to you, even if it’s not your ideal job or expertise
Looking back now, I would jump at the opportunity to have interned for the Geelong Advertiser, especially before I had even completed my degree. At the end of the day, experience is experience. Nobody starts out in their dream job and I really regret turning down an opportunity to kick start my arts resume and make some worthy connections. You can have all the experience in the world (like I do in retail) but relevant industry experience is really all employers seem to look at.
2) If there is an option to do a placement or internship, always take it
I saw on the course guide in third year that we could do a placement. It sounded like fun until I saw that the university didn’t help you at all. You had to organise the placement by yourself. I had just come back from a six month exchange in the United States. Organising somewhere to live at such late notice was hard enough, let alone this. It seemed like too much effort, so I let the opportunity slide. I would advise any arts student to go to the effort of organising their own placement. If it’s not a course elective, organise one and ask for approval of credit from your faculty. Those contacts forged would be invaluable now. The phrase “it’s who you know” is truer today than ever before (in more industries than just the creative ones, but that’s another issue). I find it interesting that the only people from my course that now have writing related jobs are through family, friends, or previous volunteer experience.
3) Keep in contact with your classmates and professors
Actively seek advice from your professors and follow what you can. If someone on the inside is going to be on your side, it’s your teacher. They may be able to make an introduction, put in a good word for you, or just give you some good tips on breaking into the industry. If they don’t offer it outright (let’s be honest, they have a lot on their plates), make an appointment to speak with them and pick their brains. Ask their tips and advice, also if they can put you in contact with anyone who might eventually be able to offer you an internship or job.
I remember asking the teacher of my Shakespeare class in third year whether it was worth doing an honours year after my bachelor degree. His response was, “Honestly, you’ll end up a year later with another piece of paper, a bigger HECS debt and still no job. The best advice I can give you is to get out there and gain industry experience. Get any job you can in your field and work your way up.”
And here I am still trying.
4) Be proactive and start early
Maybe you found a job straight out of uni. Congratulations. This article is not for you.
It is only after years of unsuccessful job hunting has made me so desperate that I am now seeking advice from all avenues. I wish so much that I could have started volunteering for companies during university. The problem was I didn’t realise how tough the job market is out there. There are scores of graduates for every one job being advertised. We are faced with the horrible catch-22 of needing experience to get your first job, but no one giving you a chance in order for you to gain experience. It is one of the more frustrating paradoxes that I have experienced.
Don’t wait to see first-hand if your field is tough. Start being proactive now. You’re only going to thank yourself later.
Get your work out there. If you’re a writer and don’t have a blog, start one. It is crucial in this day and age to have an online presence (more than your social media accounts, although those are crucial too). I currently have a personal blog, and am also writing a novel. An editor can’t publish your manuscript if you don’t have one ready to show them. There is no wrong time to spend time working on your craft and building up your portfolio. Write every day. Spend time journaling, responding to creative prompts, drafting scripts and stories and essays.
On social media, clean up your profiles. It’s naïve to think that employers these days don’t Google people. Make sure that your online profile presents you as a person that they would want to employ. Create connections with people and companies that you admire, and see where it could lead, particularly with LinkedIn.
Read like crazy. Anything and everything you can get your hands on. If you think learning stops once you’ve got that graduation certificate, you’ve got another thing coming. Read books and articles on the publishing industry, or whatever arts industry you are interested in. Knowledge is power.
Submit your work to places like magazines or online journals, but make sure you do your homework and read up on the kind of submissions they are currently looking for, otherwise you will be wasting your time.
While a part-time job in your industry during your degree is ideal (and you should definitely try this first), it’s not always realistic. I know it may not seem very glamorous, but working for free is a great way for a company to take a risk-free chance on you. Being willing to work for free also shows how much you want to be there. It also gets you that really valuable experience that seems to be necessary for any paying job these days. I volunteered for a food and lifestyle blog The World Loves Melbourne for just over a year and am currently doing the blog, Instagram and newsletter for a program on Channel 31. It’s great, but I could have done more.
Yes, it is exhausting to volunteer while working a full time job but at the end of the day, it might be the only pathway to someone giving you a full time job in your field. Unfortunately, us arts kids often have to take the scenic route. Don’t let it get you too down. I had originally thought that volunteering was not an option open to me once I started full time work (I am currently in retail management) but one of my friends in the TV industry pointed out that I could volunteer one afternoon a week, or fortnight. I hadn’t thought about it like that before, assuming it was all or nothing, but anything is better than nothing.
6) Use your connections
Networking. Half the time the word sends shivers down my spine because frankly, the whole concept makes me kind of uncomfortable. To some people like my fiancé Jacques, networking seems to come naturally. I’ve already mentioned lecturers and tutors, but think about the other people you have in your life who could connect you with a potential employer.
Research some networking events in your city and attend them. I recommend going with a friend as I admit that they can start out somewhat awkward, but they can be really worthwhile. If you know anyone successful in your field, ask to make a time to sit down with them and pick their brains. They’re obviously doing something right.
7) Don’t be proud
I know it’s not the millennial way of thinking, but in most careers, people have worked their way up from the bottom. This requires patience, perseverance, perhaps a salary cut, hard work and humility. If you’re looking to jump the queue, so to speak, and step straight into a senior role, you need to wake up. You might have to take a lower paying job that you intended, but you have to start somewhere. Don’t be too good for any job. Any job in your industry should be a good enough starting point.
I know it’s hard out there. Believe me, I know. And I don’t have a writing job yet, so you might be justified if you don’t take any of my advice. But I’m sure that I’m closer now than I’ve ever been.
Best of luck! May you land a job quicker than I did.
Sources (accessed 30 November 2017):