Planning to work in the Creative and Cultural Industries? here are some tips…

We’ve been thinking about the pros and cons of working in the creative industries – from both the perspective of employers and the applicants themselves (there was quite an elaborate role-play exercise involved here, which is deserving of a post in its own right). We’ve also been thinking about the function of creativity as an industry, its funding models and sustainability.

After looking at sample CVs, one student asked me if I had any specific tips for interviews. Since I consider my own advice to be of very limited value, instead I’ve solicited advice from creative professionals, and have dutifully compiled the following, non-exhaustive (but hopefully useful) list:

“Become part of a community, and when they need the service you provide they’ll be more likely to come to you. I go to fringe comedy / stand up shows and do ‘Ninja Doodles’ of the performances as a gift to the performers. I just do quick sketches and text of the jokes with sharpies and crayons, and then give to them after with my website. The least I get out of it is a free ticket and maybe a drink, but often they get in touch with me after to commission me to illustrate their promotional material.”

Jenny Drew, freelance illustrator (jennydrewsomething.wordpress.com)


“I think one thing that I’d suggest to students is that they leave a trail of good stuff online (research, class projects, photos etc) and that if they are inclined to do so then teaching as well as learning from online sites like YouTube and Skillshare. Learning can be strengthened by participating in the online communities much earlier in people’s career and nowadays there is no entry barrier. The only caveat in this is that it’s hard to get rid of once it’s there so publishing needs to be done with a little bit of street savvy which I’m sure universities are teaching… right?”

Ben Halsall, digital trainer


“Never ever sign anything without taking appropriate advice. If somebody is paying you to be creative, answer the brief… if it is your own creativity, make sure you can defend the reasons for doing it.”

Andrew Field, writer and PR specialist


“I’m not sure I decided to become self-employed as much as I decided to become an artist and it never occurred to me to look for employment as a means to do that. In comparison to regular jobs I have had in the past, the immediate obvious (and hackneyed) difference is that I am poorer, but happier. The self-determination in being self-employed is great, but it’s worth noting that you swap the stress of being a cog in a machine for the stress of being the machine and having to keep running constantly. Being self-employed is effectively the same thing as forever looking for work: I spend much of my time looking and applying for commissions and funding opportunities. If nothing else, it teaches you to be persistent and flexible.”

Jonathan Hogg, artist (www.outputarts.com)


“I’ve never had a job interview for my creative/camera work. It’s all about contacts and being available to say yes when there is an opportunity. Working for free running/assisting or being paid to do something related on a creative project means you are perfectly placed to hear about and be considered when that opportunity comes along. Also, if you bear in mind the fact that most artists/creatives become masters of their skill 40+, there is no rush for recognition or success. If you’re not in your perfect creative job by 27, don’t worry. All you do is relevant experience and practice that you hone and consolidate to become established later on in your career. Right now it’s all about experience and enjoying it!”

Pru Fowler, freelance camera operator


“Just be on time and be reliable, kids.”

Ben Summers, documentary film-maker


“The thing about working in the creative cultural industries is that YOU GOTTA GET PAID. Even if it’s small at first. You gotta get paid. Internship? Get paid. Write an article? Get paid. It’ll feel tricky at first because you do need exposure and to build your portfolio, but that’s why you start with small places. It might take time to get where you want. That will suck. But it’s not a good reason to give up.

“Hit people up for advice. Like, find a couple of whoever – magazine writers, bloggers, whoever – and email them asking if you can meet them for a coffee for some advice. You feel like a twit doing this, but if you write a nice letter that shows them you’ve taken time to research them, know a bit about what they do, and ask good, insightful questions, they’ll make time for you. Having a champion is the BEST.

“Never burn bridges even if someone’s been rude to you. They may come in handy later.

“Favours are gold. Use them when absolutely necessary. But use them.

“Always bring a portfolio with samples even if they don’t ask for something.

“DO NOT SEND AN EMAIL OR COVERING LETTER WITH SPELLING MISTAKES IN IT. I just had to hire a new human and discounted anybody with even one tiny spelling mistake that people were telling me could’ve been a typo. Too bad. You get one chance. (I am mean! Sorry.)” 

Gillian Best, writer and fundraiser (gillian-best.com)


“I think something very important is being aware that everyone you meet is part of your future network. Friends of mine from uni now work at agencies in London and I get work and introductions to other creatives from them. People I’ve met at events have also led to other work or opportunities. I’ve become twitter friends with artists and animators and journalists from around the world, which has led to work in Japan, Germany among other places. So always be interested in anyone you meet, see how you can help them or if you know someone who will benefit from meeting them and build up your professional and social network. 80% of Rumpus’s work comes through random connections.”

Seb Burnett, co-founder of www.rumpusanimation.com and illustrator of Usborne sticker books


“One thing I’ve learnt through freelancing, especially when dealing with clients remotely, is that clear communication is key. I think finding a routine has been a challenge for me, especially when I’ve been through long periods of not working. But now I try to train myself and skill up in other areas when I haven’t got much work on.

“But on the flipside the flexibility of freelancing is brilliant. Being able to work where you want when you want is a great freedom. And because most projects are short you don’t have time to get bored, each new project brings a new set of challenges!”

Sookie Lalla, freelance animator and illustrator (www.sookielalla.com)


“School teaches you how to demonstrate how responsible and efficient and bright you are, but the questions that surprised me most, when interviewing for journalism and publishing jobs, were things like, “what are your favorite magazines? your favorite authors?”  It’s so much about honing your personal tastes and showing interest in the field — that’s what really drives hard work in a creative industry. Your motivation comes from the process itself, and is not (or not just) about financial rewards. So that enthusiasm will be more interesting and appealing to your future employers.”

Kate Johnson, literary agent (www.wolflit.com)


“There’s lots of advice I could give but one of the things that overwhelms people looking for work is the volume of advice sometimes. So I will limit myself to two main things: 1) Build your network. Draw a mindmap of all the people you know and know of and how they may help you to gain experience/ get opportunities in the field of your choice. Think a bit laterally here too. 2) Build your resilience. Decide how much you are worth and how determined you are to get what you want. Everyone has knock backs. In popular creative fields it’s more competitive. Don’t let that put you off. Expect knock backs. Ask for feedback. Learn. Get really good at looking for jobs. This skill and positive attitude is one that you will need now and throughout your life.”

Michelle Armitage, ex-HR manager and design student


“Don’t be afraid to speak up during internships. Let people know if you’re at a loose end, or even better, come up with an idea for something interesting you could get on with. You’re there to learn, so let people know if you’re not!”

Josephine Lethbridge, Arts and Culture editor, theconversation.com/uk


So there we have it – and thanks to everyone who contributed!

My only addition to this list of tips is to be very clear and confident about who you are – both to yourself, and to those who interview you. It may not win you every post you apply for, but at least you will know yourself, and eventually be more likely to end up in the place that’s right for you.


The featured image accompanying this post is by Bristol-based artist Sookie Lalla (www.sookielalla.com)

Follow me @victarious

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