Your first Job in the Arts – Nobody gets into the arts to get rich. And while many people at the top of their game do make a very good living, be it in artistic, managerial or directorial roles, you should be realistic about your earning potential, particularly in the early part of your career when there is a high demand for entry-level jobs in the creative sector. Here are some tips to help you get your foot in the door.
- Do your research on the industry that you’d most like to work in. Read journals, magazines and websites relevant to the sector. Get an understanding of how the industry works, who the largest or most important organisations are, and where the funding comes from and goes to. The Arts Council, for example, gives out figures on all funding decisions, this can give you an idea of the pecking order in specific sectors. Attend professional development events to get an insight into your specific area of interest. Don’t be put off by people telling you it’s a difficult sector to get into or that it pays badly. If you’re interested, determined and good at what you do, you’ll crack it.
- Get out and about, network! Networking is sometimes considered a bad word, but really it just involves talking to people with common interests. Go to events, conferences and shows. Volunteer at festivals to get behind-the-scenes experience. Find out who the lead organisers are and find out how they got to where they are today. Can they offer you further experience or career advice? Is there anything you think you could do for them or their organisation? Do they need a web developer, researcher or fundraiser and could you offer support in any of these areas?
- Information interviewing is a step on from networking. It involves identifying specific people in the industry, and talking to them about the work they do and the kind of people they employ. Is there a family member or friend who knows somebody working in the sector they could put you in touch with? Is there a particular organisation that you’d love to work for? Perhaps one of their junior staff would meet you for a coffee. Don’t be offended if they can’t, many organisations are understaffed and have little time (and lots of similar requests), however some organisations are set up specifically to give information to prospective artists or staff. Equally, career guidance counsellors in universities like NCAD or IADT might be able to give you valuable industry information. The more people you talk to, the more informed you’ll be and thus in the best position to make a decision on your next steps.
- Create Your Own Project. Developing your own creative projects is a great way to gain relevant and valuable experience. Instead of being an intern for someone else, become a creative director for yourself, even if it is just for a one-off, small-scale project. Look for creative gaps in the industry, community or university. CreativeCareers.ie began life as a university project. Initiating and managing your own event series, blog, exhibition or mini-festival will give you better real-world experience of the creative sector. If successful, it shows you’re an innovator and an achiever. If unsuccessful, try to evaluate why; hopefully you’ll learn how to do it better next time.
- Self-promotion. Again, sometimes considered a bad word, it simply means letting interested people know who you are and what you’re good at. Most jobs, even in the arts, require a standard two-page CV, but sometimes a portfolio, brochure or showreel is more appropriate or a valuable addition to your CV. If you can get a well-designed website to display what you do, it lets people know you’re serious about a creative career and organised enough to create a good website.
- Become very good at what you do. I once worked with an editor on a creative writing journal. For every 100 short stories he received in the post, he could only about three or four. His advice to writers was ‘make it so good that I can’t turn it down’. This applies to any artist and their work. Or any creative for that matter. Don’t compete, be desired! This means hard work and perseverance. Some raw talent is necessary but nobody who attempts to write a short story gets it right the first time, second, or third time either. As Samuel Beckett said, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”