Job Hunting in the Creative Industries – Tips & Tricks

Job hunting is hard. It can be emotionally draining and bruising to your ego. So here’s a little pep talk followed by some practical tips and links to get you started or keep you going. I’ve tried to keep it nice and broad so that it’s relevant to young people, those looking for a career change later in life, and people from different educational backgrounds. You don’t necessarily need a degree to get into many creative careers.

While we’ve covered a lot of topics around self-employment on this blog, we’ve not yet deeply delved into the world of short term job hunting, nor long term career development (aka What am I doing with my liiifffee??). One of the difficulties and joys of a creative education is that it doesn’t necessarily lead you by the nose into one specific job, but rather it’s a journey into a vast plethora of experiments to work out what you like and what you’re good at.

There are tons of different jobs out there, but half the issue is working out a job profile which fits with your unique set of skills, personality and career needs. You may have narrowed down specialisms in terms of materials and forms (you prefer print to pottery or fiction to journalism), but there are many other factors to consider – such as how much money you would like to be earning, where you would like to be living and whether you’re happy working for a big company or you want to be some place a bit smaller.

Just to be clear, there is no quick fix for this! Half the interesting thing about going through your twenties and maybe thirties too is trying things out and seeing what works. If you rush into getting settled in a specific career, the likelihood is a few years down the line you may realise you hate what you do. But even if you do this, don’t worry. Many people have successful career changes even in their 50s, it’s never too late. For previous generations, there was such a thing as a job-for-life, but this is increasingly rare. This may be scary for those who crave security (we all do a little bit), but it also means it’s quite common for people to retrain, switch careers and re-imagine their lives.

If you are a young person looking into a creative career, I strongly advise you to read An Open Letter to Young People About Careers by Alice Thickett (just as soon as you’ve finished this here blog anyway). I really felt she clarified many things I’d thought myself over the years, plus her specific advice regarding volunteering and showing some flippin initiative is bang on.

Selling Yourself

Like it or not job hunting is about selling yourself. You are a commodity. Don’t let this dishearten you, let it free you up to sell a commodified version of yourself. Think about your human brand, if you use social media a lot, you will actually already be au fait with this. Our online personas are versions of ourselves that we want the world to see. Streamline this into a confident, professional, employable, skilled person. Don’t think of rejections as personal, the application and interview process is a way of seeing if you are right for the job and the job is right for you.

It’s pretty difficult to sell yourself to potential employers when you’re still working out who you are yourself. Where possible it’s good to be specific to the job you’re going for. Use a covering letter to draw out the bits of your CV that are the most relevant, but also keep different versions of your CV which cater to different jobs. Rewrite and update often. Especially if your field requires an online portfolio or website. You need to appear confident about the career route you’re taking, even if you have uncertainties.

For more on selling yourself, I recommend – How to Write an About Me Section – this is a pretty comprehensive blog with more detail on selling yourself in a couple of paragraphs, as you will need to do on CVs, portfolios, and websites.

Job Titles – what do they even mean?

Chances are if you ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, they’re pretty unlikely to say they want to be a ‘Bid Writer’ or a ‘Curator of Contemporary Dance’. There are loads of careers out there suitable for a creative mind, it’s just a matter of finding out what they are. National careers service index of job profiles is worth a look in this regard, they have a specific section for creative jobs, but it’s worth looking at the wider picture too. They give a description of the job and indicate what skills and qualifications you might need. This can be particularly useful if you’re searching job sites and come across a job title you don’t recognise, or aren’t quite sure of the specifics of. There’s also loads of other resources on that site in terms of writing your CV and building up a relevant skill set. Job sites themselves can also be useful for filtering areas of interest. Sign up for alerts and tag your areas of interest.

Freelance or Permanent?

This is a huge question for any creative practitioner. There are two issues here. The traditional one is: what suits you? As much as I enthuse on the merits of self-employment, it doesn’t suit everyone. You need to be self-motivated, adaptable, and be able to cope with periods of financial insecurity. You need to at the bare minimum register as a soletrader with HRMC and do an annual tax return (this is actually far easier than most people anticipate, don’t be intimidated, get in touch if you have questions). But there’s a level of flexibility to it, which is hugely appealing to many.

The second issue is, the spread of the so-called ‘gig economy’ i.e. people increasingly doing piece work, or delivering on projects rather than being employees of a company on PAYE. Think Uber and AirBnB, think the public sector cutting jobs but employing freelancers to deliver on the needs of the state. I’m writing a book about this so I could go into far more detail. But basically, many theorise that in the near future most jobs will be freelance, or on a project-to-project basis. In which case, it may well be worth you dabbling in freelance work, in order to be better prepared for the future. It can also function as good filler while you’re looking for a more permanent role. Or you could do what I’m kind of doing at the moment: have a more permanent part-time job and supplement this regular income with freelance work. I find this can be the best of both worlds. There’s a basic monthly income to pay the bills and keep the worry at bay, but there’s flexibility to my other work time. I can work lots of hours one month and then have more free time the following month to go away or catch up on my writing.

Where do I find creative jobs?

I would definitely recommend signing up and searching on big national jobsites. My main bugbear with these is that one job will be advertised by multiple jobsites without specifying who you would be working for (because they all want the commission for filling the position, rather than enabling you to apply directly). This means at first glance it may look like there are loads of copywriter jobs going in Nottingham, but actually, it’s multiple sites posting multiple times about the same job. So sign up to alerts, but know it will be frustrating.

In addition, there are a few more specialised places, some are regional and some are more for freelance than permanent positions. There are loads of sites out there for putting up an online portfolio. Bear in mind many of these may not be that established. Have a look at the size of their audience and what’s already on there before deciding if it’s worth your time.

Print & Pattern Jobs Board – a really nice independent blog listing different design jobs & freelancing, it’s far more aesthetically pleasing than the majority of job hunting websites, which is quite refreshing. You can also submit work to be showcased on the blog (even if this doesn’t get you work it’s good SEO to get an established blog to link to your website or online portfolio, more tips on blogging here).

Creative Pool Jobs Board – Creative Pool is an online community for the creative industries. Many aspects are catered towards matching freelancers to work, but they also advertise a lot of industry jobs which you can browse without signing up.

Arts Council Jobs Board – More relevant to those who want a career specifically in the arts (rather than just a creative job), often more organisational roles like curation and project management. This is great if you love the arts but also like organising things and working with lots of different people.

Kelso Jones Jobs Board – Kelso Jones are a creative jobs agency, they’re specific to the East Midlands so if you live elsewhere you may be able to search for something similar. They represent people for both freelance and permanent jobs. They charge a finders fee to whoever is advertising the job, so it costs nothing to sign up. The jobs advertised are generally the likes of digital design, web design, project management, copy writing etc.

GR8 Recruitment – Recruitment agency specialising in creative jobs in the fields of digital, marketing & IT.

People per Hour – Freelance community for the UK. This is a great way to build a portfolio and more real world experience by pitching for freelance jobs, but in the long term, the jobs tend to go at too cheap a rate to make it sustainable. Hopefully, by then you’ll have a top portfolio and be ready to look for bigger better jobs, or in the best case scenario, you may establish an initial relationship with someone who becomes a major client. There are tons of pretty similar sites out there like Elevate Direct and Upwork which are also worth consideration.

Contently for Freelancers – Contently has various incarnations, this particular one is aimed at freelancers (primarily content writers, journalists, and copywriters) with an online magazine, the means to build an online portfolio for free and directly link to articles you’ve written, plus a ‘rates database’ which contains information about how much different publications will pay you for content.

Creative Commission – Connecting designers, photographers, and videographers with the music industry. This isn’t an agency, rather they charge a £9 monthly fee for having  your work on their platform (although you can sign up and try it out for free). Please note we haven’t tried this out ourselves, so we advise you do some research and consider your options before putting your hand in your pocket. You may find it’s best to build up a varied portfolio first on a free site before moving on to something like this. The market is incredibly competitive, don’t let people make money off your naivety!

LinkdIn – This is the largest global social media platform for connecting people to work, but like other online portfolios and CVs it takes time and attention to build things up on there and make the most of it. I admit, as yet, I’m not on LinkdIn. So it isn’t the be all and end all. That said, it is on my to-do list and many recommend it.

Newspapers – In the olden days this where we found jobs and the tradition hasn’t completely died out even if it has been digitalised somewhat. Local newspapers usually have a specific day for job adverts. With national newspapers, like Guardian Jobs, look online and sign up for alerts.

Word-of-Mouth – Don’t forget about it. In a digital age, this can mean searching relevant hashtags on twitter. But also simply talking to friends, family, and acquaintances about the job you’re searching for leads to good recommendations. Nearly all the jobs I’ve landed in the creative industries I found out about (or were even offered to me) through word-of-mouth.

Education & Training

It would be foolish of me to say your education doesn’t matter, it very much does. But work experience and training tend to win out, apart from when jobs are catered specifically as ‘graduate roles’ (although this often actually means they want to pay less than the going rate and are therefore willing to take on someone less experienced, so don’t let the term put you off applying). If you have work experience but not much in the way of relevant qualifications, short courses in a relevant area are a good way to fill the gap. Many of these can be studied for online with flexible hours to fit around work. This goes the same for someone who, say, took a degree in higher maths but then decided they wanted to be a professional photographer. 

Some employers are very particular about education, not just degree level but what you studied for A-level. Some even specify your degree should be from a ‘red-brick university’. This is a euphemism for generally being snooty and elitist, so if you’re not from that background, they probably won’t be the right employers for you anyway. I got a 2:2 in Fine Art from an old polytechnic, this barely counts as a degree in the eyes of some. But I don’t feel it’s held me back much because I’ve been resourceful and enterprising in the way I’ve gone about getting relevant experience and a foot in the door.

If you don’t fulfill the educational criteria specified but you feel that in other respects you’re very well suited to the job, it’s always worth having a bash anyway. Lots of people get employed in jobs simply out of luck that they were the most appropriate candidate at the time.

Don’t Take it Personally

Really, don’t. Yes, job hunting is a theatre of disappointment. You will be overlooked for positions you feel are well within your grasp. You will be sent rejection emails saying you didn’t talk enough about subject X in your interview (even though they didn’t ask you a single question about subject X). You will receive a long aching never-ending silence upon receipt of your job application, that you eventually realise is a rejection even though an agency told you it might be a few months until you ‘hear back’. You will be interviewed by people who seem kind of mean like they’re trying to catch you out, but it turns out they like you. You will be interviewed by really nice friendly people who put you at ease and make you feel like it went really well and yet they still reject you. You may have to jump through innumerable bureaucratic hoops—first interview, group interview, skype interview, practical assessment—all terrifying, yet you keep your cool, but your hopes get dashed anyway. Don’t take it personally. If it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be. It’s like trying on clothes or using dating apps. You might get your hopes up that you’ve found the perfect match, but if that dress just doesn’t suit you or that nice lady doesn’t find you as irresistible as you find her, then it’s not meant to be. Take a deep breath, accept that life isn’t fair and move on. A better dress/lover/job might be just around the corner.

Get ready to be in for the long haul.

You might land your ideal job in under a month. You might. But generally, if you’re looking for a something which is relevant, long-term and enjoyable, you need to be prepared to hunt for several months, or even longer. I’m not being blase to those who don’t have a trust fund to live off. You need to earn money, I do. You may need to compromise in the short term and take on temp work, or a job that will bridge the gap. Just be aware, if you take on something full time, you may find you don’t have the energy to continue job hunting and that role ‘bridging the gap’ may still be what you’re doing in three years time. Taking part-time or temp work frees you up to still feel like you need to pursue the dream job (or just the next step on your career ladder), partly because you’ll probably still be quite poor and I find having to live on a restrictive budget is a good motivator!

Just make sure you make a Personal Survival Budget to ensure you don’t end up in loads of debt (you can download a free template from the Princes Trust here). Plan things in advance to cope with gaps in your income—find out if you can get a free overdraft for a bit and see if you qualify for Working Tax Credit or Universal Credit.

Other useful blogs and links.

How to be a profitable creative freelancer on Creative Boom

Futures – free advice and career support for Notts

The Career Crossroads Checklist on 99U

Kirsty Fox is a social entrepreneur, creative producer, author, and copywriter. You can find her art/word musings on MetaFox.



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