Maybe you’re heading into your final year of uni, or maybe you’re a super keen fresher who really wants to make the most of your time at uni. Either way, if you’re studying for an arts or humanities degree you’ve probably been told that your chances of getting a paid job when you graduate are pretty slim, bordering on impossible. And, even if you’re on track for a first, the prospect of making yourself stand apart from the crowd can be daunting.
But don’t despair! Below are 14 things that arts students (and, to be honest, all students) can do to boost their chances of getting noticed in the shark-infested waters of the graduate job market.
1) Join loads of job mailing lists
Finding jobs to apply for is half the battle – so the more mailing lists you join, the more chances you’ll have of hitting on those really good opportunities before they’re out there for everyone to see. Student Hut is a good place to start, as is Prospects.ac.uk, good old Milkround.com, and Arts Council England’s Arts Jobs mailing list.
2) Build up a writing portfolio
We all know the stress of writing essays, but it’s a good idea to get as much experience of writing non-degree related stuff as possible. Is there a student newspaper or magazine that you can write for? Does your SU or subject department need student writers for their blogs and leaflets? Chances are you’ll be asked to write something at some point in your career, so get some experience now to show that you’ve got skills and enthusiasm.
3) Start a blog
This will help towards your writing portfolio, too – whatever it is that interests you, take this golden opportunity to write about it without having it editing and checked by your boss. Creating a blogging presence will not only show that you are engaged in writing, but also that you have experience of using social media to build a following.
4) Mould yourself to fit
So you’ve found a few job adverts that make you really excited, but there’s one problem – they want someone with one year of experience in X, someone with skills in Y and someone who can understand Z. Nobody is expecting you to be able to do everything, but while you still have some spare time you can do some researching and find out what you’ll need to have…and start working on those skills!
5) Get on Twitter
Twitter is having a comeback at the moment as THE place for professionals to interact and connect. Writers, publishers, editors, curators, any job description you can think of have personal accounts on Twitter. And most of them won’t mind answering any questions you might have about their industry. Ping them a DM or Tweet them and ask a professional – the worst they can do is ignore you, so give it a shot!
6) Look around for amateur opportunities
Many competitions and writing projects won’t take submissions from unpublished or inexperienced writers. However, there are a number of places that will allow amateurs to get involved, such as the BBC’s Writer’s Room, which takes in unsolicited scripts for radio and TV in all kinds of genres. There are also plenty of competitions that ONLY accept amateur and previously unpublished work, and many of them are free! Plus awards and prizes look great on a CV (which, let’s be honest, is the aim of the game, right?).
7) Get some proper ‘work experience’
It’s a lot of effort and often fairly expensive, but the honest truth is that you’ll probably have to get some kind of work experience under your belt to make yourself noticed. But you don’t need to intern with every FTSE top 100 company - even a few days shadowing someone in an office in your uni city (with their permission, of course) will give you loads to talk about at interview, especially about working in a professional environment.
8) Have a go at everything
As an arts student, you may not know how to build a suspension bridge or about space-time geometry or general relativity (what?!?), but you’ll be more than capable of doing a lot of jobs you might think are off limits to you, such as accounting, legal, and business! Communication, writing, and thinking for yourself are needed wherever you go, so don’t rule these jobs out in your search!
9) Read. A lot
The more you read, the more you will understand what is currently being let through to publication; and it’s not all about books. Newspaper and online comment pieces, interviews, and reviews cover all kinds of angles on all kinds of subjects, so you’re bound to find something that can hold your focus right to the end. These people are being trusted with a space on a website or in a newspaper and are probably being paid to fill it, so have a look at what they’re doing right (and possibly wrong).
10) Have side-projects to stay sane and remind yourself why you did an arts degree in the first place
Keep writing your novel in the evenings while you sit behind a desk all day. Keep up your interest in photography even when you know it won’t pay your bills. Keep visiting galleries at the weekend. Whatever your passions are, it’s easy to let them fade away when you’re looking for a proper job, but these are the things that made you want to follow your degree course in the first place, so don’t give them up!
11) Absolutely boss your CV
Re-write it NOW. Get everyone to look at it and get feedback. Don’t be afraid to just send it out to everyone you know and have them point out where you’re waffling or where they need more information. Your CV is often the very first point of contact you have with potential employers, and if they can’t get a sense of the person applying for the job, they won’t bother reading past the first few lines.
12) Get LinkedIn
At its worst, LinkedIn in a site that lets you join up with all your mates and really waffle on about your gap year even though it was three years ago. At its best, this is a site where professionals find emerging talent and exciting new employees. Even if you don’t use your profile, the fact that it’s there shows potential employers that you know about the importance of networking and are aware of the professional social networks that are available.
We’ve all heard horror stories about interning, but getting experience and endorsements without getting paid for it doesn’t have to be all about coffee runs and organising the stationary cabinet. Volunteering regularly, either for charity, a local community event or venue, or something else entirely, can teach you so much about working with others and other ‘real job’ skills. Also, you’ll often find that, instead of treating you like dirt, the organisation you’re volunteering for will really appreciate you and your hard work!
14) Get to know the tools of the trade
Whatever sector you’re looking into, research which computer programs employees use day to day, and try to get your hands on those tools. Examples include Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop for image editing, Final Cut Pro for anything video-based, or back-end scheduler programs such as Hootsuite for Twitter.
Nobody is guaranteed a job when they graduate, no matter what subject they have studied, but making yourself stand out needn’t be a chore that you put off until it’s too late. Hopefully these tips will not only help make you more employable but also allow you to explore your own strengths and weaknesses so that, ultimately, you’ll end up in the right job for you.
Have you got any other tips to boost your employment potential? How are you feeling about life after uni?