Graduates, are you feeling it yet? That panicked awareness that the end is near? Are you already looking at the job market and feeling overwhelmed? Maybe even a bit nauseous? Did you wake at 3am in a cold existential sweat and book a gap year in Australia? If not, well done for keeping it together at a time when many fall apart. You’re right to be anxious. Now is when you stop thinking about what you want and actually go after it. Because as soon as graduation season hits, creative companies are wide eyed and bushy tailed looking for their latest recruits, people to bring fresh ideas and raw talent to their ranks. You know they’re out there - but how do you find them? How do you convince them you’re who they want? How do you make sure they’re who you want? Here are 4 recommendations for graduates - essentially all the things I wish I knew when I started out.
1. You don’t need to go to London.
For many, going to London seems like the obvious - even only - option. Some say it’s a hub, others that it’s the dumping ground for talent in search of increasingly ambiguous and idealised ‘opportunity’. Despite golden promises and fear mongering from peers about the dangers of staying North, in recent years the North has developed a tightly knit and powerful creative scene, blossoming with potential and rich in local talent and thriving creative businesses. There is a massive entrepreneurial energy here that has soul and backbone. London may have wealth and even glamour, but creatives in the North are waking up to the fact that London - with its fast pace and high cost of living - is no guaranteed yellow brick road to the life they want.
Areas such as Liverpool’s Baltic Creative have completely transformed derelict industrial warehouses into a lively creative district - one of many springing up all over. A city with a once struggling economy is now a great example of the North’s resilience and colour. Home to many young businesses and combining numerous multimedia disciplines and workshops in close proximity, the Baltic allows people to connect, borrow skills, put in friendly favours and work together. What a beautiful notion, people happily helping one another! It radiates positivity, and with the integration of independent cafes, restaurants, pop up eateries, food festivals, and events such as Biennial, Light Night, Binary Festival and Sound City, it fosters a strong and inspirational sense of community and collaboration. The infrastructure is there and it supports creative work. It makes everyone want to muck in, be better and help others to be better. There are pockets of these little communities all around. Seek them out and get involved!
2. Network. I know it hurts, but suck it up and do it.
Getting started is tough, particularly in the creative industries. You know this already. People have probably been telling you this for the entirety of your degree. I can assume that if you’ve not switched track to a career with a more assured job at the end (if such a thing even exists anymore), you must have that all-important stubbornness. If only relentless determination was all it took. There’s a saying that annoys me: It’s not what you know, but who you know. That saying goes against everything that is decent about the value of a meritocracy. Unfortunately, it’s not wrong. Personal connections can and do get you far in life. But this is within your control more than you may realise.
Networking can seem awkward and daunting, but I promise you it does get better the more you do it. Steer the conversation towards topics you know something about. Have a few knowledgeable questions in your pocket. Seek out and target the areas where you know you are likely to meet the right people and remember, you’re fresh talent, a valuable resource. Networking is a two way relationship so don’t forget exactly how much you have to offer. Don’t give up - it can take months before you get you first break. It takes a lot of energy to keep chipping away at what can seem like a losing battle. So try. Be brave. Be bold. Be confident in your education, your personality, your creativity and your drive.
Networking has advanced beyond face to face meetings and working a room. Social media platforms such as twitter and Instagram are powerful tools to engage with companies as most, if not all, will have an active online presence. Use this: join in and don’t forget to build your own online presence too. Participating in and staying in touch with conversations are fantastic ways to identify the tone and culture of the industry, which will make it easy to gauge how to interact with decision makers at the companies you want to work for when you actually get to meet them.
3. Freelance, but know when to stop.
Freelancing is a valuable way of sampling studio life, networking and developing working relationships with some highly creative, talented and interesting like-minded people. It can bring you into contact with all sorts of different skill sets, personality types, work styles and motivation levels whilst having some great fun; it’s also a chance to show companies exactly what you’re made of. Freelancing is definitely a great opportunity for the short term, but once you’ve fallen into freelancing, it can be hard to get out of. Ask yourself what you want for the long term.
For some, freelancing is everything they want. Flexibility, lack of commitment, diversity of role and job, extra holiday, working from home... the benefits are endless. But on the other side is the uncertainty. The lack of institutional benefit systems. No support network. Loneliness. Financial insecurity. Potentially being taken advantage of and seen as disposable. Know when freelance is working for you and when it isn’t. Set yourself goals, targets and timelines to measure against. Use it as a tool to step onto the ladder. Trust your intuition and don’t be afraid to change when things aren't going well. Embrace the fear of walking away; it may lead onto something better!
4. Align yourself with companies that care about graduates.
My final piece of advice centres on the companies themselves. Forward-thinking, reputable companies should be making a contribution to the graduate community. They are in a unique position and have a responsibility and privilege to nurture those who share the same passion, drive and vision and help them develop skills by offering valuable work experience on real projects. Creative Directors go into Universities on a regular basis, delivering workshops and crits for students, offering a top level taster session and an insight into real world projects. By actively and consciously engaging in University culture, students access vital skills early and are better prepared for the workplace. These are the companies you want to seek out. Align yourself with companies that treat graduates with respect, and want to have conversations with them. A quick scan of their internship offers will weed out the worst. Is it paid? NO? Move on.