Director Sue’s thoughts on looking for work in the arts

Dear IDS: jobs in the arts- a little window on our world

We’ve been listening closely to the comments in the news about the profound availability of jobs for those hard working people who really want them, or that, far worse, ye gods, that the UK is going to be swamped, SWAMPED by people from Bulgaria and Romania all clamouring at our doors taking our jobs. We’ve recently gone through a recruitment process for one of our posts, and found wonderful Pete who joined us last month. You can read Pete’s first blog here soon.

As Directors though, a few things leaped out at us during the process which we’ve decided to share. Firstly, a huge number of people apply for jobs without reading the information. Or sending in the right documentation. The current government policy for people who are unemployed, is to demonstrate, every week, they’ve been actively seeking work. People are forced to relentlessly apply for a quota of jobs a week, to prove they are not shirking. The outcome of this, is that employers like us get overwhelmed by irrelevant, or incomplete applications. This not only wastes our time, but is unfair on those who are desperate. They were destined to get nowhere. If we had had the time, we would have told each of them the truth, and shared some feedback. But we didn’t and like most businesses did not respond to those applications and so became one of the many companies that unemployed people probably complain about.

We also received applications from some fantastic artists, desperate to get a foot into the job market, hoping that by simply working for an arts organisation, they’ll be able to become an actor/dancer/ visual artist even though the job is not remotely relevant to their core ambitions and skills. This makes us sad too, and we hope those creative people find a way in the world. If we had the time, we would have given them some business development advice, or signposted them to a creative industries support service. But we didn’t. Sorry.

I’m one of those people who spent a year, in the early 1990’s courtesy of the last recession, not being “employed”. I was employing all my abilities however, and managed to build up enough voluntary work experience to get my first “proper job”, with the support of that wonderful fund, unemployment benefit and ET (Extra Tenner). You could be a volunteer, or hone your drama skills whilst working to get a foot in the door. Don’t tell anyone that’s what I did- so feckless of me, but it helped me get on a career path which made me an employer today. Thanks John Major!

Then there’s the bunch who may have got an interview or certainly into the longlist pile if we’d had more interview time. We just had to be tough on the shortlisting. Some of those may have been great – but the demand was high. We could have created a second post.

If the job refers to a project which you can easily search online – we suggest you do so before admitting in print you don’t know much about it. It’s a small thing, but it might help you get an interview somewhere.

It is another depressing observation, but some of these applications came from people who were being supported by career development projects, or the job centre. They’re not getting good advice and are being let down by people not doing their job properly.

Finally, we got two MA graduates applying- one from Bulgaria, one from Romania. They were brilliant applications. Not quite the right experience to get an interview for our post- if we’d had the time, we would have liked to have met them anyway, out of curiosity. Their written English was superb, and better than an application we got from a UK journalism student.

They’ll certainly get something in this country which reflects their skills. It is a myth that we’ll be “swamped” by Romanians and Bulgarians taking jobs – if the calibre of applicants to UK jobs is a high as those two – they would be an asset worth grabbing and would add a new perspective to a business.

But if our home-grown applicants are being misguided by a system which is supposed to support them, they have no chance of getting anywhere. And that’s the really sad thing.