Creative careers for graduates
Find out about jobs in the creative industries and learn how both arts and science degrees can lead to careers where you use your creativity.
When we think of jobs that involve creativity, certain images spring to mind: an artist wearing a smock splashed with paint; a novelist working at a typewriter late into the night; a ceramicist carefully shaping a spinning clay pot. But creativity plays a part in many other kinds of work as well. It’s an important element of careers ranging from engineering and consulting to marketing and publishing, so if you want to use your creativity in your job there are plenty of options open to you.
Careers in the creative industries
Careers in visual arts
Here are some creative specialisms in visual arts:
Our advice on careers in art and design gives a broad overview.
Careers in design
Jobs in design typically call for a combination of technical know-how and creative flair, whether you’re designing packaging, clothes, buildings, graphics, sets for film or TV progammes, video games or user-friendly websites. There is some overlap between these roles and creative jobs in the visual arts.
Here are some areas of design you could specialise in:
- graphic design
- product design
- set design
- video game design and development
- UX design
- web design
Careers in journalism, publishing, the media and entertainment industry
Here are some of the areas you could specialise in:
- video production
- publishing and journalism
- public relations (PR)
- copywriting for advertising
Do any of the following appeal to you? They are all different ways of using creativity. If you know what skills you're most interested in using, you'll be able to look for roles that match, and you'll be more likely to find your career satisfying and fulfilling in the long run.
- Using your skills to make things – painting, sewing, woodworking, writing stories, making video games, building computers.
- Developing ideas, such as thinking up a new concept for an ad campaign or a pitch for a magazine.
- Problem-solving – coming up with innovative solutions to tricky issues.
- Working on exciting team projects in a creative environment, for example in the arts or media industries.
Networking and training for creative careers
A degree or postgraduate course that includes relevant vocational training could help to equip you with the skills you need and get your foot in the door, though you may also be able to find employment opportunities that don’t have formal qualification requirements.
In the long run, if you want to carve out a successful career in the creative industries, your experience, reputation and network of contacts are likely to be crucial. A degree or postgraduate course might help you get started, but it could also be possible to find work without specific relevant training if you can find other ways to develop your skills, perhaps through work experience, extracurricular activities or volunteering. You might need to consider putting together a showreel, portfolio or website showcasing examples of work, and you may also need to make speculative applications.
For example, you can enter journalism with any degree background, but you might find it helpful to have taken a course accredited by the NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists). A range of postgraduate qualifications are available. If you’re interested in working in UX design you’ll need to be able to use specialist software and to draw. A relevant degree will be useful, though not strictly necessary.
You might start your career working for a particular employer to build up your skills and experience, and then choose to work as a freelancer. There are plenty of opportunities for self-employment in the creative industries, and it’s not unusual for working life to involve taking on different projects for a range of clients. These projects could last for anything from a few days to several months or even longer – for example, if you find work on a long-running TV series.
Find out whether there are specific qualification requirements for your chosen career, or whether having certain qualifications will be an advantage. Networking with people who are already working in that area will help you. Your careers service may be able to get you started with contacts. You might also want to consider joining a relevant professional association – membership might be open to you as a student, and could offer networking opportunities.
How your degree will help you, whatever you studied
Many graduates go into jobs that don’t relate directly to their degree backgrounds, and this is true of those who work in the creative industries too. Here’s a rundown of some of the benefits of different degree backgrounds for graduates who are looking to get started on creative careers.
Arts and humanities degrees encourage you to think in creative ways:
- to consider existing concepts in new ways
- to grapple with and work through problems
- to visualise ideas
- to tell stories
- to cultivate a personal style.
Practical creative degrees, such as fashion design or graphic design, will give you the experience and skills to work in a specific discipline.
In non-vocational humanities subjects such as history or English, you'll gain significant experience of writing and editing, which is useful for careers in journalism, publishing and copywriting.
If you've studied a social science such as psychology, anthropology or politics, you'll have focused on understanding humans and human activity. Creative work typically involves trying to make content connect with and resonate with audiences, which makes social science expertise invaluable.
Have you studied finance, business or a numerate subject? If you want to make your creative interests pay, a background in business, finance or a numerate subject could give you the tools to start your own business. If you'd prefer to be employed, jobs that combine business and creativity – such as in advertising or marketing – can provide a fulfilling, financially rewarding career, with a regular income and structured career progression.
A science degree will have honed your problem-solving skills, and you will probably have used your creativity to come up with new project ideas. Many creative roles involve hands-on technical skills, which you’ll be well placed to pick up if your degree has involved extensive practical work and experience of lab equipment. Also, your scientific knowledge means you could be suited to various roles that call for scientific understanding and a creative approach, such as becoming a scientific journalist or data journalist, or working in marketing for a science-related company.
Using your creativity outside the creative industries
The careers most commonly thought of as 'creative' tend to be in the arts and media industries. However, you can also put your creativity to use in other industries:
IT: You’ll need a creative approach to design applications or to detect and solve problems in a company's IT systems. Depending on your role, you may also need specific technical skills.
Find out about ten jobs you can do in IT.
Consultancy: You’ll need good analytical and communication skills for a career in consultancy. If your client has a problem you'll need to come up with ways to overcome it, using a combination of data and creativity.
Check out seven reasons to choose a graduate career in consulting, aside from salary.
Engineering: Engineers use their creativity to solve problems and design structures. Whether you're supplying water to a community or making a building energy efficient, your ideas will have real-world impact.
Pick up tips on how to get a graduate job in engineering.
Consultancy roles are usually open to graduates from all degree backgrounds and the same is true of many vacancies in IT, although you’ll need a technical or numerate degree background for some roles and a computer science degree may be preferred in some cases. An engineering degree is a standard requirement for engineering graduate jobs, but some vacancies may be open to applicants from other degree backgrounds, such as physics or materials science. If you don’t have an engineering degree but are interested in a career in engineering, you could explore the option of doing an engineering conversion course.
Is a creative career realistic for me?
It's common to worry about whether pursuing a creative career is a pragmatic decision. The main thing you need to consider is how your potential career choice aligns with what you want out of working life.
Creative careers are usually pretty competitive – you'll need to put in the work and the research when applying. Some creative careers offer more security than others. Aspiring actors, musicians and filmmakers may need to find a way of supporting themselves while they get their careers off the ground. We've put together some advice to help you consider how to covering your living costs if you follow an alternative career path.
Choosing a career is all about weighing up your priorities. Another way to think about this is to consider what motivates you. Potentially, there are many different factors to consider, from your values and the kind of work you are likely to find satisfying and fulfilling, to salary, security and the prospect of structured career progression.
You might find that your priorities change and that you adapt your plans accordingly. This could happen during your time at university or at some point after graduation. It could be a result of work experience that gives you more insight into what you enjoy, or be prompted by a conversation with someone who is working in an area that interests you. Your circumstances might change, or unexpected opportunities might come up. However your hunt for work shapes up, if you’ve thought carefully about what you want, explored how to get there and reached out to make contact with people who can tell you more about it, you’ll be well placed to keep moving towards the right career for you.
Be optimistic – don't talk yourself out of your dream career just because you're scared that you'll fail – but also be pragmatic. If you’ve set your sights on a career in the performing arts, for example, you might need a back-up plan.
Make sure you've done your research into what your chosen field is actually like to work in. Talk to people in that field, get work experience and see what the day-to-day looks like before you decide to dedicate yourself to it. Creative careers often look fun and glamorous, but it's easy to have a romanticised view of what it's like working as a writer or theatre director or art curator. No job is perfect, and every job has its more irritating, frustrating and mundane aspects. If you’ve done your research, you can go for it confident in the knowledge that you want to do the job as a whole, not only on its best days.