Creative Career Trends

There are some typical trends associated with establishing a creative career. It is important that you are aware of them so that you know what you are likely to face and so you can get prepared.

Creative Graduates Creative Futures is a survey investigating the career paths of creative graduates five years after they graduated. It provides a real insight into what establishing a creative career is like after university; take a look at the report available via the Institute for Employment Studies.  

Some key trends are below.

A hidden jobs market

The employers with jobs to offer prefer to recruit people who are proactive enough to seek them out, rather than the other way round. When jobs are advertised, every other interested graduate will see them too, so competition can be high. You must be proactive enough to create your own employment and work experience opportunities through networking and speculative enquiries. Our guides about specific art and design career areas give suggestions about how to find companies and how to begin expanding your contacts.

Small businesses

Although there are some big players, many creative businesses employ just a handful of people. According to Creative and Cultural Skills (the sector skills council for areas including craft, heritage and design):  'There are 67,245 businesses in the creative and cultural industries in England. 86% employ fewer than five people and 93% employ fewer than 50 people.

Small businesses do not have the resources to devote to lots of training and supervision. They need people who can work on their own initiative and to understand the pressures that they face. It's important that you research the companies that you'd like to work for to figure out how you can be of benefit to them. Small businesses are also unlikely to have the capacity to undertake formal recruitment processes and are therefore more likely to recruit in an informal way.     

Self employment

It is very typical for creative professionals to work freelance or to set up their own business. Some creative businesses choose to employ staff on a freelance basis, even if their staff are working for them consistently on full-time hours. Our handout on starting a creative business highlights some key things you need to consider and some organisations that offer professional businesses advice and support.


Creative businesses tend to work in a fluid way, often on short-term projects where they hire external freelancers for their specific skills. Businesses may be multidisciplinary, taking on a wide portfolio of projects and/ or employing creatives from different artistic disciplines. It is important that you can adapt to undertake various roles, which may be slightly outside of your academic discipline, and that you can rise to the challenges facing creative businesses, such as tight deadlines, budgetary limitations, meeting the specific requirements of customers and clients.   

A highly skilled workforce

Creative Graduates, Creative Futures found that 72% of those surveyed had continued their education in some way, which is not surprising given the way that some creatives take on a diverse range of projects and briefs. It is important to thoroughly investigate the area you wish to enter to find out what skills you would need. You could develop your skills through formal education, a short course or informal learning and self study. See our further study section and our guides about specific art and design career areas which provide details of organisations that run short courses for creatives.

Portfolio careers

Creative Graduates, Creative Futures found that 48% of those surveyed held more than one job and combined creative work with jobs in other areas; this is known as a portfolio career. It is likely, especially as you begin your career, that you will be engaged in a range of activities which could include:

  • Working as an employee of a creative business. 
  • Employment in a non-creative organisation using your creative skills (for example a web designer at a university).  
  • A non-creative role. 
  • Work experience at a creative organisation (often unpaid).
  • Short-term, freelance projects.  
  • Further study at a university or college.
  • Short courses or self study to learn a particular skill.

Work experience

According to Creative Graduates, Creative Futures, 42% of respondents had undertaken a placement and 64% had undertaken more informal work experience since graduating.

Gaining work experience is vital. As well as expanding your skills and portfolio it will increase your understanding of the pressures that creative businesses face in order to complete projects to a high standard within the set deadline and budget, whilst meeting the needs of a specific audience or client. It can also enable you to build a network of contacts that will be useful as you look for paid work. 

Unpaid work experience

It is common for recent creative graduates to undertake unpaid work experience. This is generally accepted within the creative industries as a legitimate way to gain skills, contacts and experience; however it is important to ensure that you are not exploited by being treated like a paid worker without being paid at least the minimum wage; for example a company should not expect you to work for a prolonged period of time or complete set hours, or rely on you to deliver work that they would ordinarily pay someone to do. 

There is a distinction between what constitutes a paid worker and a volunteer and there are set rules about students undertaking placements as part of their degree. More information is available in guidelines outlined by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.      

To find out about work experience opportunities:

  • See our guides about specific art and design career areas.
  • Visit the Creative Employability Studio on the ground floor of the School of Art and Design or on Facebook. They advertise a range of opportunities for creatives including placements, part time work and freelance briefs.