How To Do An Arts Degree And Not Wind Up In Hospitality

Q: What does an arts student say when they graduate from their degree?

A: Would you like fries with that?

Are you laughing? No, neither was I. For many arts graduates though, the harsh reality is that their course hasn’t given them any skills that will help get them “A Real Job”. As much as I loved my Arts degree and would highly recommend the course for the analytical and communication skills it gave me, I have to admit that as the course drew to a close and it was time to face the music of the real world, I wasn’t exactly bombarded with employment offers.

Is this really what you studied for three years for?

The truth is that an Arts degree was never intended to give you specific workplace skills. It’s a ‘thinking and expressing’ degree; it helps you to engage with big ideas, events, concepts, movements, policies and philosophies. You’ll be able to write about life, discuss the way people think and how the world works, as well as being able to reference everyone who ever added their two cents worth to the discussion. But do future employers care that you can do this? Um, no. Not really, no. No they don’t.

Any Arts faculty will be eager to tell you that a graduate qualification in general is a great way to kick-start your career. They’ll point out that graduates have higher levels of employment than say, someone without a degree. This is all well and good, but unless you’re happy to have a better chance of getting the waitressing job than the chick who didn’t go to uni, you’ll need to bring a little more to the table. There’s nothing wrong with being a barista of course, but if you’ve got your sights set on something else, you need to have a plan of action.

Now Showing: A Plan of Action (Starring You)

Welcome to the Plan Of Action, it’s essentially a glorified name for work experience and internships. Do you like it? It has a bit more of an edge, doesn’t it?… kind of like you’re undertaking an adventure.  Try to keep thinking of it as an adventure if you can; it will help you stay positive during those early days of work experience when all you do is fetch people their coffees. So, your adventure (POA) runs from the start of your first year, right through to the graduation finish line. Let’s break the plan down:


Do some research on what sort of job you’d like to have or what sort of companies you’d like to work for. What sorts of specific skills do these jobs have? Do you want to work in the private or government sector? Do you want to stay in the city or move to the country or overseas? Do you want to work from home, or be your own boss or go into the CBD in a suit every day? This part of the plan should be a breeze. I mean, come on, you’re an Arts student – research is what being an Arts student is all about! If you need a little bit of help getting started, consider strolling over to your university’s careers centre. There are staff there who can chat to you about your areas of interest, what kind of jobs you could go into with your future major and where to find more information (like at the careers fairs that the unis hold). Another option is to go to a private careers consultant. This option is more comprehensive and the consultant will invest more effort into helping you come consolidate your ideas. You can also scrawl the careers sections of newspapers and websites to familiarise yourself with the kinds of jobs on offer and get to know some companies. Odds are that you will know someone (or know someone who knows someone) that is working in the field you want to end up in. Invite them out for a coffee and use the experience to pick their brains. They will probably end up paying for the coffee too so it’s seriously a win-win thing to do.

Now we’re getting somewhere!


When you’re talking Arts, nine times out of ten your dream internship is not going to be advertised. A lot of companies aren’t actively looking to take on students, but they will consider organizing an extra desk space if the right person comes along. To be sure that ‘right person’ is you, you need to stand out from the crowd. Take a look at your resume and make sure the information provided is relevant and that you have gotten rid of your email address and replace it with something a little more grown up and a lot less, you know, lame. Try to find out the name of someone in the company to address your letter to and have someone you trust read over your cover letter. In this all important cover letter, you should introduce yourself, why you want to work for said company, what you want to get out of it and what you would bring to the table. A nice touch can be to (again) ask to buy them a cup of coffee so that you can hear about how your contact got his/her job and what the day-to-day work actually entails. It’s also well worth your time to get involved on campus with lower scale work projects that give you a chance to develop your leadership and management skills. Employers love that stuff; it makes you seem like a go-getter, because you are.

    Work, Rest, Play

Balance is the key my friend. But that’s not to say you should slack off. You get so many uni holidays that it’s crazy not to dedicate some of that time to gaining work experience. When you do secure your internships, be prepared to start from the bottom up. Smile and chat to everyone and pretty soon they’ll be letting you contribute, teach you new skills and give you a killer reference at the end of the day. Goodbye fast food joint. Hello dream job.

Don't give up your dreams

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  1. Laz says:

    not everyone studies an art degree to find a job. some people are just pursuing knowledge

  2. Kelly says:

    Emily, what are you doing now that you’ve graduated? Hopefully, not as a checkout chick.

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