6 years ago I commenced a 3 year university degree in contemporary performance. Since then I have finished my performing arts degree, taken a year to work and travel, set a career path and gone on to do a second degree in marketing and public relations. Having moved on from my arts degree and with my marketing and public relations path set I recently found myself jumping on the bandwagon of people picking apart my first degree calling it useless, a waste of time, a joke and an excuse to drink and joke away a couple years.
Being a student in my mid-20s and working alongside 18 year olds I have recently noticed many of the traits art students are labelled with are actually quite common amongst all young students irrelevant of their degree. So why do art students cop so much flak? From my experience art students are seen as being lazy, non-contributing youths throwing away their lives. Whilst some of these traits may be true for some art students, the same can be said about many students in other fields. What many people fail to see is that a majority of art students are actually extremely passionate, hard working individuals who put countless hours of time and energy into their work. When an engineering student is up all night writing an assignment, an art student is up all night trying to edit their film. Whilst the law student is burying their head in books desperately reading, art students are burying themselves in notebooks desperately writing their stories. Whilst medical students are putting in hours or practical work, art students are putting in countless hours developing their theatre pieces.
As a performing arts student I have heard every misconception and offensive remark in the book. After years of listen to such comments I found myself developing a negative attitude towards my arts degree. It wasn’t until recently that I decided to take a step back and take an objective analysis of my first university degree and all the things it has taught and offered me. As it turns out, many of the useful skills and reasons I’ve been hired –or so I’ve been told – have resulted from my performing arts degree. Knowing and having spoken to a large number of people holding various arts degrees I have noticed many common traits pop up, many of which have proven to be of great value to any workplace.
The 5 Workplace Skills (Attained From My Arts Degree) That Have Given Me A Competitive Advantage
1. How to think out-of-the-box and solve problems in creative ways
This is a well valued skill in the workforce and one that is held by many art students. When it hits the fan in the workplace, this is when performing art students shine. When a proposal the boss requested is not working-out, the marketing plan was sent back or the budget was cut it is time for out-of-the-box thinking and creative solutions no one is better versed in such moment than a performing arts student who has had to think outside the box and be creative everyday of their life.
2. Communication and other skills associated with extroverts such as how to carry and present yourself in a confident and appropriate manner.
Public speaking skills and the poise required to excel in client meetings and represent the company well are both skills mastered by performing arts students. With essays an uncommon form of assessment, years of presentations, performances, speeches etc. have shaped art students into confident, well-spoken individuals.
3. Not to fret in the face of something is not working and being put on the spot. Rather than panicking when things go wrong an arts degree teaches people to view complications as an opportunity to explore, learn and discover the resolution. This attitude drilled in over many years mean that being put on the spot does not phase art students as their degrees have required them to think on their feet every day. Employers can be confident when thrown into the deep end of a board meeting or presentation with clients a performing arts student will shine as they artfully and confidently work their way through the minefield as well as all the things thrown at them that would normally phase a person. This is also the reason many performing arts students do well in interviews.
4. Knowing when and how to be a leader and knowing when to step back and work as a team.
Knowing when and how to lead a team is a great skill in a workplace, yet not being afraid to stand up and lead effectively is a surprisingly rare trait. Performing arts students have spent years actively working in groups and completely on their own. Projects such as being put into groups and asked to work as a team to develop a short performance on a theme is common. Such tasks require participants to step forward to lean and at certain times step back and allow others to lead. Knowing how to manoeuvre this without stepping on anyone’s toes, yet effectively contributing at the right times can be a tricky task, but not for performing arts students who have mastered this daunting skill.
5. How to prioritise, take responsibility for yourself, your own work and show initiative.
Having managed a retail store I very quickly learnt that initiative is not a common trait. Nothing frustrated me more than staff members who would always require direction and needed it step by step because I knew the moment I left their side I would return to find them standing around doing nothing when they could have been cleaning, spruiking or restocking the store. Knowing you do not have to baby sit your staff and that knowledge that everything will continue churning when you are not around is something bosses love. Performing art students learn this skill very early on. Thrown into the deep end from day one performing arts students are left on their own with direction to the extent of ‘you need to have a performance ready in X weeks’. Performing arts students are then left to their own means, no one chases them up, tells them when and how to do something. It is up to the student to use their initiative to put work in when it’s required, try new things when something isn’t working and hunt down the right people to ask for direction or advice when required. This is a well-honed skill that translates incredibly well into the workplace. When all the accounts are set, the minutes written and the event is planned by 3pm but the boss left at 2pm a performing arts student will use their initiative to go ahead get tomorrows filing done.
Now approaching the final year of a second degree I have already developed both my trade skill knowledge as well as the personal skills many people simply don’t have and if are lucky may begin to learn after years of experience on the job. It has also become apparent to me that in the ever more competitive job hunt when several people apply for a job employers have to distinguish them. As many people applying for positions hold the same trade skills –knowledge that may be obsolete in a few years– employers look beyond these common skills and naturally select candidates that will give the company a competitive edge. This is why individuals who have been taught how to observe, critically think and connect dots thrive in the workplace, individuals like performing arts students.