How to…get experience when you don’t have credentials

Not everyone fits into the university world. For whatever reason, there are some of us out there that really cannot gel with the whole idea of education at the higher level, yet have boundless enthusiasm, talent and continuous self learning to offer the right creative place.

But often, without a degree you won’t be given the opportunity to even sit for an interview, let alone gain much needed tangible experience. So what do you do if this applies to you?

Here are a few things that can help you gain experience in any field of creative arts if you are willing to put in the hard yards.


Volunteering is a very funny one because there will be people out there that will ask why you are doing something if you aren’t getting paid, talk of whoever you are assisting as using you and several other conspiracy theories behind why volunteering in the arts exists. Hell, I have even heard individuals launch tirades against creative arts bodies running modern day volunteer sweatshops- all be it from people I suspect have never volunteered in their life.

The reality is what you gain from volunteering in the arts are practical on the job experience, credibility through being able to reference it on a CV or as testimonials and contacts which will probably prove extremely helpful in the future.

Also, as much as we like to think our cities in Australia are huge, the creative arts community is pretty incestuous, so doing a good job as a volunteer may very well get your name into the shell pink ear of a potential future arts employer. At the very least, it will get you closer to them.

When you are choosing to apply for a volunteer position, keep an eye on the websites of organisations that interest you, places like ArtsHub or seek out opportunities yourself by writing directly to those you want to work with as a volunteer and offer your services.

Oh, and drop the ego.

You may be working for free, but the skill you will gain is invaluable. Don’t be the person who refuses to do admin or whinges about not doing enough of what you want to do because let’s face it there isn’t a person alive who doesn’t have to perform some tasks within their working career they’d prefer not to. Volunteers are no different and to be honest, the last thing someone who has engaged a volunteer wants to do is listen to them gripe about how what they are doing sucks all day or how to do things “better” by someone who has just walked in the door.

Some awesome places to volunteer where your work really gets heads turning are FBi radio, The Sydney Theatre Company, TVS, Tropfest and Sydney Fringe Festival. Having said that, anywhere you show a concerted effort and longevity in your commitment will demonstrate not only your passion for all things creative but also initiative, drive, ambition and dedication- all key things people look for when choosing potential staff or creative collaborators.

Making the web your friend

In this day and age of WordPress and cheaper than cheap hosting and domain registration, there is no excuse for even the most non-technically minded person not to have a website. You can set one up for as little as $150 through purchasing a domain, hosting and making use of many of the countless free WordPress templates out there.

From there, you can use your website to show case your work, express your opinions on creative elements, blog about your creative journey, stream content related to completed creative projects and find others to do creative work with.

If you are seriously that much of a Luddite you cannot create a WordPress site, look for someone who can do it for you in exchange for creative barter. It is important. Seriously.

Make use of social media 

Make sure you use social media to its best advantage. Have a Facebook, Twitter, See.Me and if applicable, host your work on places like Bandcamp, ReverbNation.

And with Social Media, please make it fun and interesting.

Be playful, controversial, share things not just about your creative journey but also about other creative practitioners you admire. Add a bit of spice to what you are doing and watch the reward come in.

There are also countless free sites where you can upload your own opinions and comments on creative subjects. Positioning yourself as an expert in all things creative is not vulgar, it’s smart.

Produce your own projects

Admittedly, with the cost of living in Sydney, it’s bloody hard to save up to do creative projects but you need to take the opportunity to think smarter in light of this. You may have a big motion picture you wish to do or a double CD concept album but be realistic and choose to work on things which can lead you up to that big ambition.

There is nothing to say you cannot follow some other creative endeavours in the meantime and you should- because contrary to popular belief, it isn’t usually the first big project that gets you noticed in this country. And it is really, really tiresome listening to creative practitioners who bemoan the system that keeps them down from doing their opus, especially when there are so many people out there who are quietly and effectively chipping away at their chosen art.

So how can you produce your own projects?

Apart from looking at the scale and assessing what is achievable (such as doing an EP as opposed to an album or co-hosting an art exhibition instead of putting on once yourself) it’s about looking for the right resources, monetary or otherwise, to make your project shine.

This means finding people to help you who are willing to volunteer, choosing to pass the art shop by and go to re-use/recycle places such as Reverse Garbage for materials, making use of spaces such as pubs, clubs and cafes as alternative spaces to exhibit or for photo and film-shoots, go the funding route, approach community radio, TV or street press as a vehicle for your works or modify your aim so that you can self produce online.

Use the same creativity and passion you have for your art to create your own production opportunities.

Funding is also available from countless government, state and other NFP bodies. Or if you are not really into sweating your heart out over 20 page applications or find you cannot find something to suit, you can look for two types of growing types of funding in angel investing and crowd funding.

Angel investing is about building enough of your idea to attract corporations or individuals who are willing to take a punt on your idea who will invest in what you are doing. Angel investing has worked for online start ups, films, TV programmes, gaming and generally unless you are super doper lucky, requires your project to have some kind of commercial value to those who invest that is paid back over a period of time once your project starts making money.

Still, if you are aiming to make a living from a sustainable arts business, making money will be part of the equation anyway, and sharing a bit of profit in the long term is a small price to pay for realising your dream in the first place.

Crowd funding is about putting your best foot forward with your project and appealing to audiences anywhere and everywhere to help raise funds for part or all of your creative endeavours production. This is an amazing way to raise funds because it means that you can allow friends, family and those who take an interest in your creative project the opportunity to fund its production.

This has been HUGELY successful with many and varied projects out there through American portal and Australian portal that have already helped hundreds of projects see the light of day through audience donation and crowd funding. Not only that but you can use such platforms to show to Angel investors or a wider audience such as a record company or government funding body that there is indeed support, interest and a desire to see your project succeed which can in turn raise you more money and your project’s profile.

AND your project is automatically a part of a wider creative community that wants to break through with their own ideas. How sweet is that?

Learn to take rejection

Look, you know you kick arse, but sometimes it may not be the right time for what you are doing and a little self evaluation and taking the knockbacks in your stride is part of being creative.

Even the most laboured over introduction letter, portfolio, CV or project pitch will rarely get you what you want the first time unless you are very fortunate. Sometimes it doesn’t get you where you want to go ever. It is a competitive industry after all! But a true creative person will learn to take the good with the bad and will keep trying despite the rejection. What you do with that rejection can be quite useful too.

So what does a smart reject do?

  • Reviews their work and also asks non-biased, helpful people to do the same. Not your mum or significant other- they generally have other reasons for telling you your shit is whack. Find someone who will be honest and give constructive criticism.
  • Does research into who would be most likely to respond positively to their project ahead of time instead of just submitting their project willy-nilly.
  • Targets their introduction of their project to the needs, wants and ethos of the place they are approaching and talks in terms of solving problems or adding value to that places existing portfolio. Yes, that sounds sales and marketing orientated but you need to sell your idea to someone and market its potential. There is no shame in that.
  • Reads the feedback given during rejection and takes it on board. You may not agree in the end, but if you are willing to listen to criticism, you can learn a lot about your project and what you are trying to do which can help you in the long run. Even if it’s to get a sense of the place you approached for future reference.
  • Doesn’t give up, hurl things, stick their bottom lip out or put the boot into those that reject the idea. As mentioned before, the creative scene is smaller than you think and word gets around- a lot. So don’t impede your chances of success by acting like a spoilt, sour child who was the last pick for afternoon school sports because it really, really isn’t a good look.
  • Gives up that stupid notion that “failure” is bad. If everyone succeeded every time, there would be no one to manufacturer your undies or interesting life stories to read. Learning to fail is probably the best lesson a creative person can learn because you will do it a lot during your creative career and there is a lot to learn from going through a failure. All you can and should do is take your lumps, learn from them, regroup and get the hell on with it.

get experience in creative arts

Keep doing it as long as you need to

“You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em

Know when to walk away, know when to run
You never count your money, when you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’, when the dealin’s done.”


Kenny Rogers wasn’t talking just about gambling, this is about life. What are you good at? What do you suck at? Are you selling yourself short or thinking you’re all that and a bag of chips when really, you’re over-reaching your abilities? It’s important to keep a real world perspective about your creative abilities and keep both your own belief in your own value positive as well as realistic.

You need persistence, patience and to keep looking at your goals and changing them to suit the changes that occur in technology, audience interest and within yourself.

Be smart, true to yourself and your own creative best friend and it will help you run the marathon you will need to run in order to get to where you creatively want to be. If you know how you fit into the scheme of things, you will be better able to guide others on how they can make use of you in the best possible way.

The Bottom Line…

If you have to volunteer a lot, keep plugging away at self publishing and promotion online, keep ponying up the dough to see your projects come into fruition and develop a hide of a rhino in order not to dangle yourself from a ceiling fan or give up completely AND keep doing it for a number of years or decades, then so be it.

If you show you are passionate and continue to work towards capturing someone’s eye, you will eventually. You will gain the attention of those you look up to, or even become something others want to emulate and follow.

If you truly believe what you do is unique, special and viable, you will find a way to make it work for you, credentials or not. Just be as creative in your approach to your demonstrating your creativity as you are to your creations and it will come together in the end.