Ways to gain experience at the start of your career

Close up shot of moulded shapes in a variety of pastel colours
Written by
Creative Opportunities
Published date
11 April 2022

Getting your first career break can be tough. More often than not there’s huge competition for graduate-level jobs, and repeatably sending out applications and not hearing back can prove unmotivating.  In 2021, 25% of students surveyed by Prospects stated they were changing their career plans due to the pandemic, and 37% were unsure about what to do next. Whatever direction you choose to go in, having industry experience is king in the job market. Last year Creative Opportunities, UAL's jobs board, shared 1,600+ paid jobs and internships in the UK and internationally - making it a great place to start looking for your first creative career move.   During the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of micro-sized employers advertising roles on Creative Opportunities dropped by 50%. These employers often accept entry-level graduates to train, providing an important first step in their careers. In response to this, we decided to expand the roles on Creative Opportunities to include meaningful volunteering roles and competitions, to allow students from any background to gain and expand their experience as the job market is settling down. Since February 2021, Creative Opportunities has advertised 110 volunteering roles and 71 competitions. .  Before spending time on a competition or applying for a volunteering role it’s important to think about what you will gain from doing it. Think about the benefit you’ll gain from doing it, especially if you plan on staying in London and are thinking about balancing finances and time. 


  • We promote only promote competitions that are relevant to UAL courses and could help to further your career. We look for competitions that require innovation and creativity in finding solutions. 
  • Financial prizes such as bursaries and grants can help you to launch a business or buy equipment. We don't advertise competitions that offer 'exposure' only as the prize. 
  • We look for competitions that provide mentorship and evaluation from industry professionals so you can receive feedback on your portfolio. This can help you to improve your portfolio and develop a professional network. 
  • Applying for competitions could result in your work being promoted across social media, which in turn could help to increase your following.  
  • You may be involved in intellectual property rights over your submissions, the negotiations of which are important skills as a freelancer or entrepreneur. 
Before applying for a competition, consider the following: 
  • Even if you aren’t a winner or runner up, would the competition entry be a welcome addition to your portfolio? 
  • Could you submit an existing piece of your work to fit in with the brief? 

Volunteering roles 

  • We only accept volunteering roles from registered charities or voluntary organizations. This is to ensure no unpaid internships are advertised and students are not exploited into doing free work by commercial companies.  
  • Volunteering roles do not pay a salary or even payment 'in kind' such as discounted products or services. You should be reimbursed for reasonable expenses such as travel and food. 
  • We recommend an initial two-week trial period to make sure you are benefiting from the experience. As voluntary roles involve no contractual obligation to perform work, the duration of the opportunity can be negotiated, which is a very good skill to learn even for paid work and freelancing.  
  • These roles are usually under the guidance of a mentor or supervisor who can share both experience and training to develop your skills. 
  • We look to promote roles with an organized structure of learning and clear benefits of putting training into action. 
  • Feedback, LinkedIn endorsements, and references can be provided at the end of the placement. 
  • Volunteering can be a great way to build a professional network. 
Full information on the volunteering roles and competition roles we promote can be found on the about page of our website.   Need further advice on how to get your first job? UAL students can access tailored one-to-one careers support for up to 2 years after you graduate. Our online advisors will support you by discussing your career ideas and options and providing advice on applications and interviews. Email  gradsupport@arts.ac.uk  or book a  one-to-one appointment  to get started.