Finding work in the arts

 11 August 2011

Xander Hough is a Human Resources Advisor at the Barbican Centre, working to support recruitment and internships. He gave advice on how to find employment in an arts centre.

The Barbican offers a number of internship placements in a variety of departments. © Barbican Centre, London
The Barbican offers a number of internship placements in a variety of departments. © Barbican Centre, London

Gaining experience through internships

The Barbican offers a number of internship placements in a variety of departments such as Marketing, Creative Learning and Media Relations. Candidates are interviewed in much the same way as applicants for staff vacancies.

“For interns our criteria focus more on having a demonstrable interest and enthusiasm for a business area...we realise the whole point of doing an internship is to gain experience that you don’t currently have.”

“We offer advice to managers on the range of employee relations issues, to ensure that the workforce is able to reach its full potential.”

Xander led a review of internships within the Barbican in 2009, introducing many changes to improve the internship experience.

“Internships in the corporate world received a lot of negative attention recently and this has only strengthened our resolve to offer developmental, rewarding and valuable placements to interns.”

For the Barbican, internships are “an important symbiotic relationship...Interns go on to get some fantastic jobs in the arts industry after their placements.

“That speaks volumes, not only about our programme, but the individuals who were prepared to get stuck in and seize the opportunity.”

Recruiting for an arts centre

The HR department manages all recruitment campaigns within the Barbican. Roles are typically advertised internally, then via The Guardian and Barbican website, Twitter and Facebook pages.

”The standard process is we will advertise all vacant roles internally initially, to develop talent within the organisation, and then consider external advertising routes.”

Since the recession, the Barbican has seen a “huge increase in the number of applicants but the number of quality applicants remains roughly the same.”

Competition for roles is high. Typically the Barbican receives over 200 applications for every position advertised, with some roles attracting over 500 applicants.

“Entry-level roles, or those in the Barbican's art forms (such as the Theatre or Concert hall), tend to attract a high number of applicants along with vacancies in Marketing and Media Relations.”

Getting an interview at the Barbican

"Interns go on to some fantastic jobs in the arts industry after their placements. That speaks volumes..."

"The most important criterion is that applicants understand the role, know what the Barbican is and have something to say about what it does.”

Some roles within the Barbican may require a degree, masters-level or other industry-standard qualification.

“What we want to see from applicants is a body of relevant experience that they can demonstrate.

“The Barbican is so unique that we can’t expect applicants to have worked in an identical environment. But we want to see that candidates have the necessary skills and industry knowledge.”

4 tips for a good job application

1. Do your homework

“A good application will start with a logical and sound reason for applying, not only to the Barbican, but to the specific vacancy. It really does pay to do some homework.”

2. Outline your key experiences and skills

“I like to see well-structured, succinct and organised applications broken down by key headings. This makes it easier to match the candidate’s skill-set to the criteria of the job description and person specification.”

3. Go into detail and avoid clichés

“I get tired of seeing people write about how ‘passionate they are about working for the Barbican Centre’. It is much more interesting to read why they are passionate about it.”

4. Write a legible application with perfect spelling and grammar.

“It may sound petty, but this is a competitive marketplace and when some roles rely on the ability to communicate or an eye for detail, typos are strong warning signals that a candidate may be overselling themselves!”

What to expect in an interview

“What we want to see from applicants is a body of relevant experience."

The interview process typically lasts around 45 minutes and candidates will usually be interviewed by a line manager, another manager from the department, and an HR Advisor.

“Candidates should be ready to talk about their entire employment history, the Barbican, trends or new developments in their particular area of the industry and show the ability to learn or reflect on their practice.”

In the interview, experience-based questions are used to encourage candidates to talk about situations where they have demonstrated their skills in the past.

“Good candidates will have thought about the requirements of the role and will have some brief examples ready to show us they have all the necessary expertise and behaviours.”

Xander also designs and administers psychometric and ability tests for use alongside interviews.

“We are routinely using second round interviews, psychometric and ability tests to inform our recruitment decisions now.”

He adds that the staff at the Barbican are 'friendly and welcoming' and try to put candidates at ease during the interview process. Questions are also encouraged, “after all, the candidate is assessing us a potential employer just as much as we are assessing them.”


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