Volunteering may be the clincher that gets you the job: Spotlight on volunteering

Elle Arscott graduated from Edinburgh in 2016 with an MA History of Art and History of Music.  


During my time at the University of Edinburgh I volunteered extensively with the student association – first through the Arts & Culture Volunteer Group and then with the EUSA Volunteer Council. After graduation I moved abroad to complete a postgraduate in Heritage Management. I currently work in PR as a marketing executive, as well as sidelining as a freelance copywriter for museums and galleries. The first job pays my rent, whilst the second allows me to pursue my interests in history and the arts.

The arts, museum and heritage sector is a difficult market to enter in the current economic climate.  Many graduates will find themselves having to complete internships before they are considered for any formal employment, whilst others, such as myself, find themselves accepting employment in different sectors and continuing heritage work as a volunteer or freelancer. Therefore, it is highly advisable to get as much voluntary experience as possible whilst still at university, when you have the support network of a fantastic student union, in order to maximise your skill set and CV.


There are such a wealth of volunteering opportunities in the arts and heritage sector in Edinburgh, both at the University and at institutions in the city and beyond. I worked extensively with the Arts & Culture Volunteer Group, which I co-founded in 2015, and was a member of the EUSA Volunteer Council. Building a volunteer group from scratch was such a rewarding experience – reaching out to partner institutions, making new contacts, organising events and providing a service not previously offered by the volunteering department at the university was a steep but exciting learning curve. Similarly, working with the Volunteer Council on their events committee gave me great insight into events marketing – an area that is now a huge part of my unexpected day job.  A volunteer role that may not seem relevant at the time could turn out to be the clincher that gets you that job you really want! Similarly, when applying for jobs down the line, being willing to compromise and pick up new and transferable skills from different sectors will sometimes makes practical sense, and shouldn’t make you feel like you’ve failed or given up.


My advice to any humanities students aiming for a job in the arts, museums or heritage sector is to take every opportunity that presents itself to you. Do not think you can rely on your degree to get you a job! 99% of museum roles will require a degree, so every candidate will have the same basic experience. It is your responsibility to differentiate yourself, and volunteering is the best way to do this. At the same time, don’t worry if your early career doesn’t quite go to plan – it’s a long game, and not everybody walks into their dream job straight after graduation!


Feeling inspired? See how Edinburgh University Students’ Association Volunteering Service can support you to take action, here.

This post is part of our #ExperienceWorks campaign. You’ll find a digest of this week’s posts here: #ExperienceWorks


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