Connecting an Arts Degree and a career in Business

Connecting an Arts Degree and a career in Business

You might think that having a Degree in Fine Art has little to no relevance for a career in recruitment or even business, and many people would probably agree with you. However, to the surprise of many, there are experiences and skills you can utilise from an Arts Degree that are invaluable to a career in the business world. These include skills such as critical thinking and analysis which are vital to understanding business problems, as well as an appreciation of psychology to help better understand our candidates and their motivations.


Sam Holliday, our Business Projects team Director is living proof that making a transition from Art to Business can not only be done, but it can be done to great effect. 


Sam shares his unique experiences from thriving academically for the first time in his Fine Arts Degree to securing his first business position at State Street. A story worth telling, and reading.


“After college, I decided to pursue a degree in Graphic Design. To do so I had to complete what’s called an Art Foundation year, in order to pull together a portfolio of work to showcase my potential to Universities. It was during that foundation year that I was introduced not just to graphic design, but also fine art, textiles, 3D design, and all of these different creative avenues which I loved. And so, I found myself at a crossroads. Ultimately, I decided I was going to pursue a degree in Fine Art.


After making that decision I went from having been a typical B & C grade student at high school to really finding my academic groove, achieving a distinction in my next year. That got me on to the Fine Art course at Northumbria University, one of the more respected programs in the north of England, where I graduated with First Class honours.”


Sam says, when he was choosing his degree, his parents were the classic metaphorical devil and angel on his shoulder. 


“My Dad believe it or not was the Angel and was very much of the opinion if you study something you’re passionate about, you’re going to do well in it. He also believed universities are as much about the experience of leaving home and everything else that goes with it, as they are about the degree itself”. 


My Mum had the complete opposite perspective and said that if I go and study art I’m going to regret it because ‘what is an art degree going to get you in life?’  Taking all the advice on board I went ahead with the degree and I am glad that I did… as I really loved it!


‘What many people won’t be aware of is this; art school doesn’t just teach you how to paint pretty pictures. You are taught how to think creatively, to think laterally and to correctly critique and be critical. It also helps you to spot your own thinking traps and avoid being too contrived”.


From there Sam goes on to explain how a university exchange widened his horizons both personally and professionally…


“I did a semester on Erasmus exchange which is the European Union exchange between universities. I went to Holland and had an awesome three months there. By the end of university, I’d got the taste for living overseas. I was young, keen to travel, and very gung-ho to see the world so I fell into living in Luxembourg of all places”.


Upon arriving in Luxembourg with youthful optimism and self-confidence, Sam soon found out it was going to be tough to get established – he could only speak English, had no work experience, and his art degree. 


“When I was first looking for a job, I was ambitiously targeting positions that were Art related, such as work in art galleries or work for graphic designers but I didn’t get anywhere with that’.


What happened next is one of those serendipitous moments that only come about when you put yourself out there and stay determined to get where you want to go…


“I’d started to cast the net fairly wide by this point and had heard that as a native English speaker, I could get a job in the banking sector as a Transfer Agent. Having gone for a role at JP Morgan but heard nothing back, I was speaking with a Dutch contact who said ‘What about the cafe downstairs owned by an English guy?’ So, I go down there and pull out the version of my CV that could get me a job in restaurants & cafes and walk in with a smile on my face asking ‘How does an English guy get a job in this town?’


He said he didn’t have anything for me then, but he liked my attitude. “You haven’t come in here with a sense of entitlement you seem you really determined… My wife is a transfer agent so hand me a copy of your CV and I’ll take it to her. She might be able to help you out.’  I thought that’s very nice but didn’t think it would go any further… 


A couple of days afterwards I was following up on some other applications and as I walked past his café, there he was waiting for me. He said ‘I gave your CV to my wife and she liked the look of it but she’s really busy. So she asked me to interview you. Take a seat.’


The English cafe owner proceeded to interview Sam, ultimately coming to the opinion that he was hard working based on his distinction & first place in Art School. He put Sam forward for an interview which led to a call from woman in HR informing him he’d got his first corporate job at State Street.


If we can learn anything from Sam’s experiences it’s this; having a non-business degree under your belt should not hold you back AND to always stick with your goal no matter what the circumstances are. 


We’ve seen in Sam’s situation that an Art Degree gives you an alternate version of critical thinking and problem solving. Here’s Sam himself summing it up best…


“My Art Degree has held me in good stead when challenged with a need for critical thinking or getting my head around some really difficult or abstract problem. Art is linked to history, philosophy, psychology… some of the concepts you have to get your head around are really challenging”. 


“The result is I have just enough intellectual nous to look at each situation critically and always be able to connect & relate with people”.

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