Life as an Actor – Agents and Auditions

It’s never too late… helps final-year Humanities students get advice from successful Exeter alumni, and showcases opportunities from the Careers Zone Actor Des Yankson graduated from Exeter with a degree in Drama in 1999. Des has appeared in many TV shows including Still Open All Hours (BBC), Cucumber (Channel 4) and Hollyoaks (Channel 4).  

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Des at work in BBC One’s ‘Still Open All Hours’

When I left Exeter I had no real idea what lay in store for me. I wanted to act, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. Fortunately, I secured an agent early on; they’re invaluable in helping you get work. They often have lots of contacts in the industry and get to hear of jobs through various means not available to actors.

However, securing an agent is tough, you need to either be recommended by somebody they know (and they respect, like a client or good friend) or you need to be in something that they’ve heard favourable reviews about or seen for themselves. You can get into a play for profit-share or head somewhere like the Edinburgh Festival (in August) or create your own projects that you can show to the agent (a showreel of your work). You should NEVER have to pay your agent upfront; they take a percentage from the work they secure for you. Not all agents take unsolicited CVs, so pick wisely. They’re always on the lookout for the ‘next big thing’ and that could be you. After you manage to get an agent, you may think it’ll be all plain sailing and that you’ll be at the Oscars within the year. But often, it takes a lot more work than that.

“Nothing beats telling your mum that you’re going to be on her favourite soap!”

You need a good relationship with your agent; after all, they’re working on your behalf and they’ll do a better job if they know you well. They’ll contact you when they have work, so days when you’re not working will be spent looking for work, or working as a temp. Temping is very flexible for actors and it tends to pay well enough to cover all bills. The downside is that you work often during the very times that most auditions are. Acting is a craft; you need to work at it and get better. As you progress, you’ll get better and better jobs which are higher and higher profile. This means that you need to be prepared for long periods of unemployment (from acting) and that when an opportunity arises you can focus on it completely. Acting is not a ‘part-time’ profession, but unless you’re rich you’ll need some form of part-time work. You need to pay for subscriptions, photos, travel to auditions as well as workshops and seminars.

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Opportunities are there for the taking. If you get a good audition, you need to grab it. Be punctual, learn the lines and be ready to do it more than once. And go in there with the belief that the job is already yours, it helps control the nerves. The majority of your acting life will be taken up with auditions. Personally I like them as you get a chance to play with new material and to meet new people. But lots of people think they’re nerve-racking and hate them. However, they’re a necessary part of the job, just be open to anything that’s said. After all, the casting directors want to finish their job by saying ‘I’ve found the actor we’re looking for’. But in the most part, they’re good fun, if you can relax. After all, if you can’t handle the pressure, then maybe acting isn’t the profession for you.

When you have work, it’s great because you’re in an industry that you love, working with people who are the very best at what they do, and you can often do things that people in other jobs can’t. It’s very exciting to work at your passion and also to be able to affect people with what you do. Nothing beats the rush from getting that all important job on TV, or when you meet someone really famous and then get to work with them, or telling your mum that you’re going to be on her favourite soap!

Start planing for your future and visit It’s never too late…

There’s No Success Like Failure

Careers Consultant, Tom McAndrew on putting things in perspective.

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

Winston Churchill

We're all made from stars
We’re all made from stars

We see many students around this time of year hitting the last stages of the graduate recruitment cycle. Some are ecstatic that they’ve been made an offer. Others are less so; after getting over the obstacles in their path, they’ve fallen at the final hurdle.

To nearly get there and not succeed hurts.

And it hurts quite a lot because you tried and tried and you didn’t get there. We encourage and console and urge them on but it still hurts. We tell them stories about students we’ve seen in similar positions who were finally successful, but we don’t think they believe us.

Remember to get all the help you need from Career Zone if you’re not being as successful as you would wish. Help with an application form, a mock interview, or a talk through assessment centres really can make all the difference.

You may also want to try the mindful approach.

When you go home tonight, open your bedroom window. Put your head out (please note I said open it first). Look up and see that sky strewn with countless stars. The benign indifference of the universe. If the moon is up, have a look. Marvel that Humankind has landed on it; in what was basically a tin can with less processing capacity than the laptop you’re probably viewing this on.

Big universe, little you.

“We are all of us in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

Oscar Wilde

Beyond the Stereotype; Careers in Recruitment

Nina Gordon is the Marketing Manager at SW6 Associates. She graduated from Exeter in 2011 with a BA in Politics and Sociology. She talked to us about personal growth, closing deals, and gaining invaluable skills.

Nina Gordon, Marketing, Branding and Communications Manager at SW6 Associates
Nina Gordon, Marketing Manager at SW6 Associates

When I left Exeter I swore I wouldn’t go into recruitment. I had a preconceived idea about it not being a real job, to this day I have no idea where the notion came from, but I know I wasn’t alone in this misconception.

Recruitment is often seen as an industry for people who couldn’t secure a role in a more ‘conventional’ career path, but what I’ve learned at SW6 Associates – the UK’s Leading Graduate Recruitment to Recruitment Specialist – is that aside from just the money (which is great) it’s also a fantastic career which offers just as much, if not more, in personal growth and transferable skills than many other roles.

The industry is a vibrant one: In the UK, the annual industry turnover is currently over £30 billion and is forecast to rise considerably over the next few years. It’s also an industry where candidates can move their careers forward at a pace unrivalled anywhere else. Recruiters operate in virtually all sectors of the employment market, so there’s always the possibility of finding and working in a sector that particularly interests you.

There’s a real thrill in closing a deal; not just because it earns us commission, but because it’s genuinely exciting. We win the business, find a candidate, take them through the interview process, and then finally they accept the job offer.  There’s an enormous satisfaction in owning that process. Even junior recruiters just starting out will be speaking to CEOs, sometimes in large corporate enterprises and FTSE 100 companies. This means gaining valuable communication and confidence skills, and learning a huge amount from intelligent people who are experts in their fields.

“There’s a real thrill in closing a deal; not just because it earns us commission, but because it’s genuinely exciting. We win the business, find a candidate, take them through the interview process, and then finally they accept the job offer.  There’s an enormous satisfaction in owning that process.”

You quickly learn how to handle difficult situations, communicate with people at all levels in their career, and get an insight into how businesses make decisions. From day one you begin building your own business within a business. I’ve developed invaluable skills in negotiating, prioritising and communicating.

It’s not all fun and games, and believe me you WILL want to throw the towel in on occasion. It’s a role where you’re dealing with people day in, day out, and people can be unreliable and frustrating. This job is tough: Investing time, effort and energy in every candidate you believe in only to be let down time and again is harder than you might think; you can do everything right and still not get a deal. However, eventually it does all click, and there’s a moment where everything becomes easier and you begin to really understand the recruitment process and your role in it.

Recruitment has allowed me to make a substantial dent in my student loan debts, move out of my parent’s house, visit nine countries in a year and a half, and spend way too much money in bars socialising with colleagues and friends. I’ve been taken to some of the top restaurants in London and been bought all the alcohol I could handle on Lunch Clubs. I’ve been take on a 5* holiday, and I’ve made friends for life in my current company, and among my clients and candidates.

I grew more as a person in one year in Recruitment than in three years at university and I’m definitely a more capable person in every aspect of my life. Recruitment isn’t easy, but it’s an incredibly rewarding job and I’d recommend it to anyone who isn’t afraid to take on a challenge, and put in a lot of hard work.

The main piece of advice I’d give to anyone looking to join the industry is to choose a company suited to you. In the last year alone 5,000 new recruitment agencies were created, so choosing which ones to apply to isn’t easy. Luckily, I’m exposed daily to the best companies in the UK, so I have faith in the Recruitment Industry’s ability to train, support and grow the next generation of top Recruiters.

As a University of Exeter Alumni I’m always happy to give advice and information to current Exeter students and recent graduates thinking about recruitment as a career. You can contact me at

Impress and Progress

Looking for graduate jobs after your studies can feel like a daunting experience, and with potentially thousands of applications streaming through their email inbox every day, you need to have a plan of attack to stand out from the crowd.

Matt Arnerich (left)  and Arthur Ashman, Head of Talent Development InspiringInterns
Matt Arnerich (left) and Arthur Ashman, Head of Talent Development at InspiringInterns

Matt Arnerich talked to Arthur Ashman, Head of Talent Development at graduate recruitment agency InspiringInterns, about his top tips for keeping your recruiter on side.

  • Have a Balanced Approach

If you get the chance to meet your recruiter in person or over the phone, it’s important to keep a balance between enthusiasm and politeness. ‘When we interview candidates we love them to have enthusiasm and a genuine passion’ Arthur says, ‘but it’s important this doesn’t spill into arrogance’.

According to Arthur, it’s important you remain humble, while coming across as confident and professional. ‘At the end of the day, we have to know that you’ll shine when we put you forward in front of our clients, and if you can impress us, we know that you’ll impress them’ explains Arthur.

  • Honesty Really is the Best Policy

When you’re first entering the job market, it’s tempting to exaggerate your work experience or grades. While you might think you’re bypassing certain filters, it will always damage you long-term.

‘We do thorough research on all the graduates we decide to put forward for roles, and the chances are we will find out if you’ve been misleading on your CV’ says Arthur. It can be damaging for their reputation to pass on candidates to clients who then find their interviewee has been misleading.

‘If we find out you’ve not been truthful, it’ll damage your chances far more than if you’d been honest to begin with, as we can’t take the risk of putting you forward to the clients,’ explains Arthur.

‘When we interview candidates we love them to have enthusiasm and a genuine passion.’

  • It’s Not All About You

This is an important tip, not just for how to keep your recruiter on side, but how to impress potential employers looking to hire a graduate. It’s easy to focus on the skills and experience that you have, but really, your focus should be squarely on how those skills will benefit your employer.

‘If you have a huge range of diverse skills, but can’t equate them to how they’ll aid the company, then employers are unlikely to be interested’ says Arthur, ‘in essence, we’re a sort of gatekeeper to our clients, we only want to let the best through, but if we think you’re good enough we have a lot of authority as we have a direct line to interested companies’.

  • Email Etiquette is Important

When you move into the graduate jobs world, you’ll inevitably be faced with daily email duties, whether internally or getting in touch with prospective and established clients. ‘You need to make sure you’re professional in your email exchanges with us’ Arthur is quick to point out, ‘please don’t be over-friendly, as it just comes across as insincere’.

Arthur suggests using the recruiter’s name wherever possible, and avoiding ‘mate’, ‘pal’ or other colloquial references. ‘Finish off with Regards or, Kind Regards instead of Cheers’ he explains, ‘and please double check your spelling and grammar before you hit the send button!’.

  • Never No Show

‘We don’t mind if you’ve got another opportunity’ says Arthur ‘but please let us know as soon as possible’. Simply not turning up reflects incredibly badly back on them, Arthur says, and therefore increases the chance they won’t want to work with you anymore.

Even though it’s tempting to jump at the chance of a more attractive opportunity, don’t schedule it at the same time as an existing commitment unless you have to. ‘Companies will normally have no problem provided you explain that there’s a scheduling conflict’ according to Arthur, ‘in fact, you’re likely to come across as a stronger candidate if they know they’re not the only one interested in you.’

Internships; Get Proactive, Get the Job

Maxine Johnson is in her Fourth Year at Exeter, studying BA Politics, German and Chinese. She talked to us about her internship with global law firm Baker & McKenzie in Hong Kong, and the impact it had on finding a graduate job.

Maxine (centre) and intern colleagues at Baker & McKenzie, Hong Kong
Maxine (centre) and intern colleagues at Baker & McKenzie, Hong Kong

So how did you find your internship?

I found it through my Career Mentor, Susan Kendall, who I networked extensively with through my First and Second years at Exeter. We Skyped regularly, obviously she’s based in Hong Kong, and I got put in touch with the graduate recruitment team who then enabled me to apply to their summer internship programme.

What was the application process like?

It was actually quite standard; I had to send a CV and covering letter to recruitment, but my mentor already knew I had a strong interest in commercial law from Skyping her. Graduate recruitment rang me and asked a couple of questions, and then we had quite a few phone calls regarding visas and that sort of thing.

What kind of work did you do for them?

I turned up on my first day as a non-law student at a law firm expecting to be given just general making tea and coffee tasks; it was definitely not like that at all. I went straight in and sat-in on client phone calls and meetings, and attended court sessions with the solicitors. I was shown the Law Library with no explanation of how to use it; they said ‘Maxine go and find this area of particular insurance law and come back with the exact legal wording of the definition. To which I said ‘ok, that’s fine I’ll do that’. And I did. It was all commercial law based, but I was in the dispute resolution team, so that covered a wide variety of areas such as fraud, insurance, and employment law.

“I could get what I wanted from the internship; if I wanted to stay longer hours and do more work, which I did because I loved it, then I could.”

So it wasn’t quite like you expected?

Not at all. I genuinely wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to help them, never having studied law. Although I did do a 3 week law course here at Exeter before I went which taught me some basic legal knowledge that was incredibly useful. I could get what I wanted from it; if I wanted to stay longer hours and do more work, which I did because I loved it, then I could do, but there was no obligation to do that. I was working on real-life cases, often for big-name firms, but at the same time you had to be proactive, you did have to go and say ‘I haven’t got any work to do right now, can you give me something to do?’ And if they say no, then you go and ask someone else.

Do you think your internship helped you get your graduate job?

Absolutely, I 100% believe that. I’ve got a Training Contract offer with Clifford Chance who find the fact that I got the internship almost as impressive as the work I did while I was there. Being able to talk about my experiences not only helped with the application form, video interview, and 3-day assessment process, but also proved I had a real understanding of and interest in the work.