How to get a job in events

Explanatory Articles 15 MIN READ

The below article was written by Johnny Palmer, founder and managing director of SXS in 2013. It has been edited and amended as of 2019 by Jordan Tomkins, senior project manager, to ensure it is up to date and relevant.

Events is one of the most desirable industries to be in right now. Unlike many professions, events are forever changing, every day is different, and it is difficult to be bored by the work. In a time when many people are stuck in the same environment doing the same repetitive task day in day out, a job in the event production sector is a very appealing prospect.

An events professional is often working in and even creating beautiful environments with talented people. Opportunities for working with famous people, trying exciting food and travelling the world are also a reality for the successful person. All while getting paid!

In my career I have designed and built lighting systems in forests, travelled to places like the French Alps, the Algarve and interesting places such as Armenia and Ukraine. The people I have worked with have been inspiring, colourful and from all walks of life and some of the food, drink and entertainment I have experienced has been awe-inspiring.

The events industry encapsulates a wide range of skills including creative design, technical design, people skills, salesmanship and commercial awareness. To reach the top of the game in the events industry requires you to have at the very least a basic understanding of all of these, as well as an in depth understanding of at least one. 

For the right type of person this can be the dream job. It can be job you can be proud of.

So how do you get a job is this utopic world?

First things first. While all of the above is true for the seasoned professional, achieving these things takes a long time and also has downsides, no matter what level you are at. At some stage in your career you will experience:

  • Unsociable hours
  • Late nights or nights where you don’t sleep at all
  • Working in harsh environments
  • High levels of responsibility
  • Difficulties having a "normal" social life
  • Difficulty balancing family life
  • High physical demands
  • Mental exhaustion

 

If any of the above scare you, it is likely that a successful career in events is not for you.

 

The reality of employment

This is not something they teach at school or university. For you to be paid a salary by a company, your work has to make that company many, many times the cost of your salary. While this is obvious for someone in a 'sales' or 'business development' role, it applies just as much to any other role.

If, for example, you want to work as a technician and earn £24,000, you will realistically need to do one or more of the following:

  • save the company that value
  • bring in sales to that value (unlikely in the role)
  • allow the company to do that value of extra work that it would not have been able to do without you

 

The big question you need to ask yourself is: "How am I going to do this for my employer so that they can justify paying me? Be honest with yourself.

When I am interviewing someone for a role I ask myself "can this person add enough value to the company to pay their wages, cover overheads, and leave some left to improve the company?"

 

Hygiene Factors

This is a really interesting concept. A 'hygiene factor' is basically something that, if missing is a massive problem and very obvious. But if it is present no one will notice it. A few examples of hygiene factors are:

  • Water - most of us are not grateful for water, but we would be very unhappy if we didn't get any for a week!
  • Mobile phone - these days we expect a phone signal wherever we go, and if we can’t use 4G it is very inconvenient.
  • Toilets at a restaurant - this one is pretty self explanatory.

 

In the case of getting a job you first need to sort out the hygiene factors of your employability. These are things that if lacking, will put an instant stop on your ability to get a job. These include:

  • Speaking well
  • Reading instructions and guidance
  • Spelling and grammar (more on this later)
  • Being polite and respectful to others
  • Good personal hygiene
  • Being neat and presentable
  • Punctuality
  • Reliability
  • Basic numeracy

 

Now, be honest with yourself: do you fulfill all of these? Really think hard about this. If someone walks into my office for an interview and fails on any one of these, I do not care how creative/talented/friendly/hard-working they are, they are instantly less likely to get a job. Even harsher is the fact that, if someone fails on one of these when submitting a CV, they may not even get an interview in the first place.

Any decent events company gets a lot of CVs through the door. We are looking to filter out the poor ones. The above factors are the easiest way of doing this.

 

Value Adding Skills

Now back to how you are going to help your employer justify your salary. To do this you need skills that 'add value' to the company. Adding value is anything that encourages a customer to spend more with a company, or encourages that customer to stay with that company.

 

These skills vary depending on the career path you want to take. But in events I would say that all of the following are things that EVERYONE in events should have at least some knowledge of (in no particular order):

  • Use of a CAD package
  • Catering methods and food service
  • Video signal types
  • Video format types
  • Connector and cable types for power, video, lighting etc
  • The main types of marquees and their benefits and limitations
  • Licensing laws
  • What a rider is
  • Basics of microphone types
  • Basics of types of lighting
  • Types of rigging
  • Colours - Pantone, RGB
  • Graphics - ESP, Vector, raster, JPG, Gif
  • Good IT skills
  • Basic photography skills
  • Basic videography skills
  • Use of CRM/email management systems

 

Some people might say "but I am a creative designer, why do I need to know about licensing?" Or "I am a Front of House Manager, what does rigging matter to me?"

To the creative designer I would say: "When you are sitting down in a production meeting and the fire officer asks whether you are using NDFR fabrics as this is part of the licensing conditions, are you going to be able to give a straight answer? Or are you going to a) make up something and look like a fool or b) ask what NDFR means and look incompetent?

To the FoH Manager I would say: "If you don't know anything about rigging you will get very frustrated if a rigger is seen moving tables to get truss into position. If you knew about rigging and the rigger appreciated your challenges, a quick and polite chat could avoid conflict."

 

Make Everyone's Life Easier

The first thing that is taught in management school is 'management exists when there is more work than one person can do'. This boils down to 'your job is to make everyone else's life easier'. 

This especially applies to people who are junior in the industry. When you are just starting out, you should do everything you can to make the lives of others easier. This can include, but is not limited to:

  • Be pleasant to everyone in the workplace
  • Make sure that all the jobs you are asked to do are completed
  • Tidy up after yourself
  • Tidy up after others
  • Always keep busy, if you think you don’t have anything else to do, ask, or tidy up!
  • Lend a hand when you see someone struggling
  • Create new jobs - look for new tasks that no one else has seen or done yet

 

Get Experience

No amount of training or reading articles like this one prepares you for the real world of work. To succeed you MUST have a lot of experience, and a wide range of experience. Helping out with your local theatre is great, as is working on a charity fundraiser. But if you keep doing the same thing again and again you are only getting a narrow set of experience.

Do not confuse 10 years of experience with ‘a year's experience, ten times over’. The difference here is that the former shows constant learning and development. The second one shows a narrow set of experience repeated over and over.

 

How to get experience

This is a hard one. The first thing to realise is that if you make mistakes in your work it could cost your employer a lot in financial or reputation terms. As such an employer is always taking a risk with new people. Here are a few ways of gaining experience:

  • Work for free - by being unpaid an employer does not need to see a high level of productivity to justify your wages.
  • Don't be fussy - every company has something to offer and their own unique experience and skills. By realising this, you will gain experience in a wider range of companies which gives you a better overview.
  • Look for companies with work experience programs - many companies are keen to encourage young event professionals and offer unpaid work experience. 
  • Do a placement/internship - if you can afford to, try and do a full-year placement with a company. Some of the best staff we have initially started on work placements. Placements are great as the reduced labour cost of an intern means the company can give opportunities to people it might not otherwise be able to.
  • Learn unique skills - by learning skills that are rare, you become more valuable. In particular I feel that 3D design and visualisation skills are lacking across the board in the industry.

 

Most of all, never think you are an expert! Anyone who thinks they are an expert is likely to stop trying to learn and therefore will very quickly not be an expert any more, if they ever were to begin with. 

 

If you are still interested in working in the events industry, reach out to us about our placement programmes and we may be able to help you get started.