1. Hiring and Engagement with Regular and New Artsits
March for the Arts heard a lot from our community about poor practice in this area.
Common problems included:
not hearing back after application;
not hearing back after interview;
being told to hold availability indefinitely and not being informed when roles were no longer available;
finding roles announced publicly before receiving private notice;
over complicated application processes and feeling cut out of opportunities.
On the other hand, our community of organisations, small and large, voiced their struggles to administrate fast turn arounds on projects, reach new communities, pull freelancers out of city centres and balance loyalty to regular freelancers while reaching out to new employees. Freelancers had a great deal of sympathy for this, understanding that the arts sector is often based on networks, close relationships, tight budgets and fast paced work.
We face a dilemma when it comes to hiring. Our community wants to open the gates and share opportunity at the same time as maintaining regular relationships. The balance is not impossible though. Along with our Arts Freelancers for hire profile directory; and our plans for creative networking events; we have tried to provide practical guidance here that will encourage fair treatment for established freelancers, but also openness and opportunities for new artists and those who have faced barriers.
“You can feel like you’re having things done to you, rather than with you”
Be transparent and honest
Keep in touch
Hiring is part of the work, don’t miss it in planning and budgeting
Treat people with respect and offer real opportunities
Record and review regularly
1.1 Organisations should be clear about who they are looking for when they are hiring, and why they are looking for that specific person.
The person specification should be detailed. Think about being specific about diversity and inclusion too.
1.2 Organisations should carefully consider where they are advertising their roles.
It might be appropriate to pay a consultant in order to advise on how to reach a particular demographic; or simply spend more time and resources on community engagement - reaching out to different communities to build connections and relationships.
1.3 It is good practice for organisations to reflect on how their role advertisements or call outs could exclude people from wanting to apply.
Can work around diversity and inclusion be done to improve and/or eliminate this?
Keeping the application process manageable will help, freelancers have detailed CVs but are often asked to spend time completing additional forms and submitting lengthy answers. Organisations should consider whether they can, in fact, get all the information they need from a CV and short cover letter.
1.4 Organisations should build in time to properly administrate their chosen recruitment process.
Provide appropriate levels of feedback for applications, particularly if a candidate’s application skills or understanding of the application process has put them at a disadvantage.
It is not always appropriate to give full and detailed personal feedback to unsuccessful candidates and some freelancers may not benefit from this. However, it is not acceptable to provide no response at all to applicants - or an ‘if you haven’t heard from us’ rejection tactic.
Lack of time or person power cannot be an excuse - cover hiring processes with planning and budgeting. Be realistic and communicative with time periods for getting back to people.
To improve communications, organisations must commit resources and staff time to recruitment.
1.5 Organisations should be clear and upfront about hiring processes; freelancers will allow for flexibility, if this is communicated clearly.
Provide updates throughout the process, if things are delayed let applicants know, set a date for a decision to be made, provide contacts for applicants and allow for accessible applications.
1.6 Freelancers should take responsibility to get in touch if they haven’t heard back from an organisation.
Mistakes are made and sometimes administrative errors are genuine, freelancers should feel comfortable double checking if they have not heard back about a role.
High competition and poor hiring practice has damaged freelancers’ confidence in communicating about roles, but they should also take the initiative in fixing this communication breakdown.
1.7 Avoid ‘open calls’ unless they are in good faith - genuine opportunities that are paid, well communicated and properly administrated.
Trust has been lost amongst the freelance community, particularly in the performance sector, around open calls and their use for publicity purposes and lack of proper administration. Always ensure that a paid role is actually there to be filled if you are advertising it, be specific about what you are looking for and who will be genuinely considered.
Organisations should move away from the idea that they are providing a service by giving someone the ‘opportunity’ to apply for a role, this is only the case if the opportunity for work is genuine.
1.8 Organisations should commit to and follow through on their hiring processes and decisions should be made by more than one person.
Often nepotism occurs when one person is responsible for a decision and they have no one they need to explain themselves to. If you are hiring alone, consider bringing in support for the process.
Inviting a candidate for an informal chat is not an appropriate hiring process. If it is informal, keep it that way. Be clear if the freelancer needs to prepare. Don’t ambush freelancers with job interviews.
1.9 Communicate and agree on appropriate lengths for availability checks.
Organisations should be clear about how long you want a freelancer to hold availability for, and freelancers should be clear about how long they are able to hold availability for. Equally, in a more formal application process, a deadline for decision making should be assigned and kept to.
1.10 Organisations should commit to hiring new freelancers, recording and reviewing their freelance hires.
A regular review of freelancers hired would be good practice to ensure that loyalty with regular freelancers is being balanced with outreach to new hires. It is good practice to keep internal records of freelance staffing.
1.11 Organisations could develop transparent policies about how to become an ‘associated artist’.
The regular freelancer or associated artist spot is often shrouded in mystery, because the way organisations meet and develop relationships with artists and freelancers is incredibly varied, often built on years of collaboration, mutual support and payment in kind; and sometimes random chance.
Some clear guidelines and pathways would tackle the temptation to simply choose artists who are friends or just regularly ‘present’, rather than on merit, while enabling freelancers to take proactive steps in building relationships with organisations that they would like to work with.
1.12 It is good practice for organisations to keep up to date with emerging and under-utilised talent.
Commit to following the work of your local community. Attend festivals, fairs, exhibitions, fringe events, student showcases and graduations shows.
1.13 If appropriate, do simple things to share publicity and reward applicants.
Add, follow, like and share applicants’ social media channels even if they don’t make the cut. A large organisation's support can mean a lot and it costs nothing. A simple follow isn’t necessarily an endorsement, just a way to keep up with your community. Freelancers will probably return the favour and your relationship with the applicant is likely to remain positive. Later, larger gestures of support can come from developed relationships.
1.14 Communicate with regular freelancers about your plans, whether you are re-hiring them or not.
Where appropriate relationships can be maintained with basic updates.
Of course, It’s ok to not re-hire a freelancer, but they can often be left without feedback from a job - assuming that the reason they have not been re-hired is that they were disliked, or that their work wasn’t good. In reality, this is often because an organisation wants to reach out to new artists and audiences, has changed focus or is working on a different kind of project.
Consider having a staff member dedicated to outreach and recruitment.
As a guide, the level of feedback should reflect the time and effort applied to the application process. A series of interviews, for example, should elicit some detailed feedback, where a yes or no answer would be adequate for a CV share.
There might be a dedicated team member who develops new relationships or seeks out new talent. The organisation may simply open its doors more often for open days or networking events.
Organisations could consider communicating with regular freelancers about their upcoming projects and being open about the directions they have chosen to go in even if they will not be re-hiring them. This will probably foster engagement and avoid bad feeling.
If you don’t want your organisation to be associated with a freelancer simply don’t do this. Do make the effort to follow the activities of those who follow yours, so that you can make an informed decision about whether to share support