People often envision the life of a creative like this: First you put your blood, sweat, and tears into building up a portfolio of work. Then you struggle endlessly to find a job, let alone one that pays enough to make a living. And, to be fair, it is hard to find a creative job. But that has a lot more to do with how we go about finding and applying to opportunities, and less to do with a lack of work available. Don’t worry, there’s a better way. I know, because I’ve lived it.
Below, you’ll find my guide of what not to do, written by someone (me) who went from being an absolute unknown in the industry with no experience, no portfolio, and no connections to an award-winning copywriter who’s working for herself and regularly turning down projects. I made these mistakes first-hand so that you don’t have to. Take these tips. Absorb them. Use them to forge your creative path forward.
1. You’re following traditional resume and cover letter rules.
I landed my first creative job by drawing a comic strip instead of writing a cover letter (and no, I can’t draw well). And once I sent pizzas with my resume taped to the inside of the box to a top-tier NYC ad agency. I didn’t get the job, but I got the interview, even with no relevant experience and a portfolio of spec work. I’ve seen everything from choose-your-own-adventure video formats to flip books in lieu of a traditional cover letter and resume.
Think about it: if you were reviewing upwards of 100+ candidates, would you rather read another templated introduction in size 12 Times New Roman or watch a video filled with style, personality, and creativity?
Even if you’re not ready (or you don't think it's appropriate) to create an epic music video or a work history pop-up book, you can still get creative. Make all of your materials branded, cohesive, and attention-grabbing. You’ll hear back from potential employers in no time.
2. You’re not immersing yourself in your craft.
When someone wants to improve their writing skills, what do they do? Read more (and write more). Whatever your craft is, you need to constantly immerse yourself in it. The reason for this is two-fold. One, it will help you get the job. Knowing industry trends and buzzwords isn’t going above and beyond; it’s the standard. Two, it will help you keep the job. The more media and inspiration you consume, the more valuable you become in brainstorms. There’s always something you can riff off of or remix a project. Being a brainstorming powerhouse will keep you in demand with colleagues and clients alike. Imagine opportunities coming to you, instead of you courting them. It’s not as unattainable as you think!
3. You’re not networking.
Yeah, yeah, we all hate networking. The painful small talk, the even more painful elevator pitch. Well, it’s time to get over all the excuses, because if you don’t network, your circle can’t grow. We’ve all heard the phrase “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” In creative industries, that statement is truer than any other field I’ve seen.
So much of a creative position depends on personality and fitting into an existing team. Each addition or subtraction to the group completely changes the dynamic. So, put yourself out there and find your tribe.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that networking doesn’t have to look like corporate speed dating with stuffy attire and stale business cards. Here in Houston, for example, we have a group called Cocktails with Creatives that feels more like catching up with old friends (who you don’t know yet). Check out your area and look for similar meet ups.
4. You’re not spending enough time on personal projects.
We’re all busy. We live in a culture where busy is celebrated and even expected. But remember what we talked about earlier with standing out? In a sea of designers, photographers, animators, writers, and producers, you can set yourself apart with a passion project that stokes your fire.
My then-side-hustle as a plus size fashion blogger—and not my copywriting prowess—has helped get me at least two jobs. I’m fairly shy upfront and, admittedly, not the most awesome interviewer (hello, nerves). But if you get me talking about my blog, my entire demeanor shifts. Creative recruiters and management want to see that you can get fired up about your craft. Also, having that personal outlet unlocks so much opportunity to stretch yourself and broaden your skills. Think of it as the craft-based version of dressing for the job that you want, and not the one that you have. I went from unknown writer to winning four awards this year alone!
5. You’re trying to fit what you think companies are looking for.
Don’t forget: There’s a difference between playing to your audience vs. pandering to them. Do put your most creative self forward. Do lean into similarities you share with the interviewer or company culture. Do dress in a way that makes you feel confident. But don’t create a new persona because you think it will help you get hired.
Even if it does, you don’t want to start a new position with a facade that you created just to get your foot in the door. Otherwise, you might find yourself having to pretend you really do enjoy craft beers or wear glasses or have an accent (I’ve truly seen it all). And in the long run, putting on that mask is going to leave you feeling unfulfilled. So, as cliche as it sounds, just be yourself.
There are so many people who want to score a job in a creative field. I know that the competition is tight. But with a few small tweaks to your search strategy (yes, there’s a science to this), you’ll enjoy a much more receptive response to your career pursuits.
A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.
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