Ah, the life of a creative. People envision it like this: 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 being 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.
You want a creative job, right? Well, it’s time to get creative. These common missteps are holding you back.
I landed my first creative job by drawing a comic strip instead of writing a cover letter (and no, I can’t draw – not even a little bit). I once 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. Don’t believe this works? Enter, Exhibit A:
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, well, creativity?
Even if you’re not ready 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.
When someone wants to improve their writing skills, what do they do? Read more. Whatever your craft is, you need to constantly immerse yourself in it – writers gonna write, designers gonna design, bloggers gonna blog (I can hear a creative version of “Shake It Off” forming in my head as I write this).
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!
Yeah, yeah. We all hate networking. I know. The small talk, the elevator pitch, the names – oh my goodness, the names. Well, bad news. It’s time to get over all of the excuses, because if you don’t, 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 meetups!
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.
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.
Sarah-Jane Morales is a plus size fashion and lifestyle blogger based in Houston, who has been featured on Buzzfeed and Bustle. Join 60,000+ others who look to her weekly style, career and real life tips via her website, SarahJaneReign.