10 Tips for Creatives Beginning Their Careers

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I recently enrolled in the Video/Multimedia program at Portland Community College to increase my skill set, and one of the required classes was “Market Yourself as a Multimedia Professional,” which was about developing one’s website, business cards, basically all things personal branding. Since I had already developed my own years ago, and since I have been a professional creative in the field for a few years, the professor asked me to give professional advice to the rest of the class. I ended up writing quite a bit, and I figured I would share it here in case anyone else finds it useful.


10 Tips for Creatives Beginning Their Careers

1. Be open: 

  • To learning new tools (If you think you’re done learning, you’ve lost the game of life),
  • To trends in your chosen creative field
  • To making adjustments when what you’re doing isn’t showing you the results you want
  • To jobs at companies that you would have never thought you’d want to work at

I know some of us have a company they’ve always wanted to work for, but if you hold on TOO tight to that, you might miss awesome opportunities. I really wanted to do design work for the Oregon Zoo, but if I focused on that too much, I would have never gotten the job I have now, which might not be a company anyone has “always wanted to work for,” but has far and away been the best job I’ve ever had. Plus, (cynicism coming) a lot of the time, those  “always wanted to work for” companies know they’re in high demand, which can create power imbalances between employee and employer (I mean, we’re in America, so that imbalance is ALWAYS there, I just personally like to minimize those imbalances when I can).

2. VOLUNTEER. Even better, volunteer your specialized skills. Offer to film something for a non-profit, or do their website, or whatever. Not only will you be giving back, you’ll be gaining professional experience.

3. HOWEVER… Don’t work for free. To put it another way, don’t let people profit off of your labor without compensating you. Volunteering is different because you’re choosing to give your time. Be wary of people who offer to pay you in ‘exposure’ (Interesting point, people die of exposure). Be familiar with the labor laws surrounding internships (Linky link to said labor laws). There are a lot of companies that have been exploiting unpaid internships as a source of free labor, but that is illegal. Some companies are being jerks, but some organizations might honestly not know better. A good rule of thumb is if they’re turning a profit (or plan to), they should be paying you. Another reason to make sure you’re compensated is that there is this phenomenon that happens sometimes where if a client or organization isn’t compensating you for your work, they don’t value it.

4. You may have heard to ignore traditional job boards and job application pools, or even be aggressive and jump proper channels (e.g. contacting managers directly) when applying for jobs. It is my opinion, that you shouldn’t discount any avenue for applying for a job. Don’t stop applying to things through websites. Definitely apply to jobs using the tactics he suggested, too, because some places like that visible hunger, BUT for some organizations, applying through normal channels is the very first test of a potential candidate because it shows whether or not they can follow instructions.

5. Networking really is valuable. It’s not impossible to find a job without it (I personally did). But let me tell you, it was a slow process. Do yourself a favor and just make yourself get used to it.

6. Before you get a job being an awesome creative, you need to be good at cooperating. Punctuality is awesome. No one cares how awesome your design is if it comes in the day after it’s needed. Treat people with respect. Treat yourself with respect (but don’t be arrogant). Like Cole said, you can’t really teach someone to be a nice person. Also, remember personal hygiene. This seems super basic, but (speaking from experience), I’ll take a mediocre teammate over an awesome teammate I can’t be in a room with.

7. Freelancing sounds awesome, and I think it’s great for side money. If you have the discipline to stay on top of yourself and work habits, are great at networking for new business, and can deal with your income not being fully reliable, then maybe being a full-time freelancer is for you. But you need to be honest with yourself. If you’re having a hard time getting your schoolwork done by the due dates and are a chronic procrastinator, then you might be the type of person who works best with a boss or manager (and there is nothing wrong with that!).

10. Be prepared to do work you don’t like. Sometimes the client/boss wants their logo in lime green Comic Sans. Yes, they should listen to those with training and expertise, and you should stand by your creative decisions to a point and do your best to educate your clients/bosses, but at the end of the day, they ‘sign your check’. I’ve seen creatives burn out really quickly because they weren’t prepared for this, and were disappointed to not always working on cutting-edge projects. Also, when the project is done, you still get to choose what goes in your portfolio or reel. Future clients don’t have to know that the client passed on it.

9. Luck. Never forget about the element of luck. There are things you can do to improve your luck, but luck is still at play. That is not to say you shouldn’t take responsibility and slack off, but it is entirely possible to work REALLY hard and still fail. Failure is a part of life. But remember, “this thing we call “failure” is not the falling down, but the staying down.”

10. Be a whole person. A company or client might be interested in your skills, but they are looking to hire a person. Find non-profession things to be interested in. Interested is Interesting. If you want, you can try to tie those interests into your profession. Sometimes having a niche can be a boon to your job search.