I wrote this after hearing Wendy Wade, principal of Weswen Design talk to some of the designers I supervise. There is additional information here that I have picked up over the years especially from Helen Nafziger.
Well, this is what I would do if I were getting out of college right now, and needed a job.
- Know your industry. Know who are the players, the fakers and the legit teams. This is your roadmap, without it you are lost! You need to know everything that touches that industry, and who gets affected by it. If you are a graphic designer, you need to know some printers, illustrators and photographers. If you are planning to do photography, know your camera supply stores, printers, web developers and a make-up artist.
- Know yourself. You are about to graduate from college or hopefully a prestigious program. The university name is one thing, the person is another. In the creative realm, a school can be a great crutch but you still need a competent person running the show. What kind of creative are you? Print, web etc. What kind of place do you want to work in? Small or corporate? Do you like fast paced or pedestrian? Team player or solo act? What are your strengths (shameless plug for StrengthsFinder 2.0)?
- Location, Location, Location… It does not only apply to real estate! Where you choose to work will also decide what opportunities will emerge for you. Are you going to be hired as an intern, or an associate? In most cities, the big firms are stacked and are looking for more seasoned creatives. You might get stuck fetching coffee. In a small town, you could get a job title but sacrifice the salary.
- Be selective. You might feel the need to apply to a list of agencies, but step back for a minute and concentrate on the ones you like, gel with or you have some kinship with. You will spend so much energy creating generic materials to send to all these firms and researching generic answers to questions you might be asked, while you would be better served preparing for a few top choice options (two).
- Research your top choices. Know everything about them. Have an opinion about them. Know their strengths and their weaknesses, know the CEO, and the administrative assistants… hell, if you know the mail clerk they might be impressed. Be familiar with their principles, who they recently hired, former clients and present clients, news about them, awards and how long most employees stay at their agency.
- Ace your interview. If you get to have one, rock it! A good portfolio will rarely save an awful interview. You need to relate and combine all the above elements to make sense of how you present yourself to your prospective employer. Don’t fake it, be yourself, you have done this all your life and you are your own premier authority. Do not paint yourself as someone you are not, because it could get you in trouble. Dress nice too, creatives sometimes feel exempt from this but I think it is key to look sharp. You dont want to make any assumptions during an interview. Ask for clarification when unsure, explanations when you do not understand terms and say only what is needed.
- Outstanding resume and portfolio. Most resumes get you through the door. Good interviews keep you in the boardroom and a solid portfolio will calm nerves, if not excite them. These are your bread and butter, but they require you have a solid interview first. Remember the job you are applying to and provide them with a relevant resume. Put work you are proud of in your portfolio. Talk about it and let them know why you think it is great or outstanding. If you leave it up to them to ask all the questions you may never get a chance to tell a story about your work.
- Ask your potential employer relevant questions. This is one time when you get to start building a rapport with the people interviewing you. If it is a job search and you are candidate No. 5, they are probably tired of hearing the same answers… You could be the breath of fresh air, that allows them to break from this monotonous cycle. You can also tactfully gain some insight into who these people are.
- Leave a business card. The most reliable marketing tool has not changed in years. It is reliable, small and your potential employer is guaranteed to have a spot for it in their office. This small card is very accessible and is a constant reminder to the services you offer. If they need you, they might not take their time searching the pile of paper on their desks for a resume, but if there is a business card, they probably have it in their rolodex.
- Social Media/ Email/ Phone etc. There are so many of these you could use but generally you want a creative way to say thank you or acknowledge that you just met with these folks about to give you the job. You want to thank them for meeting you without being over the top, but remaining memorable. Something as simple as, “Great meeting you all today.” would go much further than nothing. It is worse to say nothing than to engage. Once, a candidate sent in zucchini bread. It got her the job!
I hope this helps you land a lucrative job soon.
Update: I had a job search experience that dragged on for a while and I started to loose faith in the very things I had written. Weirdly, it was working for everyone else but me so I thought I should add a few things about my experience in that dark time. First things first, the job search is a hard process. Please be prepared to look longer than you anticipated. I am going to concentrate on a few things you should do if things are dragging on longer than expected.
- Ask for someone else to look at your CV or resume: If it has been a while since you dusted these documents, you may have to have someone else look at them. Sometimes during the search, you have so many voices in your head and so much going on that you forget that you need some unbiased perspective. I will warn you, you will hear some things you do not like and some that you do, but keep an open mind and give it a few weeks and then look at all the comments you got. Change is not so bad, especially if it gets you a starter job.
- Let your friends know you are looking for a job: Yup, put it on Facebook and LinkedIn! You never know what will land at your feet. A silent job search is like dancing with your shoes stuck to the floor on one spot. Once you put yourself out there you tell the world that you are ready to work because most employers maybe have not had time to list the job that they want filled. I say friends here because in my experience they have a vested interest in your success but family is great too if they are willing to help. So let Grandma know you are looking for a job, you never know, she might know the CEO’s dad and will put in a good word for you.
- Get a project to take your mind off the extended job search: Yes! Do this, build a table or take a trip or do some community service. When you have been searching for forever, you start getting depressed and moody when things are not going your way. Sometimes a change of scenery and a sense of accomplishment candy wonders for you and your aura. I know I have never hired someone i thought would be Grouchy Scroudge. Its also a talking point for your interview because I can bet you they will ask you what you have been doing all this time!
- Keep and open mind to other opportunities: In some cases things will not work out like you thought they would. A friend or family may want you to work for their law firm or the local laundry-mat, keep an open mind and do your best wherever you land. it might end up being your new career or you will meet someone who will eventually help you get to your desired career. So sign up to be that Starbucks barista, or work on a farm. It all helps you achieve something and get you doing something that engages your mind or soul. My buddy Sarah, had been looking for a job for a year and ended up working as a florist. She is very good at it but it was a hard transition. She loves how much happiness she brings people, ironically in her dream job she would have been making students happy!
- Take a day for yourself every week: This saved my soul! I chose Wednesday and to this day Wednesday is my free day. Please do not even think of touching your resume or anything related to your job search, unless of course its a call asking you to come in for an interview! This free day is wonderful to rejuvenate your mind, perspective and approach. I took long walks, did some photography, binge watched New Girl, cooked and even got time to play with the puppies. Everyone needs time to reflect and recharge the batteries. I chose not to have it on a weekend because thats when most people had their downtime and you need to engage them.
If you have any more tips just leave a note below…