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5 Tips For Grads Entering the Creative Field

graduationThe middle to end of June has always been a crazy month for the creative world. It is that time of year when recent college grads start to settle down and recent high school grads start prepping for their college and/ or career. In other words, the creative job market becomes flooded with talent, and job seeking becomes that much harder. Hopefully, through some common sense, skill and these tips, finding your job in the creative field will be a little less painful.

Design Your Resume
If you’re looking to be a designer, the first thing a potential employer should see from you is a designed resume. This is not to say you need graphics, but layout formatting will go a long way in separating you from your competition. The key is to make your resume clean, easy to read and relevant to the position you are applying for. If need be, have different versions of your resume, but try not to send out an all-digital resume for print position.

Show The Work You Want To Create
When you are looking for your first design job, your portfolio will most likely be all over the map, and even with portfolio-development classes, there is no guarantee that what you are showing is going to get you the job you want. A good rule is to show the type of work you are most interested in accompanied with your strongest designs. Do not show T-shirt designs if you have no interest in creating them for a living. The design gods have a strange sense of humor, and many times, the thing you don’t necessarily like the most in your portfolio is what you will get hired for.

Offer More Than Your Competition
If you get an interview with a company you really want to work for, do your homework. Learn all you can about what they do and how you can contribute to it. If you get interviewed for a graphic-designer position, but the company you are apply for does videos, if you know how to edit, mention it. Offering skills a future employee may not know you have could help them see a future in you. This, by the way, is a good “at interview ” conversation. The first step is getting the interview, and, in order, to do that you should be clear an focused on the job you are applying for.

Be Flexible
It is not easy for any creative to get a job, especially when you might have little to no experience. Keep in mind that because you know people who work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursdays with summer Fridays, does not mean that you will get that same deal. Be open to odd hours, holiday and weekend work. It could be the difference between getting some much-needed design experience and becoming a professional job seeker.

Be Humble
You and countless other grads are going into the same job market. Even if you were the best in your class, you will most likely not be the best person a human resource department will see. Be confident, but not egotistical. Saying things like “please” and “thank you” will go a long way in having a hiring manager remember you once you leave their office, but just to make sure don’t forget to send a thank you note.

~Originally written for @TalentZoo


The Lesson Art Schools Are Not Teaching

degreeRecently I attended an event that presented me the opportunity to meet with a variety of design students. Many of them were already graduated from accredited institutions, while some were entering into their senior years. The one thing all of these young soon-to-be professionals had in common was they were unaware of the value of their degree and what opportunities could come of it. So much so that by the end of the evening, I had a small group of future professional creatives asking me one of the most terrifying questions I as a designer/parent could face: “What kind of a job could my degree get me?”

As a professional creative, the thought that clear-cut career advice is not given out by art schools is unacceptable. The way I see it, there should be a pre-course that introduces students to the variety of degrees the school has to offer before they are accepted in to a program. At the end of their educational career, there should be a more in-depth course on how the creative industry has changed from the time they started to pursue their degree until their graduation date, and what it means for them and their future. During this course, an updated list of opportunities and resume recommendations based on a student’s career path should be presented.

As a parent, college is a financial burden we prepare for the best we can. When our sons and daughters decide they want to be a creative, they are entering into a field that is as volatile and subjective as it gets. Considering the cost of specialized degrees, shouldn’t parents and students alike call out educators for not properly preparing tomorrows creative for the professional world?

Colleges training creatives will argue that their objective is to help develop portfolios strong enough to land a position in the design world, and although many of them do just that, students should know how and where to apply for opportunities that will best suit their skill set upon graduating. One recent grad actually asked me what they could do with their graphic design degree in the real world. At first I wasn’t really sure I understood the question, but then the young woman proceeded to clarify her thought, “I know I can work for an agency, but do my opportunities end there?” How could you go to school for years based on a passion and not know how to make money off of it when you are done?

As we talked about a variety of media and industries a graphic design degree spanned, a crowd started to form comprised of others who were seeking the same answers. The general consensus was that schools are so busy trying to produce directors that they neglect to tell their attendees how to start the process of reaching that goal. Yes, there is a long, grueling road to any director title worth having, starting with what kind of work is it you actually want direct when the opportunity arises?

When I returned home from the event that sparked this whole creative education scandal now brewing in my mind, I started to reflect on my college experience and realized that this is not really a new problem facing students. I can specifically remember my college professors saying that their goal was to produce art and creative directors, but at no point did they tell us what was involved in reaching that goal. Even the strongest student portfolio may land you a job as a designer, but to graduate and enter the work force as an art director is almost unheard of.

So on the behalf of the creative industry and parents of art school students everywhere, I implore educators to prepare young creatives for the road ahead of them. A realistic look at what they will encounter should be viewed as valuable as a strong portfolio — because at the end of the day your work can only land you a job if you know who to show it to.

Creative Lessons Learned from “The Karate Kid” 

hipsterThere was a time that we were all starting out. In the creative industry, this time is crucial to a young designer’s style, which will hopefully carry him or her through their career. However, a new crop of designers is quickly learning that what they perceived as a perfect situation is not necessarily what they get in the real world.
It is true that some people have natural talent, but even those who are gifted only get better through exercising their craft. There is a process in which we all must take our lumps and go through the hard times to appreciate and be able to execute to the best of our abilities. Kind of like “The Karate Kid.” Did he want to wax the cars and paint the fence? No, but it was necessary for him to do so in order to get the result he wanted.
We are in an era now where the next generations of designers want things handed to them. From money to prestige, there is no limit to what they feel entitled to, but how can someone with little to no experience, request the same thing of someone with years of experience? The answer is simple: We created these individuals to believe they are worth more than what they are.
I believe the problem begins at a very young age with organized sports and other intramural activities. At some point, parents decided that listening to their crying kids was too much, so they started the “Everyone gets a trophy” movement, a gesture that would be the beginning of the overprivileged movement. So why wouldn’t these kids who have been rewarded for both mediocracy and failure the same way hard-working winners are expect the same treatment in the real world?
We’ve created little monsters. Their standard of success is lower of that of the generations that preceded them because their definition of failure is completely inaccurate. In many instances, our creative expertise comes from the reinventing of our failures, and much like “The Karate Kid,” we get better at what we do with each unpolished car that is parked before us. All motivation comes from a good ass kickin’, and when people are shielded from that, appreciating any victory is almost impossible.

Staying calm through deadlines

deadlinesAny deadline can make for a stressful situation, but for creatives, it is a little different. Unlike other office jobs, where most of the work is presented and has to be dealt with in a manner to complete a particular project, a creative usually has to rely on their imagination to get them through. And, as all creatives know, the mind does not necessarily deliver what we want it to and when we need it to.

Knowing this does not make the process any easier, and one of the biggest obstacles a creative can face is the self-manifested pressure of a looming deadline, which is compounded by the thought of, “How am I going to get through this?” It is this thought alone that can assure a deadline is missed or met, but there are ways to remove the panic factor and help the flow of creativity. For me, this starts with a list.

Even if you have someone to map out your priorities for you, making your own list is a good psychological practice. In my current position, I get each individual job request in its own physical folder. I can look over at the organizer on my desk at any time of day and see a thick stack of folders, which can not only come across as intimidating, but also create a lot of unnecessary stress. By making a handwritten list as to what each of those folders represent, I can now focus on the one sheet of assignments I have to complete for the day rather than the 20 folders they are housed in.

A mistake I used to make was talking about how much work I had to other coworkers. Once you mention such a thing out loud, you give it a life, and at that point you are not only making yourself verbally aware that you have a lot of work to get through, but you are now making your coworkers get involved in a conversation which will make them aware of how much work they have as well. If you feel you have the time to break away from your list of tasks, keep the conversations light or non-work related. Taking yourself out of a project for a minute has a way of refreshing your creativity and breathing new air into a room.

Aside from making a list and keeping the mood light in the office, I believe what works best for me when it comes to staying calm through a deadline-riddled day is to keep a realistic perspective on what is expected of you. Most of the time, clients and managers understand the capabilities of their team, and although conflicting schedules may make some deadlines way rougher than others, there is rarely a task a focused mind cannot accomplish. Complete things in the order in which they are needed, rather than find solutions for all things at once — which usually never happens.

~Originally written for @TalentZoo

Managing the Project

pmBeing happy in your work goes a long way in being happy in your life, and I am now open to the fact that there is a seed to a positive work environment. Although in the past I have primarily been against project managers, I am willing to admit that the right person for the job can make all the difference in the world. However, until recently, I have only ever worked with one project manager that knew their job well enough to keep the work moving smoothly, but that was so long ago that I had just about lost all of my faith in the position.

What I have found to be true over the years is that titles are a great incentive to get people on board for one task while making them think they are something completely different. For instance, a college graduate looking to make it in the advertising world may be reluctant to take on a personal assistant position, but if you re-label that job as something different, not only does it look good on a resume for the employee, it also gets the employer what they want as well.

However, in some rare circumstances there comes a job description for a project manager that actually covers the responsibilities of the position and even more uncommon situations, that description is actually the job of the person hired for it. So who is qualified for a position that decides the workflow of many other positions?  At my current job, the project manager was once a fellow designer.

Could there be a more perfect evolution to a career path for someone who has spent so much time at one company, because they love it, but at some point decided that they have reached every goal from the creative aspect they wanted to? I believe not. Imagine receiving scheduling direction from someone who had actually done the job in the past.

From the view of the designer, there is someone to know how much work you should be able to handle. There is also the ability to understand a client’s likes and dislikes through someone who has been there before you, which goes a long way in making the process go smoother. From the perspective of management, it helps to have someone who can communicate on the level of both clients and designers, as well as give realistic deadlines, as opposed to guessing how long a job should take which happens far too often with many other project managers I have encountered.

I am sure that my current PM is not the only good one in the industry, but this woman’s abilities in her position has made all of us better at our jobs, and in doing so, has created a less stressful, happier environment. In all fairness, maybe the deconstruction of the project manager position is caused by those in charge who feel that since these people communicate between so many people that they would make good personal assistants, abandoning the fact that project managers are to oversee a project’s success as opposed to an individual’s needs.

No matter the reason, success is based on the individual, and if you’re not sure of what all the pieces do, applying for the position that holds them all together is probably not the best career path, but that’s just my opinion.

My five steps to staying creatively relevant

5StepCreativeTrying to stay creative after being any place long enough is not always easy.  Let’s face it, we all have a style, and when designing for a specific company or brand over the years, there is a cycle that will repeat itself over time. However, there are ways to combat that repetitiveness and at least prolong the restart of the inevitable cycle, which could help in expanding your creative longevity. These are five tips that I have found helpful to stay fresh and relevant within a brand setting.

1)   Research
We are at a point where there is pretty much no stone left unturned. No matter what new or existing product you get assigned, chances are it exists in that exact form or at least in some variation. What this means for the designer is that some of your work is already done for you. This is not to say pick the best deign and run with it for your needs, but by researching the competition, you will have a better understanding of varied target markets, strategy scope and future directions. By understanding this data from a visual perspective, you will have the opportunity to break away from the existing expectations of an audience by amplifying what works to your benefit.

2)   Exploration of layout option
One way to assure a look gets stale fast is by being slave to a template. Because you may be required to adhere to a set of branding guidelines, you are not required to just recycle what someone has done before you as a creative, which is more of a production task. If you are a designer, it is your responsibility to offer new avenues of distributing information through your creativity. Always seek a variety of layout options for your clients, and save them all — they could come in handy in the future. I like to design six layout options as a starting point and see where the information takes me.

3)   The visual word
Just because words are the literal message, as opposed to the visual message designers are responsible for, does not mean that they should be neglected. A designer’s job is to hook the eye of a targeted individual. Copy is the essence of detail that a potential client needs to make their final purchasing decision. By pushing the boundaries of type, you are finding a way to draw your audience to the literal message. Always supply alternate type styles when possible in a presentation environment.

4)   Shake the rainbow
Color can be tricky, especially when a company may have an existing branded palette you are restricted to. Any color combination can be creatively presented by the adjustment of balance. By presenting colors through various assets, the entire mood of a design can be set. Experiment with type color, borders, text blocks and accents. Expand on what exists, and offer solutions with exaggerated options. The use of color experimentation alone can make a good project great.

5)   Reaction
After all the pieces are in place comes the most important factor in designing for creative functionality: Listening to your audience. What they say may not always be what you want to hear, but in the end, good commercial design is measured by the public’s reaction to it, not your personal preference. Listen to what your audience says about your work and adjust what needs to be accordingly. You are, after all, designing for a purpose, so be open to what your audience needs from you and give them what they want. In the end, your relevance to a project will still shine through.

~Originally written for @TalentZoo

Creative Co-Workers, Your Other Family

familyIf you are a professional creative, you know that there are many factors that can contribute to your success. Like everything in life, it is through a strong support group that helps determine our success. But unlike other fields, the creative industry is all too often a dysfunctional world that leads us to rely on our extended family members a little more than most career paths.

It is not that we creatives cannot be independent individuals in our craft, but to be truly successful in the creative world, especially in advertising, the best executions are team-built. In the midst of a campaign pitch through launch, chances are you will be spending more time with copywriters, art directors, creative directors, designers, programmers, freelancers and account reps than you will your own family. This can take a toll on your psyche after a while as hours turn into days and days turn into weeks, but as patience starts to dwindle the thing to remember is each of these people you are around is a cog in the process and with out them, the execution will falter.

That is not to say that, like in any family, there is a crazy uncle who shows up at an important event and tends to throw a wrench into the mix. His flailing around and knocking a dais table over is comparable to a mistake in the scheduling process, which could cause a creative team’s blood pressure to spike. The difference is with family, we have the luxury of not inviting that uncle to the next party in hopes that he will get upset and disappear until the next time he shows up to make a spectacle out of himself, where as coworkers are not so easily removed from our lives.

The fact of the matter is we have to work to live, and so do the people we are working with. Unfortunately, we cannot choose our families, and unless you are running your own business, you usually cannot choose your coworkers either. This is not to say that you cannot find another position if you are not truly happy, but the same players usually exist in every environment. Different people with the same traits exist in every aspect of our lives.

There is, however, a unicorn scenario: A perfect team is assembled comprised of a group who have all been through the same tribulations as you. In this rare instance, things tend to flow so easily until one of the team members leave, which opens a space for a contaminating factor to join the mix, such as the return of a creepy cousin you may not have heard from in years.

If you are lucky enough to marry into a perfect creative situation, respect your new family, and remember when things are not going the way you want them to, things could be a lot worse. There are always those companies that have no problems locking their employees under the stairs as a completely acceptable creative environment.

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