My guide to searching for a job in the creative industry

It’s been a long, painstaking process but I have FINALLY got a job – with digital strategy and design company Made by Many, one of NMA’s Ones to Watch. I’m extremely happy because really, I don’t think I could have asked for a better place to work or better work to do.

I thought it would be useful to share my experience because mine wasn’t the typical road to a job. (While on the topic, some other relevant posts on the topic that are worth reading are by Asi Sharabi, Nathan Burke and Jerome Courtial). I was looking for a job in what can be argued was not the best scenario – not only did I have to fight the fact that the economy was in a shambles and most agencies were losing clients, but I was in the difficult situation of neither being a fresh graduate nor a senior-level hire, which were the two levels most people who WERE hiring, were hiring at. In addition, I was trying to shift from client-side to agency-side.

I’ll try my best not to make this too long-winding a post, but I have a feeling that I won’t succeed! Here goes:

Have a blog. For a non-creative (‘creative’ not as in quality but designation), that is what is going to act as your portfolio – it will function as a record of how you think and the kinds of things you are interested in. There were plenty of people I had chats with that said that they’d seen my blog and thought it was interesting. It’s way better than sending a CV and cover letter, which I am convinced most people barely look at, no matter what they say.

Know what kind of agency you want to work at – a big agency behemoth or a small personalized agency environment. The big names will give you the ‘brand’ on your CV, the smaller ones are likely to give you more solid work. There is no right or wrong here, it’s completely your call. I’d already worked with Nike, a big brand, and by the time I spoke to about 10 big agency people, I got the feeling that I would be better off in a small agency, which is where I then started concentrating my efforts.

Don’t sell yourself short. I had a few years of decent experience in my belt and I wanted to make sure I went to a place where it counted. If you interview at a place that thinks your past experience is worthless because it wasn’t agency-side, then there is no guarantee that they will treat you with respect later. Also, it doesn’t say much about their willingness to take chances, and therefore as a company it doesn’t say much about their willingness to be innovative and produce truly cutting-edge work. Or at least that’s the way I saw it.

Be prepared for people you’re in contact with at agencies you’re speaking to, to move on or move to different roles as you are speaking to them. No less than three people moved to different agencies and one went on a sabbatical while I was in contact with them. It is slightly frustrating, but you have to work with it. People in sales or business development have to face it all the time.

If a representative of an agency is rude to you, ask yourself if it’s the kind of place you’d want to work in. Two people who answered the phone when I called to speak to people at those agencies were outright hostile on the phone. I didn’t feel I lost anything when they didn’t work out.

Asi said this in his post, Amelia mentioned it to me briefly early on and when I spoke to Eaon Pritchard, who moved from Weapon7 to Geronimo, he said it as well. I’ll modify it a bit based on my experience: if you do not have at least 2 years pure agency experience, do not bother going to a headhunter. One headhunter put it pretty succinctly to me: their clients do not want to pay them fees for people without a specific amount and type of experience. Also, headhunters, perhaps by virtue of their training, are examples of the kind of people who see absolutely no value in any other kind of work experience you may have already. Plus, if I may say so, most don’t treat you very well. However, in the week after I finally got my job and was waiting to officially start work (I don’t know whether it was divine providence), three headhunters finally responded to the calls and emails I’d been making to them for weeks. Unfortunately for them, they were too late.

I came across four kinds of agencies in my search. It will do you well to slot the places you’re scouting into one of these categories so that you know where you stand early on. a) agencies who like you and that you like, but who are not hiring at that particular time b) agencies who like you but you don’t like c) agencies who you like but not vice-versa and d) agencies who like you and that you like, AND are hiring at that moment. It goes without saying that you should focus only on category four.

 As Charles wisely said to me, insane networking is key. I went to almost every networking meeting I could find (warning: when I say ‘networking’, I don’t mean bug people there to give you a job): Likemind, Tuttle Club, She Says, Geek Dinners. You’ll meet lots of interesting people who may put you on to someone who could help. Even otherwise, it’s always useful to learn about different things and just stay in the know. It opens your mind and makes you interesting, which leads me to the next point.

Be interested, and that will make you interesting. Note that you can’t force yourself to be interested in things you are not, but by virtue of wanting to work in a creative industry, I hope you are interested in more than, say just one kind of music or one author. I wrote a post about how, after months of doing a range of things that I genuinely thought were interesting, I wasn’t getting a job. Jonathan Salem Baskin left a comment to that post that I think is worth quoting here:

…. the answer is to ‘be interested,’ and throw out the window all the worry or fear about whether or not that ‘makes you interesting.’ While I don’t believe our consciousness can change reality, it certainly interprets it, and how you interpret stimuli affects how you perceive and respond. Bored people, or folks who believe they are uninteresting, perhaps tend to miss the cues and opportunities for engagement in the world — whether work or play — that involved, interested folks find.

           Learn patience in quantities that you never thought existed, and believe in yourself. There will be MANY days when you think you should just chuck it all up and take the first available job that comes along even if it’s not what you want, and days that you completely lose faith in yourself because nothing is happening. Plus, some people will not respond to your calls and emails – some for weeks, some never. Just stick with it. Don’t give up. That is the easiest thing to do. Keep saying to yourself ‘This industry is not for the faint of heart’. Having said that, most people will be nice – the majority of the people I met were really helpful people.

Read. Anything and everything related to your industry. Books, blogs, essays, anything. Some very good blogs are listed here. The Account Planning School of the Web is also a very useful resource. When you go for interviews or informal chats with heads of planning or strategy, the information you come across will help you stay informed and motivate you to develop your own viewpoint about what is going on in the industry. That will lead you to a job.

Develop your own personal way of working. Asi did a very creative thing by sending a puzzle that featured him to all the places he wanted to work, but I started the process by interviewing people on my blog that I thought were interesting, and following leads from there. There is no ‘right’ way other than being creative, informed and persistent.

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I want to thank every single one of the people I have come into contact with during this whole process – and there are too many to name. From everyone I’ve interviewed on my blog so far (I’m not going to stop that, if anyone is wondering!) and every head of planning/strategy or Managing Director that I had conversations with that helped me refine my way of thinking, to everyone I’ve met at Likemind, Tuttle, Geek Dinners and so on. I hope you all know who you are. Also, to my husband (of course) who argued with me no end and made me angry enough to work harder to get a job!!! I owe you all. 

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9 thoughts on “My guide to searching for a job in the creative industry

  1. Congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations!

    I’m delighted that you’ve got the job you were wanting. Lucky Made by Many!

    Yay!

  2. Anjali, I’m so pleased to hear this, well done! And what a great post explaining what you did. I’m glad if coming to the Tuttle Club helped in any small way 🙂

  3. Thank you all!!!

    Lloyd, of course coming to the Tuttle helped – I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. Thanks very very much for that. 🙂

  4. Good stuff, well done! Knew that you would find something. Interesting that you didn’t end up in a more traditional agency (be that pure-play digital or integrated) I hear good things about these guys, think that you will have a great time.

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