Saturday, March 31, 2012

ABC's of Job Hunting for Designers: Intro and ABC

I've now given a talk on job hunting for designers about... five times. I like the talk. It's smooth, goes down easy, and leaves a pleasant aftertaste (I'm told). So at this point, why not serialize it on the Web? It's all my wisdom on how designers can help themselves get into a new or better job faster, and prepare for a lifetime of doing work they'd rather be doing. And because we need to have info delivered to us in reasonably edible chunks, I broke my thoughts up into 17 groups and stacked 'em around the alphabet. So we'll put these up one at a time and see if folks find them helpful.

These tips are not meant to be exhaustive or fool-proof, obviously... but they also conform to the main rule of the Hypocratic Oath: first, do no harm. I don't think any of these ideas can hurt your job search. Many of them just make sense... but aren't regularly applied.

Anyway... good luck on your job search. The document version of all these tips is available as an open Google Doc here: So if you need something portable, give that a whirl.

ABC = Always Be Creating

Please note that I did not say, "Always be creative." Everyone is creative (that's another set of blog posts, I think). You need to always be creating things, though, if you want to earn a living as a designer. If your day gig doesn't let you (which may happen), you need to do it on your own time. If your day gig forces you to be minimally creative in ways that seem to deaden your soul while actively making your artistic spirit hurt... same thing. Go home and be one with your canvas, clay, charcoal, ukulele, dancing, etc. You need to keep doing stuff or your creativity will wither and die.

That's the real difference, I think, between people who say that they're not creative and those of us who believe we are: doing it.

When you're trying to sell yourself as a designer, you will invariably be interviewed by one of two types of people: another creative person, or a non-creative (business person, manager, etc.). Here's the thing -- in both cases, you need to be doing interesting creative things to impress them.

Why? Because if the other person is a creative, they get it. They understand how hard it is to remain inspired and purposeful in our arts. And they want to work with someone who can do that and who, maybe, might even rub off on them a bit. I have met very few truly creative people who are jealous of other creatives' talents and achievements: we tend to be impressed and supportive of them, since they are often unique.

[Note: that's a difference between some people who are very money-oriented and those who are more creative/art oriented. A buck is a buck is a buck. If your business activity made $2 and I made $4, I'm twice as good as you. Doesn't work that way with creativity. There is no zero sum: we can both be twice as creative and can use that to inspire each other, not take away.]

The other kind of people -- those who generally believe themselves to be non/less creative -- are always super impressed by our hobbies, our ongoing learning/dedication to craft, the outputs of that, how we externalize our muse. It's like magic to many people.

So... either way, you want to be able to talk about stuff you're working on, even if you're not working. Some of it should, obviously, be related to what you want to do for a living... but it doesn't all have to be. Lots of it can be only marginally related, but it shows that you are dedicated to improving the artistic center of yourself, which is really what you're selling when you're trying to get a gig: your ability to create.

Some specific thoughts on how to stay creative when you're not working (or when you are, but aren't being particularly challenged/stimulated):

  • If you've gone two weeks without learning something new about your craft(s), do something about it

  • Improve design around you

  • Do work for free; church, civic organizations, family, friends

  • Put yourself on a schedule for trying/creating new things: one new (whatever) per day, week, month. Set goals and stick to them (or do them ahead of time)

When I first developed this presentation, for example, and decided to organize it around the alphabet, I decided to learn new Photoshop tricks for each of the slides' main graphics. So even though all the slides are, essentially, just letters, I made myself do more than just illustrate the letters in ways I already understood. Do a search on "Photoshop tricks" and you'll find about a bzillion responses. I did that, found about 15 that I thought looked cool, and worked them into the slide graphics. They're not fantastic graphics or stunning pieces of art... but the process helped my learn Photoshop that much better.

Some resources that might help provide inspiration:

So your homework for today is: pick a project. Something you haven't done before. If you haven't written poetry, go do that. If you can design a logo for something weird in your life (your pet, lunchbox, pet's lunchbox), do that. But, today, figure out what the next thing you'll create should be. And then get to work.

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