Over nine years of work, I have realized that the standard guidelines for progressing in corporate careers can often be flip-reversed for the creative person. Whereas a politician or a banker might be negatively affected by ranting over social media, flirting with their colleagues or wearing strange and wonderful outfits in the workplace, a creative can benefit from those things immensely, because when you are trying to build yourself up as a creative brand, being contrary is often your greatest weapon.
As a serious career minded person, I do have a CV on file. I dutifully wrote the first draft at 18, but quickly forgot about it when I was asked back to do six months of paid picture research, after a few weeks work experience at a national newspaper. Since then, through a combination of just enough flirting and just enough charm, an awful lot of hard graft (learning as I went along) and some offensive pink jumpers, I have managed to carve myself a solid ‘slashie’ career. I am part photographer, part writer and part picture editor.
I never did manage to send out my CV, nor have I ever had a formal job interview. I get work via word of mouth, impressing one person or other, who will inevitably want to bring me back on a new project or recommend me to someone else who needs help. Similarly, someone might see my website or blog (both of which I promote over social media) and want to get in touch. I’ve even been invited to take part in a live debate on the BBC through an article I put up on Twitter. Either way, my entire livelihood is based not on my CV, but my reputation and my portfolio.
When you are working the freelance circuit, you rarely stay on the same project for longer than a few weeks. In these scenarios, almost everything has to do with your personality, your ability to get on with people quickly and most importantly your ability to repeatedly think outside of the box and bring something new to the table. For a freelancer, your mobile phone becomes your mobile office. The next call you receive might be a client asking you what your day rate is and when you are available – be prepared to think on your feet and be ready to talk shop in any situation.
I have always enforced a strict balance of serious and silly throughout my working life. In an office, I might tone down the silly, but it’s definitely still there winning me Brownie points when I can laugh all day but still file the copy on time. In the studio, or literally on the street with my camera, I sometimes need to whack up the serious and make sure that I am making progress within a strict time frame… it’s very easy to become complacent without a regular 9-5.
In retrospect, I realize that there was an element of good timing to me getting that very first job, but there is something to say for this route into employment. If you can get work experience at a company you would really like to be a part of or can assist an artist that you really admire, you can always get yourself noticed through a combination of hard work and personality. Likelihood is that next time a junior position comes up that needs filling, they’ll think of you first.
And remember that the difference between someone who is and who isn’t getting work in the creative industries is all about confidence. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Opening up communication is a powerful tool and in many cases, the people you’d like to work with aren’t as inundated with requests as you might think. As long as your goals remain realistic, what have you got to lose by making a phone call or sending an email?
Creative careers might be one way to avoid the daunting experience of three suits on a panel vs. you at a job interview, but then again, in this line of work you are only ever as good as your last job. And if word gets around that you are slow, lazy, untalented or boring, even for one week, it can end your career faster than a badly worded CV.
At least you can delete that document; your reputation is forever!