It's almost graduation time and there you are, fresh from one of the many great college programs out there -- a newbie with an interesting portfolio and a well-furnished mind -- and you happen to be looking for a gig in the middle of this economic disaster.
You have only two options. Be a victim (in which case you can stop reading now), or be a survivor who sees this market as a time to do the important foundation-building that will lead to a thriving career.
With a backhanded slap at the terms we're used to hearing from the financial industry, I present five ways to leverage your talents and build a valuable career (even in a lousy market):
1. Reexamine your portfolio.
Employers are much like investors. Right now, there's a "flight to quality." In short, they are not taking as many risks on new hires as before. They're looking for best-in-breed "investments" because they want a guaranteed return. Take a hard look at your portfolio and edit it harshly; fewer great pieces are better than lots of okay stuff. If you don't have enough great work, use this time to create more. Make yourself worth investing in.
2. Let them buy you low today; sell yourself high tomorrow.
In this environment, if a high-quality shop might be interested in you -- but may not have the money -- see what they can pay and try and work with them. If you have the luxury, offer to do an internship. What you want is to get the shop's name on your resume, grab some recommendations from respected people in the biz, do as much great work as possible for your portfolio, and turn your hard work into a raise or new position. Think of yourself as a good investment that is taking its rightful time to mature.
3. Do your due diligence.
That means poking around -- everywhere. Sure, you might like living in Atlanta, but being open to opportunities might mean being open to a Minneapolis winter. Put plainly, don't be passive -- be active. Very active. Find where the jobs are and follow them. Get on every job board you can imagine and check them daily. Get online and search for the ad clubs, digital-marketing groups and creative confabs that are established around most major cities and even smaller towns. Talk with your professors, especially if you graduated recently. Look in the show books to find that little gem of an agency you might not have heard of before -- the kind of place that might take a chance on a talented junior who doesn't cost an arm and a leg.
Find out who is doing the work you admire and get that person's phone number (call the agency the person works for and ask for it). When you call and explain that you admire his or her work, and want to know if that person has some advice, you will often find creative people make time for one another. If you feel the talk was friendly, ask if you can e-mail your work for comments or direction. Creative relationships have been started based on less. If you have friends in the business, ask if they can help you. Start -- or contribute to -- a blog and plaster your profile on LinkedIn and Commarts. You get the picture.
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4. Don't forget to diversify.
The marketing world is changing (as you know full well) and that romantic notion you may have once had of crafting glossy design pieces, directing striking print ads or working with Danny Kleinman on the next D&AD winning cinema spot may very well come true -- as long as you understand how to migrate your campaign idea online, via interactive kiosks or through mobile devices.
In short, being a fully employable creative person means understanding that while the idea will always be king, you must embrace -- and know how/why/when to use -- the many modern messaging platforms that enable clients to reach customers more efficiently and measure success. If you currently have a job (congratulations!) and work is a bit slow, invest some of your paycheck in a course on digital design or mobile marketing. If you don't have the extra jack, ask friends who work in these media to educate you over some nice Pad Thai (your treat). Bottom line: it will make you worth more.
5. Sell! Sell! Sell!
You do it for brands. You do it for products. Now, do it for yourself. Think of yourself as a brand and present yourself based on your audience (Are you meeting a creative director who is an art director or a writer? Do they work on athletic shoes or packaged goods? Are you visiting an ad agency, design studio or interactive shop?). You should never morph yourself into a different person to land a job but you should have done enough research about the people you are meeting to understand which of your talents and skills will most interest them -- and how you will ensure those attributes come across.
Well, go on -- don't just stand there like a confused investment banker waiting for another bailout.
You're a person who actually creates something of value.
For that reason, there is definitely an employer out there for you.