You hear it a lot these days with the economy being in a continual state of suckage – you need to be prepared for a layoff, for your business to shut down, for pay cuts or even just to quit when a better opportunity comes up. This is especially true for designers and creative types. Unfortunately, we’re usually the first management look at as expendable because they think we’re easily replaceable or that they can outsource design and creative work to a freelancer for half the cost they may pay a full-time person. The question is, are you prepared for the worse case scenario?
Let’s face it – no one wants to really dwell on bad situations. Like the Beyonce song, we’d like to think we’re irreplaceable. Things happen – the economy happens – you could very well find yourself going from a high paying job in a nice firm with a plush office chair and financial security to your couch watching Regis & Kelly wondering where your next paycheck is going to come from. That’s why you need to prepare for the inevitable end of your job. Few jobs last forever these days. A better opportunity will arise with better pay and benefits; you could be laid off; your business could be bought out and your department downsized. The doomsday scenarios and varied but the bottom line is all the same – are you prepared?
I’ve found that designers and creative professionals often are not as well equipped for a lay-off or the end of a job than most. We’re a very focused bunch and sometimes get in such a groove with our work that stopping to work on things like our resumes, portfolios and networking all seem like distractions rather than necessities. Here are a few things you need to do now, even if you are happily employed, to prepare for the next best thing to come to you employment wise:
1. Never let your resume get out of date: When you have a job, all is well. When you’re suddenly out of work, the first thing you say you need to do is update your resume. Designers and creative professionals should regularly be updating their resume based on their latest experiences. A great resume tells a potential employer what you’ve been doing, not just what you were responsible for or expected to do. Scrap the idea of the old days of listing out all of your duties – no one cares about that. Use action verbs to describe your actions! Use words with a bit of a zing and impact to accent that resume, not just passive phrases. Here’s an example:
[Boring] Responsible for the design and layout of marketing material for a concert.
[Interesting] Entrusted with the complex task of designing the promotional pieces for a high profile concert artist and overseeing the pricing, ordering and arrival of the final pieces.
The boring way of handling your resume will just be a list of responsibilities and duties someone gave you. Many designers and creative types have long lists of duties they carried out – and that’s good, but save it for the interview. Your resume could be the first and only thing an employer looks at before he or she gives you an interview. Keep them interested by turning your resume into a action-packed recap of your working life. Here’s a great list of action verbs to use on resume to give it that extra boost of interesting.
2. Put yourself on display: If you’re a creative professional, you shouldn’t be shy about showing off your talents and what makes you stand apart from the crowd. If you’re a designer, then why would you send out a dull resume that’s formatted and designed as if you’ve just graduated from college? Why not play (within reason) with the style a little? Doing so would make you quickly stand out from the crowd as someone who truly is interested in design and visual communication. Are you a photographer? Then why not show off your work via a nice web gallery, or create a postcard with some of your images? In the world of exercise, this would be called cross-training: rather than just doing the same exercise day in and day out, you workout more muscle by doing a variety of workouts that hit different body groups. Photographers should think like graphic designers sometimes and advertise themselves through postcards or a nice page layout or even a poster of their best photos; graphic designers comfortable with print should consider showing off their work online in some way. Never rely on just one means of promoting and showcasing your talents.
3. The Write Stuff: Artists, designers, photographers and creative types aren’t always the best writers. When it comes time to apply for a new job, that can kill your chances of getting that dream position. Just because your job involves the arts doesn’t give you the excuse not to be a good writer. Go through job listings and look at their requirements and pre-requisites: how would you respond to those bullet points? I suggest everyone take a little time out of each week to perform a writing exercise. Even if you have no intentions of leaving your job, just prepare for the future by honing your writing skills. This will even help you in your current position. Learn to respond to each of the job criteria: use your own experiences to come up with a response that’s no longer than a paragraph long and see how you’d describe yourself. This helps tremendously when someone comes along to ask you to describe yourself, your experiences and qualifications. People are often caught off guard because they haven’t given it much thought due to the fact of being in a comfortable working position. However, as said, that could easily change. Best to be prepared for the event of being unemployed than live in ignorance and bliss.
4. Network!: When things are good, creatives can easily get lost in their work. When you find yourself out of a job or at the end of a contracted position, oh my, how things change. The Internet makes it so easy for people to network and keep in touch with their friends and colleagues so use it! Get on LinkedIn, connect with your co-workers and mentors and regularly drop them a note just to say hello. One thing that tends to happen is that we rarely use our network of friends and colleagues until something bad happens. Then we feel a bit guilty about coming to them with our problems or asking them for referrals. Through LinkedIn or even basic E-mail and an address book, make it a necessity to contact a few people each week just to let them know what you’re working on and ask them how they are doing. Why? This creates a collaborative environment and you never know what will come out of just talking to people. Plus, if you do need a new job due to whatever reason, your job search will be easier if you already have a network of friends and support ready to help you get back on your feet.
5. Have a back-up plan: Are you working? What would you do if the job you spend the most time at suddenly wasn’t there? It’s a simple, yet scary, question that you need to have a response for. If you’re in the creative field you’re actually lucky: your skills could easily translate into freelance work. Creative professionals should all consider doing freelance, even if you are working full-time. Creating some business and line of revenue outside of your usual 9-to-5 could be fun and offer you a much needed outlet from whatever it is you do full-time. It will also help you network, show off your talents and give you pieces you can add to your portfolio. If you aren’t hip to the idea of moonlighting on the side, you still need a back-up plan. Creative types sometimes rely on just one job to keep them afloat. If that job suddenly wasn’t there, how would you support yourself? Don’t let a lay off or unemployment answer that question for you. Already have something else waiting in the wings to takeover if one job falls through.
These are just five very basic ways for creative professionals (photographers, graphic designers, artists, copywriters, etc.) to keep themselves working through the worse case scenarios. If the past few years have taught us anything it’s that jobs come and go. You’re in a great profession if you’re a creative type: you have skills and the ability to keep yourself working in a recession or when the economy is booming. Still, it’s a great idea to keep your resume ready for disbursement, promote your talents on a regular basis, work on your writing skills, network with other professionals and to have a back-up plan ready just in case there’s a change in your employment.