You probably know that when you finish uni, you get invited to really boring party where you wear a black tablecloth and stumble up some steps so someone can hand you a piece of paper that your parents can hang on the wall. That’s all well and good, but it’s after that party when things get interesting. The 2 or 3 months following graduation are a very steep learning curve.
Last November, I was asked to give a talk at my old uni about what I’d been up to since graduation. After cleaning up the woopsie I did when I was told how many people I’d be speaking to, I looked back on both my time at uni and the year-and-a-bit that succeeded it and wrote down a list of things I’d learned.
Instead of plagiarising someone else’s idea on this very first point, I’ll just link you to this great article by the digital agency Wired Canvas on how to be different when applying for a job. Then take a look at this amazing job listing they put up last year for a junior position. This is how you do it.
Patience is a dickbag
But you have to have it. I’ve been in my job for over a year now, but the original invitation to an interview came almost a month after my initial application. I was so confused when I received the email that I actually had to look the company up to remember who they were.
People don’t get back to you
“Shock horror! Could it be?! No!” Yes. Statistics say that 80% of all job applications by young creatives never receive a reply. A couple of times, I received a reply with a question (salary expectation, availability etc) and my response then went ignored. WHAT DID I DO WRONG?! I’ll never know.
Fun fact: If you make up a statistic, 90% of people will believe it.
Not-so-fun fact: That 80% of all applications get ignored is probably pretty accurate.
Employers look for people they can get on with just as much as they’re looking for the next big talent. Your work will speak for itself, so let your personality loose and show them what you’re about (that’s not a euphemism).
If you don’t believe in yourself, how will others believe in you? However, being confident doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and if this is you, fake it. I mean, don’t be a dick, but even if you’re sick of looking at it, tell your interviewer that you’re proud of a particular reaction you got to your work, talk about some positive feedback you received, or something that went especially well in the process. There are ways to be positive about your work even if you’re not 100% confident about it.
Show your weaknesses and turn them into strengths
Not good at something? Admit it. It’ll bite you in the ass if you’re asked to do it later on. Instead, use this as an opportunity to showcase your passion and willingness to learn. Tell your interviewer that if this is something important to them, you’ll put in extra time in the coming weeks to bash through some tutorials and pick up the skills you need.
Don’t slam people
I spent far too long (about 5 minutes) in one interview talking about a project I was working on as an intern that was really tough because I fell out with the person I was collaborating with. When I was done, the interviewer said “Why did you have to tell me all of that?! This is a great project!”. Good shout, interviewer. Excuse me while I go and crawl into a little hole and weep. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.
Create your own tasks
Have some downtime on an internship? It happens. I used my spare time on one placement to redesign the company’s business cards, and that project is now one of my favourite portfolio pieces.
Manage your own time
The quicker you get boring shit done the quicker you can get onto fun stuff.
Some weird task might pop up that’s open to anyone in the studio to do. Go for it. It’ll show you’re willing to get stuck in; and you might come away from it with a funny story. Like if you’re working at a motion graphics house that’s pitching for a Gap pyjama commercial, and someone needs to make the pyjamas look like they’re dancing in front of a green screen…
Make yourself indispensable
You’re in, but not quite yet. Find out what it would take for you to land a job after your internship. Be blunt about it if you must. One internship I had told me it would be great if I learned Flash. I didn’t quite understand why, because Flash is pretty much dead, but I went through a short course of tutorials anyway. Unfortunately I still didn’t get a job, but I do now have one more skill on my LinkedIn profile.
It’s not just design
Sometimes an internship will turn out not really involving anything creative. If you honestly feel like you’re not gaining anything and there’s another opportunity for you elsewhere, don’t be afraid to leave early, but also don’t underestimate the importance of learning things such as time management, answering phones, how to run a business etc.
Don’t be afraid to subsidise your lack of pay with a stupid or embarrassing job
I spent 6 months on an internship in New York and came back skint. Instead of sponging off my parents and finding another low/unpaid internship, I got a job serving tea on the top floor of the Jane Austen Museum in Bath.
Oh, shut up.
Don’t be afraid to “settle”
You might have high aspirations, and want to work for all the top agencies/studios, but hey, so does everyone else. Some people are more suited to these places than others right from graduation, but even some of the top people in the industry had a rough, unsteady start, so don’t worry about accepting that job that maybe wasn’t on the top of your wish list. The fact that you even have a job offer in the first place should be applauded!
Use it to build on your weaknesses and step it up for your next job
The pace at which you start to learn stuff when you begin your first job is unstoppable. You’ll be on your way up in no time.
Don’t be afraid to leave if you stop learning
There’s a bit of a stigma behind leaving your first job after anything less than a year; there’s a fear that people will look at your CV and question your lack of commitment but, in all honesty, people move jobs in the creative industry all the time. If you’re not gaining anything, put the feelers out and see if there’s a better alternative. But make the right next step, and don’t make any snap decisions – you don’t want to end up in the same situation you’re already in.
This is what came up when I did a Google Image search for “first job”:
Do it properly
I was at a launch party/excuse for people to get drunk for free, talking with my boss, and this guy approached us, interrupted the conversation we were having and asked us what we each did for a living. When he found out my boss was the design director of the business, he grabbed his phone, found his Blackberry PIN, added it to his own phone, handed the phone back and walked off. THIS IS HOW YOU DON’T DO IT.
Do something out of the ordinary. While I was a student in Leeds, I got a return Megabus trip to London for £10 to help out one of my favourite creative agencies with a one-week newspaper project they were doing. I then took 400 copies of the paper back up to Leeds with me and helped distribute. I got a thank you note in the paper itself, a mention on their website and, best of all, they all learned who I was. I still stay in contact with them to this day, and they remember me as “Alex from Leeds”.
Turn up to things
That studio you’ve always wanted to work for are putting on an exhibition of their latest work? GET YOUR ASS DOWN THERE NOW. If it’s a talk they’re doing, stick around after and grab them for a chat.
Be a business card wanker
If you go to an event, bring your business cards. They don’t have to be super special (the ones I made when I met that London agency were designed in 5 minutes at about 2am and printed in my room onto red card), but it’s the easiest way to give someone your details and have them check out your stuff the next day.
Be casual, bro
I’ve changed my approach to emailing people I’d like to meet recently. It helps to have a specific project in mind when contacting them, but I’ve found I have a much higher response rate from people if I offer to buy them a beer after work in exchange for some advice and feedback, as opposed to a studio visit in the middle of the day. Alcohol helps. Wooooooooooooooooooo.