7 Tips For Getting A Job At A Creative Company


I’m sure that lots of people have written lots of things like this lots of times before. But it’s a bunch of thoughts I’ve been having as Poke have been looking to recruit ‘creative strategy types’ (there’s a hint in there somewhere for anyone who’s looking)…

I’m not talking about hiring ‘creatives’ (I’m never going enjoy calling certain people ‘creatives’ – the ‘sneer quotes’ will have to remain for now). I’m talking more generally about hiring smart people to work in a creative business. Bear in mind that these are just personal thoughts and not everyone will agree. In fact if you’re a hirer of any description and you don’t agree please say so in the comments – it’d be really useful to help complete the picture.

So here’s some things I’d recommend that you consider if you’re looking to get hired into a creative company:

Get yourself a portfolio

‘Creatives’ have a portfolio of work. Portfolios are nice to look at. They’ve got pictures in them. They give you a sense of the work. Everyone else just has a CV / Resume. They’re boring. They don’t show anything, and most of the time they don’t say much either.

I’ve met a few people who have really nice ‘planner’ portfolios. That have some pictures of what the work ended up like. As well as some info about the brief, how the problem got solved, and so on. But it’s not just for planners. Project managers, tech guys, account people, everyone who works on projects can have some kind of portfolio.

Oh, and don’t be afraid to portfolio-ize things that you make and do outside of work. Those things can say a helluva lot too…

It doesn’t have to be much more than a couple of charts about each project (or thing) – in fact any more might be overkill. But it gives people something to look at. Things to react to. And something to talk around when you meet them.

And perhaps most importantly of all it shows that you can tell a story. About yourself. Blogs can do a similar thing. They can demonstrate you think about stuff and that you’re not afraid to put yourself ‘out there’. But a more direct portfolio shows you take your work seriously and have some pride in it.

Spend a bit of time making your portfolio nice / neat / test it / proof it

It doesn’t need to be over designed. It just needs to be neat and tidy. If you’re not confident in your own design skills get someone whose eye you respect to take a look. It might be as simple as making the text bigger or smaller, or spacing things out a little differently. Or you could just take inspiration and borrow layout / style from a book or a magazine you like.

If you happen to be doing your portfolio digitally (which is a good idea if you ask me) make sure that all the links work. And if you’re linking to online work make sure that the links stay live and up to date (there’s no point linking to a site that you were involved with that’s gone through 8 iterations and is now a totally different beast from the thing you worked on).

And whilst you’re getting other people involved get someone to proof read what you’ve written. It’s incredible how many portfolios and CVs have glaring typos and grammatical errors in them. They’re unacceptable. I know everyone makes mistakes. But don’t let an error ridden document be you’re (sic) calling card.

Be clear and upfront about your role in projects you’ve worked on

The world is complex. Peoples’ roles in projects are complex. But try and be as honest and clear as possible about what you actually did on a project.

And don’t be scared to big-up other people you worked with. It’s a really nice trait to demonstrate: “I worked with a brilliant team on this…”, “The idea actually came from the client”, and so on. I’d much rather work with a team player than someone who tries to claim everything is ‘theirs’.

Have an opinion on aesthetics / design / interaction / type / sound design / whatever…

Even if your role seemingly has nothing to do with any of these things. If you’re working in a creative agency it’s really bloody important that you have an opinion about them. At some point you’ll have to defend work. Or argue with a stroppy ‘creative’ about why you think something isn’t right.

It also shows that you care about creative output. Which can only be a good thing.

Brand yourself

I’m not talking about stupid hats, or wearing women’s clothes (if you’re a man), or even having a big moustache. I’m taking about knowing what you stand for. It’s all part of what feels like a recurring theme; you ought to be doing for yourself what you’re claiming to be able to do for others.

Do some light detective work

Find out a bit about the company and about the best person to send your stuff to. It’s not that hard to figure out.

Once you’ve got their name see what you can learn about them, see if they’ve written anything that you agree or disagree with. Again, it’s always good to have a point of view.

And at the very least know about some of the work that the company’s done. Which things do you like? Which things don’t you like? And why? It’s quite common to be asked if there’s anything you don’t like – be gentle, spare their egos, but don’t be scared to answer the question. I always think highly of someone who puts up a good answer to this and can back up how they would have made it better.

Put your plan into action

Once you know all about your target, and where they live and work you can really build up a campaign to get yourself employed. Start following them home. Watch through their windows from the street (during work time and leisure time). Become totally obsessed with everything they do. Start dressing like them. Or their partner. Or their children. Send them things in the post. Things that will frighten the living shit out of them work really really well, and they’ll get you noticed.

Actually don’t do any of that last stuff. Of course there’s lots of stories of people doing outrageous things to land a job. And sometimes they’ll work. But for every one that does there’ll be 100s that are just plain embarrassing (and a little weird).

Normal things like email / telephone calls are good ways to start, but be respectful of peoples’ time and the fact that they might be really busy on the day you get in touch. Persistence is good. But there is a line…

Good luck. Whoever you may be applying to…

My New Favourite Quote

By Michael Beiruit (in conversation with Peter Merholz):

It’s a dirty secret that much of what we admire in the design world is a byproduct not of “strategy” but of common sense, taste and luck. Some clients are too unnerved by ambiguity to accept this, and create garganuan superstructures of bullshit to provide a sense of security.

I’d never considered of PowerPoint as being a tool used by the architects and builders of ‘superstructures of bullshit’ before.

All hail common sense, taste and luck!

Quote ripped from the excellent book: Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy With Human Behaviour, recommended to me by the equally excellent Knotty.