This post originally appeared on TalentZoo’s career and new media blog.
The 2012 Salary Guide, released earlier this year by The Creative Group, revealed a handful of areas and industries likely to see a continuing uptick in demand for creative professionals. Some of these areas include niches like mobile, gaming, education, technology, and healthcare. This is great news for creative industry professionals, including those in areas such as advertising and marketing management, art and creative direction, graphic and web design, copywriting, web development, video production, user experience design, and marketing. And many of these areas ranked among the highest in demand and best-paying jobs for 2012, as reported recently by Boston.com.
While there’s certainly an attractive draw to the projected industry growth, the continuing demand for niche skills, and the potential job security that comes along with many jobs within the creative industry, job seekers and career changers are often drawn to another aspect: the “creative” label itself.
From startups to agencies, the creative industry is often glamorized by those outside of it, conjuring up glorified visions of summer Fridays off, beer fridges, lax attendance policies, and the recognition of being part of an organization that continually churns out only the latest and greatest technology innovations. Creative companies like Foursquare, Meetup.com, Facebook, and Etsy may have a unique structure inside their doors that job seekers find appealing to show up to every day, but the fact is that they approach their hiring process with just as keen an eye for top talent, if not more, as any other industry. If you want to catch their eye, you have to know what it is they’re looking for.
The “C” word is thrown around more than any other phrase in the job-search space. “I really want a creative job,” said a close friend to me recently. He has been in the job market for several months after completing his master’s degree in international marketing. Another client remarked to me that he wanted to put together a “more creative resume” in addition to the one he was using to target jobs in the legal field. It isn’t the first time I’ve heard such sentiments; the need to integrate more creativity into one’s day-to-day work is an ongoing dilemma for many job seekers across many different industries. It leaves me wondering: Are we confusing the desire to do creatively focused work with simply wanting to thrive in a more creative environment? Surely not everyone is looking to shift careers and become a graphic designer.
I consistently find that when many folks say that they “want a creative career,” what they’re really talking about is wanting to work for a creative company; one that provides an environment where individuality and creative thinking is encouraged, or that allows for them to work on interesting projects, and perhaps offers a higher level of work-life balance (flexible hours, remote work opportunities, more liberal vacation policies — to name a few). It’s important to understand this distinction, because while you can target a creative organization at which you can apply your existing skill sets, it’s far more difficult to target a creative specialization — say, graphic design — if you don’t have the niche qualifications for that type of role. That’s not to say a complete career change isn’t possible, but it’s likely not what most had in mind.
As a job seeker it’s important to understand how creative companies approach hiring as a process. They value more than just skills and strong resumes. They value the ability to attract and retain top talent in their often ultra-competitive industries (think gaming, advertising, or online media, where the trends, leaders, and innovations are rapidly changing). The top talent possesses the types of traits that position them well to function in a rapidly changing industry — traits like innovation, creative thinking, problem-solving, streamlining, teamwork, and proactivity. While you can write these traits into your resume, it’s more about providing context that helps hiring managers understand where in your career you’ve demonstrated such traits and how they’ve produced positive results.
“Nowadays it’s about building creativity into whatever you’re doing, whether you’re a creative professional or an accountant,” says Carol Watson, founder of Tangerine-Watson, a recruiting consultancy that specializes in diversity sourcing for the advertising industry. She adds, “The new economy requires creative problem solving, uncovering trends and making unlikely trends which requires more right brain thinking and creativity regardless of your role. One of the things I see people doing to appeal to creative companies is showing their creativity through their outside interests, like artistic expressions, curating online content on blogs, creating new ideas and solutions, for example. It’s about showing how you can think creatively, without necessarily having a creative job.”
So if you’re trying to catch the eye of a creative company, here are a few areas you will want to be able to speak to, loud and clear:
They Want the Best of the Best
Creative companies, like advertising agencies, design shops, and startups, are in fierce competition to continually be on the cutting edge of innovation in their field, and they want to hire people who exemplify that value. Where have you been successful before and gone above and beyond in your role? How do you manage to stay relevant within the industry? As Watson mentioned, where do you exemplify such traits even outside of your work, as far as staying relevant on industry trends or thought leadership?
Culture Fit is Huge
Looking good on paper and presenting a stellar resume is only half the strategy. These types of companies don’t only value their creative culture, but are firmly built upon it. This includes everything from the type of people they like to hire, to the brand image, to the often-excellent benefits they’re prepared to offer candidates in order to attract and retain the best talent. It’s critical to understand what the company values as a collective team, both inside and outside the office, and the image of the organization and brand. How are you presenting yourself visually when you walk into the office for the interview? How do you fit into their culture in terms of your own values?
Teamwork and Problem-Solving Are More than Resume Buzzwords; They’re Requirements
Creative organizations value process and collaboration in their workflows. Passion is good, but expertise and the ability to work with others are more important. With that in mind, creative organizations value people who can give and take constructive criticism and can use their skills and creativity to collectively solve real problems, not just make “pretty things.”
What defines a “creative company” will vary in terms of environment, business focus, customer segment, and employment practices, from advertising agencies, to startups, to design shops, to Google. The key focus as a job seeker is to understand what appeals to you about working for a certain type of company, and what ultimately makes you a good fit both from a skill and culture perspective. Your desire to work from home every other Friday or participate in company hackathons doesn’t have much bearing on your qualifications and value in the eyes of the potential employer, but understanding what type of environment allows you to do your best work and be most productive, what really inspires your entrepreneurial spirit, or the types of clients with whom you tend to mesh well with — now that’s something worth marketing.
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