Say that you studied accounting in college like your parents wanted you to because you can find a job with a finance degree anywhere. You got good grades, interned at one of the Big Four firms and got a job offer right before you graduate. Sounds like you’re killing it at this whole career thing, right? Not if you’re unhappy about what you’re doing.
As a creative career coach, I have met with countless students and recent graduates who came to me with dazzling degrees, perfect GPAs and impressive resumes but don’t feel like working in the fields they studied. They either have realized through internships or the first few jobs that what they are doing isn’t fulfilling or they picked their majors mainly to please their parents who are concerned about their job prospective and security. Whatever the reason is, they are lost – unsure if and how they could pursue another field while also wondering if it’s too late. Some of them have always been interested in the creative field, but were told that they won’t be able to make money off of it.
If you are in the same boat, the good news is no, it’s not too late. There are several ways to get your dream job as a creative professional without having a related degree. The bad news is, you will have to kill some of your Netflix and chill nights and focus on preparing yourself for it. As for the money, it is time that we educate the world about the scale of the creative industry. A report from UNESCO revealed that the creative economy employed nearly 30 million people worldwide and generated $2.25 trillion in revenue—or 3 percent of the world’s GDP—in 2013. Still think there is no money there? You just have to find it in the right place using your creative skills and career development strategies.
So how do you enter the creative field without knowing a thing about it? First of all, the beauty of the creative industry is that there aren’t a lot of exams or certifications required to be employable. Unlike highly-regulated fields like finance, medicine or law, the creative industry is relatively relaxed about academics and things on paper. What makes a person successful in this field is his or her talents as demonstrated through portfolios, not GPAs, diplomas or certifications. Second, you may already know more about creativity than you think. Some of your hobbies, such as taking photos or sketching landscapes, can be turned into solid professional skills with the right strategies and further study.
One thing to keep in mind is that creative field is also extremely broad. According to a definition published in 2015 by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport of the UK government, the creative industry has the following sectors:
- Advertising and marketing
- Design: product, graphic and fashion design
- film, TV, video, radio and photography
- IT, software and computer services
- Museums, galleries and libraries
- Music, performing and visual arts
If you are interested in one of the sectors above, these actionable steps will help you get your foot in the door of your dream job faster than you may think!
Create Client Work Without A Client
One of the hardest part of starting over in another industry is to get the experience that hiring managers are looking for. However, if nobody gives you a chance, how are you supposed to get experience in the first place? It is an age-old problem that most college graduates face regardless of industries.
However, the good news is, creative professionals can get creative to solve this problem (surprised!). Unlike other industries, creative positions place an emphasis on the candidate’s portfolio rather than work experience. If you are looking for an entry-level creative position, your best bet is to create portfolio pieces that impress the hiring manager. So how do you do that without actually getting clients? There are several options you can explore. You can offer your services to small business owners for free or at a low fee to try your hands on creating actual client work. This strategy lowers the threshold of getting the work while helping you build your portfolio. What if nobody is willing to even give you the chance to do free work? It sucks, but given the competitive landscape, it happens. Even if you get rejected for freelance work, you still need to build your portfolio. One smart way to do this is find companies or products you admire and do a mock creative project for them. The beauty of this is you don’t need anyone’s permission! You can either find an existing creative project they have already done and improving on it or find an area that they’ve overlooked and offer your ideas. For example, if you are a designer and a fan of Apple, try to redesign one of their products or webpages. Your goal here is to showcase what you can do by solving real world problems, even if you are not hired to do that.
Take Night Classes
Even though you don’t need to obtain certifications or take exams to get into the creative industry, there are often technical skills required for the jobs. For example, if you want to become a graphic designer, you will need to become proficient in applications like Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator etc. If you want to become an animator, you will probably need to be know Cinema 4D, Maya, 3ds MAX etc. In this day and age, you can certainly teach yourself any of these because there are so many tutorials available online, either for free or for purchase. But if you lack the discipline to stay on track and learn at your own pace, you may want to consider taking night classes or a certificate program.
When I decided to change my career path, I took a one-year night course to train myself on the applications necessary to get my foot in the door. It allowed me to build a solid foundation while also saved thousands of dollars in tuition compared to graduate schools. Of course, it is always cheaper to learn at home, but if you want to make sure you stay on track, taking night classes is a solid option.
Attend Portfolio Review Sessions
When you put together your portfolio, one of the most important things to do is to get feedback from established creative professionals. Early in my career, I have attended quite a few portfolio review sessions hosted by top agencies in my city. They usually charge a small fee but it’s totally worth to get honest feedback from working creatives because they know what will get you the job. The sessions usually include a networking component as well, so you are killing two birds with one stone.
In cities where portfolio review events are few, you can consider hosting your own portfolio review sessions! Behance has an annual portfolio review series that encourage people to organize their own events around the world. You may be a newbie at the creative industry, but don’t be shy to reach out to agencies and see if they are interested in being a partner. You can even team up with event companies to make the logistics easier for the agencies.
Network Like A Pro
Regardless of what industry you are in, networking is a key activity that will lead you to opportunities otherwise not available to you. It is no secret that a large number of jobs are never posted online. In order to tap into these secret resources, you have you know someone already working in the industry. Networking is more of a lifestyle than a one-time activity. If you are looking for connections when you need it, you’re already too late. Most connections will not lead to any opportunities, but one or two might. If you expect those one or two fruitful connections to show up magically in a few events you attend occasionally, you’re doing networking wrong – because you should not be expecting anything at all. Focus on building friendships with people you connect with regardless of potential opportunities they may be able to provide you. People remember other people who they like on a personal level – not those who are clearly in it to get something out of them.
If you want to know where the most popular creative networking events and organizations are in your city, download our Creative Industry Networking Events Master Collection ebook!
Intern Your Way In
You may already have a few years’ of experience in your current industry, but if you’re starting over, interning in your new industry is a surefire way to get your foot in the door. If you are a fresh graduate, it is even more important that you find an internship in the creative industry regardless of what you major was in school. Creative employers care more about portfolio and experience rather than your education.
When you look for an internship outside of your field of study, you will need to be able to explain why you want to work in this field instead of what you studied . There is no right or wrong answer – only you can craft a narrative that makes sense. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge honestly that you realized your passion is in the creative field after you finished your studies or whatever reason you have that is genuine and logical.
Remember that even for internships, you will need to present your portfolio. Companies won’t hire you just because you express interests and passion in the creative field. You can follow my advice earlier in this article to put together a killer portfolio even without too much experience.
When you do get an internship, make sure to learn as much about the craft as possible while documenting your business results to present your case when it comes time to hire for full time. Even if you don’t get hired at the company you intern with, you will leave with a much better portfolio and better understanding of the industry, which will in turn put you in a better position to get hired somewhere else.
To get started on applying for internships in the creative field, check out this comprehensive guide on where and how you can apply.
Target Smaller Companies
When you are just starting out in a new field, it is easier to target companies with lower hiring threshold. Smaller agencies, startups or small business are all good place to look at. Even though your dream job may be at one of the top agencies or companies in the world, you are up against candidates who are graduates from top art schools with portfolio quality that you cannot match up to yet. It is not to say that you should stay away from the top players, but make sure you gain a balanced understanding of where you skillset is at currently. Just because you start working at a smaller company does not mean that you will stay in small companies. Take myself as an example. I started my creative career at a boutique agency with fewer than 10 people. A couple of years later, through hard work and smart career strategies, I landed a position at a global company with more 250,000 people!
There is no set path for creatives – this is the beauty of it and also the scary part because you absolutely need to plan it out every step of the way by yourself.
To make sure you get the most out of this learning process, check out our highly-rated online course in salary strategies “How to Triple Your Salary Fast and Furious” and creative ways to make money as an artist “How NOT to be A Starving Artist”.