How To Get and Retain Work
There are two major hurdles to clear when you're on the search for a new career or even freelance work. The first part is, of course, finding a job that interests you and going through the effort of applying. If you are lucky enough to land the job, then comes the second hurdle: holding onto it. So how do you navigate both with confidence and creativity?
Set Yourself Apart.
Remember that there are five billion people on this planet. To paraphrase Dennis Miller, that means if you're a one-in-a-million kind of guy (or gal), there are still 5,000 others just like you. If you look up the word "unique" in the dictionary, there's a good mathematical reason why your picture isn't in there. The arithmetic of competition is dismal; lots of companies get calls from designers looking for work every damn day. These days, being simply competent is no longer good enough. Make sure that you're not just 1 out of 365. Figure out what distinguishes you from the pack and sell yourself.
The Help Wanted section of the paper is the most general and public source of job openings. It's also about as personal as receiving a letter addressed to you "Or Current Resident."
Friends, acquaintances, school chums, former professors, and former employers are another source. There is nothing cheesy about this; chances are even a good friend will not be able to get you a job solely on his or her word. You will still have to interview, you will still have to have the skills they need. But having a good contact base will keep you informed of what jobs are even available in the first place, and "knowing someone" may expedite you in getting an interview.
Note that this is a two-way street; if you are offered a project that you cannot take or that is not right for you, this is an excellent opportunity to recommend someone whom you know can do an excellent job.
Also note that becoming chummy with someone for the sole purpose of obtaining work is reprehensible, cheesy, fake, and can generally be smelled from a mile away.
Learn to swing interviews.
There are dozens of books, tapes, and self-help infomercials that already cover this topic. What can I say? Avoid spaghetti and powdered donuts before the interview, yadda yadda yadda. If you're not familiar with this stuff, bone up on it.
Half of the interview is a review of your skills. The other half is the employer sizing you up and figuring out if you're the type of person who hangs out at the water cooler like it's a bar, borrows markers without returning them, and sings annoying but catchy songs to themselves while working. Your personality is a significant part of what you bring to the workplace. Do people want to work with you? Do you work well with others? What will you bring to the project?
Stay Current/Get Out of The House
One of the great things about working in a creative field is that going out with friends, walking around town, talking with people, having fun, and experiencing as many different things as you can is just as important as punching the clock. In order to stay fresh, it is important that you understand what's going on in the world socially and culturally. Industrial Design is inexorably tied to the business world as well, and it's important to watch trends or at least know what the hell's happening. In short, be manifold in your interests and capabilities, and you will become acutely aware of things. See films. Read books and magazines. Meet people for coffee or drinks at the bar. The last thing a designer needs is that not-so-fresh feeling.
Stay In Touch.
Phonework is absolutely crucial. You should perform callbacks, inquiries, and contact work on a regular basis.
The Fool: Faxes or emails a resume and cover letter; waits; cries him/herself to sleep next to the un-ringing phone.
The Wise person: Faxes or emails a resume and cover letter; waits; drops a follow-up inquiry.
Always assume that potential employers are way too busy to call you up, because they probably are. Those that get the jobs are the ones that continually make themselves noticed to employers, without being annoying and psychotically persistent.
Remember, there's a fine line between following up and being a psycho freaky stalker. Use your judgment, and the following list as a guide:
Am I a stalker? questions to ask yourself:
- have I ever "tailed" another human being?
- when my ex- and I broke up, did I rent a pizza truck loaded with audio-surveillance equipment and park across the street from their house?
- have I called somebody back more than five times in one day because I couldn't get a hold of them?
- has "Star-69" ruined my life?
Things every good follower-upper does:
- never takes it personally if they don't get a callback
- calls back after sending correspondence to politely inquire if they may offer their services
-calls back previous employers (or places they've interviewed at in the past) to see if projects are available
- calls an employer back after completion of a project to confirm employer's satisfaction and designer's future availability
If you've got a bedroom in your parents' house, a trust fund, or think that refrigerator boxes look "homey", then you can try to live week-to-week off of whatever projects you can dig up. For the rest of us, however, it's important to have some measure of financial stability; a "core" job that provides you with both a steady income and enough flexibility to spend the rest of your week working on a variety of projects.
A "core" job, ideally, is someplace that you work at for a fraction of your week, maybe 3 days or so, that is a reliable (and preferably weekly) source of income. This will enable you to eat hot food, as well as reduce the amount of acid burning a whole in your stomach every time you see a pile of mail with your name on it. In a perfect world a "core" job is flexible, even to the point where you can shuffle your workdays around if a big project comes in elsewhere.
It would be best if your "core" job was some type of design work, so that you're constantly exercising your skills and building experience; however, you may find that a non-design "core" job serves you better. Waiting tables or tending bar, for example, are typically flexible jobs that pay well and in cash, and the nighttime working hours can free up your days for design work (assuming you can sacrifice the sleep).
Also see if your "core" job provides you with incidental benefits. Restaurants, for example, typically feed their employees for free (a huge savings, when you add it up). Office temp work may provide you with the use of a phone line and fax, when you're not shuffling papers or brewing a pot of Yuban. A design firm may let you stay after hours to use their computers or their model shop.
Bear in mind that most jobs don't come with flexibility; sticking around for a while and being the model employee that you are may get you the freedom of scheduling that you're looking for.
Note: This article was originally written by Ilise Benun