Jobs for creative people

In an employment market where skills and portfolios are the defining characteristics, you need to be competitive.

There are some mindset problems, too. People in media tend to be highly creative. They're therefore highly motivated, but in many cases used to being their own bosses. They make the decisions.

The move to being employees can be a lot tougher than it looks. Creative people work in a very different job market, and they have to learn how to find their way around.

The business vs. creativity dichotomy isn't funny for those who've experienced it. The work can be tough enough without a hierarchy of de facto editors on your case day and night.

You also need to know how to read the job ads, and how to present yourself and your work effectively.

At entry level, this can be heart breaking, so we're going to give you a warts and all look at the whole process so you can follow the logic.

Job Applications

In most media, you're required to have either qualifications, experience with the various media packages like Pro Tools, Cubase, Adobe platforms, or other software, or, more commonly, both qualifications and experience.

You must check these ads out thoroughly.

Don't miss a single word of the job criteria, because it can cost you.

We'll assume you have the qualifications.

If you're not great with these packages, look out. If you don't have the various forms of experience, like At least five years agency experience, very common in advertising jobs, forget it.

They mean it. Be absolutely scrupulous about checking out the job criteria. In other areas of employment, you can get away with missing a few things in the ad, but not in media.

Get it wrong, and it can be very messy, and the mess is all yours.

You could be setting yourself up for the sort of career experience you don't want, and believe us when we say it's more misery and frustration than it's ever going to be worth.

Later on, when you've got your credentials, it's easy, but at entry level it's murder, very hard to give yourself credibility with employers. This is the toughest job market on Earth, it's ultra competitive, and these people put very high value on their own opinions. There's a good side to that, but expect super critical people who really do know their stuff.

OK, you have all the essentials. Now, you need a portfolio, something to show the interviewers. It can be hard copy, it can be on disk, you can send it to them by email. Most media employers are up to scratch with whatever you've got, so that's really a matter of taste and choice.

Research the employer

You need to know their business better than they do. You must, above all, understand their market. This is bread and butter business, and you're really expected to hit the ground running as far as possible, in all media jobs.

Now comes the really tough part: Portfolio Quality.

Avoid creating huge amounts of material for your portfolio. They don't want to receive the entire contents of the Louvre, they want to see what your work can do for them. More is definitely not better. You're doing yourself more good by sending just enough so they want to see more, not less.

Portfolios must be targeted to the employer.

Say that sentence ten times a day if you have to, but remember it.

Do not send extraneous material, unless it's so good it will get you the job. You can get away with maybe one or two pieces, but make sure they're brilliant. Anything not directly related to the job should show related technical or other skills like composition, production quality, etc., and must be competitive with anything in its class of media.

When putting together a portfolio, there are several considerations:

  • Relevance
  • Technical content
  • Originality
  • Standard of work
  • Commercial potential


This is where your research starts paying for itself. The work you show them must have an obvious connection with their work, clientele, operations, and general business. If they're a TV company with a middle class family audience, show them TV production of that type. Always target their core business. Don't, ever, come across as patronizing or as if you do far better work than they do as a hobby. This is media, people are sensitive.

This is also business, your business. Treat it as business.

Don't mess around with anything too cute or exotic for them. The reason we said only one or two extraneous pieces is because it also showcases your extra value, and is a good way of proving your abilities. Just don't overdo it.

Technical content

Technical capabilities are extremely important in production. It's one of the reasons they're so tight about qualifications and experience. Their budget depends on the technical capabilities keeping costs down, meeting deadlines, and not creating holes in their contracts.

Working with packages is also essential, because their entire production system is geared to use those packages. In some cases, reading the job ads is a sort of shopping list for skills you'll need in your career. Do not underestimate the importance of these skills, because they really do define the work you'll get.


Media use Copyscape and other methods of checking for originality. They want to see originality, not only as content, but for legal reasons. They do not want to sign up for a ten million dollar contract, and find their graphics guy has given them a twenty million dollar lawsuit.

Professionals can tell a cut and paste artist a mile off. Usually, they can tell you where it came from, too.

If you're seriously thinking of destroying your career, plagiarism is the best, most effective method available, across all media.

Plagiarists are despised, with good reason. They don't even seem to know the basics of the media laws, and they're liabilities to anyone connected with them. Never even consider copying anyone else's work.

Standard of work

This is where the ultra competitive thing kicks in, hard.

You are competing with professionals.

Only at entry level will you get any tolerance at all.

Your portfolio needs to be as error free as you can possibly get it, only your very best work should be shown. If at all possible, use the media which the ad mentions. If they want Adobe, use Adobe.

Important tip: Use the employer's own standards of work as the benchmark for the materials in your portfolio. Everything you send them should look at least as good as their own work.

Be prepared to get technical at all stages of your presentation.

Every part of your production methods will be under scrutiny.

You may well be asked a lot of direct questions, and you will need to answer all of them, convincingly, and well.

You must know your platforms and media, thoroughly. You can't wing it, because the pros will spot it a mile off.

Commercial potential

Nuts and bolts time. The interviewers may appreciate your work, and your commitment and dedication.

But there's one basic criteria for their evaluation of your work: Is it salable?

You can see why we put so much emphasis on researching the employer. This is why you need to know their business as well as they do.

They need to see a commercial product they can use.

Everything about your presentation should show that you understand that simple fact. You will get far more credibility and are far more likely to get the job if you can show you understand their needs.

You will also get a lot of appreciation, and sighs of relief, from the other artists and media production people. They can't work on a blue sky basis, and they can't sell enthusiasm.

(At entry level, you will get a lot of encouragement, but all creative professionals worry that entry level people are too naïve about the business end. They can teach you all of that, so make sure you learn.)

One of the great ironies of creative media is that some of the most creative people on Earth have to develop a very strong business sense. This is chalk and cheese for many artists, but it has a payback, in that success in media will pay for the other creative work.

The interview

You will receive mainly direct questions. There won't be any filler material.

Answer very clearly, and use the story line approach to make sure you get your message across. If you get a problem solving question, explain the problem, why it's important, how and why you solved it the way you did, and the result.

Don't scramble your answers, at all. If you're not sure what they're asking you, find out. It will worry anyone in media if your communications are garbled. Their industry is about communications.

They need to see good communication skills, because in production you can't hold a sťance to find out what the guy doing the graphics is talking about. Delays caused by mixed messages can cost tens of thousands of dollars an hour.

Make sure your presentation is fun, interesting, and be as professional as you know how to be.

With creative professionals, you will find that interest levels are the best possible indicators of how you're doing with the interview.

If you have questions of your own

You should have a few questions, not least of which is your salary, your employment package, any intellectual property rights you might have to the work you do for the employer, working conditions, hours, and in some cases contract terms.

Note: Learn your rights about intellectual property. It's a professional skill, and you need to know what you're getting yourself into.

If you're under a contract, read the thing. Make certain you understand your contractual obligations to the employer. You've entered into a legally binding agreement, and you must take the terms of the contract seriously.

Be artistic after you've finally convinced yourself you know what you're doing, not before, in this case.

Now the good news about creative job interviews

You will find that working with pros, even if it's just at an interview, will give you extremely valuable feedback. For some reason professionals can't help themselves, and will teach and advise at an almost subconscious level.

For anyone in creative media, this is priceless stuff, and you will find you get far more information, much better expressed, than you did when getting your qualifications, in about 90% of cases.

Because interviews are in many ways practical exercises in creative media, you get a standard of criticism which is practical. If you've worked independently, you'll be used to a much lower level of criticism, not backed up by professional knowledge and skills. This is quite different. You are, at last, talking to people who really do understand the creative motif and its problems.

If you get the job

If you get the job, you are being paid a professional compliment.

You're being given a vote of confidence in your work.

Enjoy it and appreciate it, because those types of compliment have to be earned, and there's only one way to earn them.