Ask a Designer #6: How Do I Launch a Fulfilling, Creative Career?
Designer, speaker and educator Meg Lewis (@yourbuddymeg) is our resident advice columnist for our Ask a Designer series, where we aim to get real, get deep, and get practical with your most burning questions about life and career in the creative industries. Today, Meg tackles launching a fulfilling career in the creative fields, especially when you feel like an imposter.
I’m an art director/designer/illustrator person, about to graduate with a major in advertising, and I’m going through an identity crisis. I would love some advice on how to job search fresh out of college, as I’m about to start my job hunt.
The sea is so wide and there are so many titles and opportunities. I identify as a multidisciplinary designer with a lot of passions and interests. Choosing junior designer positions or internships makes me feel uneasy and worried. What companies and what agencies are the right fit for me? Do I stay in my hometown/state or do I leave for another state or country? What if I don’t want to be pushing pixels all day in a cubicle for years? Where do I belong and how do I sell myself to convince cool companies and agencies to take me in?
I’m also dealing with imposter syndrome as a young creative and just life in general, as a creative. I feel very inadequate most of time here in university, looking into jobs and at other people’s portfolios. It makes it hard to apply to jobs as a result. I’m overwhelmed. Where do I start as a soon-to-be-graduate when it comes to building a creative career?
Feeling Like an Imposter
Dear Feeling Like an Imposter,
I’m so excited for you! You’re at the beginning of something absolutely huge. If you frame this part of your life as an exploratory adventure, you’re going to set yourself up for success. It’s so easy to put too much pressure on yourself to find the absolute right thing that is going to keep you fulfilled for the rest of your life and be the essential base in a roadmap to career success. I get it! Take a deep breath and remember that you’re in a phase of your life where you get to try new things, learn what you like and dislike, gather information, and change and grow as you go. Don’t let traditional norms of how jobs should be to affect your happiness. You can quit jobs, move on, and advocate for yourself. No one deserves to be stuck in a job that isn’t good for their mental health or safety. Fight for yourself. You deserve this!
Here Meg goes again! I have to start by saying to assess areas in which you’re letting fear get in your way of doing what’s best for your fulfillment. Are you hesitant to apply for jobs in other cities or states because you truly love where you’re from and never want to live anywhere else? Or are you afraid of moving to a new faraway city because it means starting over and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone? I’d like for you to get to a place where you’re applying for everything that feels like a potential great fit, companies and jobs that have a gut feeling of shininess. You can decide what to do once you get an offer, but don’t let a potential scary outcome prevent you from even trying. Once you’re done getting in your own dang way, here are a few tips I have for you to keep in mind as you’re having the time of your life figuring out your career!
Tip #1: Stay excited
During this job hunt, your brain is going to naturally fall into a place of self-deprecation, fear, and a lot of doubt about your capabilities. You’re going to compare yourself to others a lot and likely drop deep into a dark hole of imposter syndrome. This happens when we’re not 100% confident about who we are and what we can offer. Give yourself a lil’ pep talk to remind yourself what you’re really good at and why you’re a great catch! If you start to fall into a place of negativity, remind yourself of three counter-facts that disprove your negative thought. For example, if I start to think, “I’m terrible at illustration!” I remind myself of three things that disprove that: a major company emailed me last week to ask to help them establish a new illustration system and guidelines, I have been paid by reputable companies to illustrate for them, and heck I have a style that’s unlike anyone else because my brain is unique.
If you can approach this self-exploration and job-seeking experience with excitement, you’re more likely to get a job that’s in line with who you are and the greater values you hold.
But if you slide into a place of fear, you’re more likely to settle for a job offer because it’s something. After all, this job hunt is an exciting thing to be doing! You’re determining the course of your life and setting a tone for how you advocate for yourself. It’s very exciting!
Being excited also helps during interviews. Everyone wants to hire someone who is excited about the opportunity and jazzed about the brand. Even if there’s a part of the job description that you have little to no experience with, if you remain excited to learn, they’re less likely to look past you because of your can-do attitude!
Tip #2: Be honest about who you are
It’s natural job-hunting human instinct to assume you have to fall into a persona when interviewing: a professional person who takes everything very seriously and is the exact candidate that can do everything the company needs and wants. I see this as a flawed approach for a number of reasons! If you’re pretending to be a different version than your real self during interviews, what happens when you get hired? You’re going to have to pretend to be that version of yourself every dang day from now on? Do you gradually phase into your real self over time? Or do you pretend to be someone else from now until you retire? This behavior is also perpetuating hiding our real selves at work.
Each and every one of us deserves to work in a place where we feel safe enough to be ourselves.
Setting that example for others can start with you and I think that’s a magical thing!
I’m not saying that you should crack farts and wear sweats to your interviews. I mean, don’t filter your actual personality and interests for the sake of meeting a job description. If a huge part of your life is comedy, writing, or freshwater eel activism, TELL THEM THAT. You want to work in a place that embraces who you are and encourages you to have a dose of individualism both at work and outside of work.
I can say from a lot of personal experience, you want to work with people and brands that like, accept, and support you as a person. It makes your every workday more fulfilling and helps to keep you from feeling less burnt out knowing that you’re surrounded by support.
Every person in every dang interview is going to emphatically say they can meet all of the bullet points in a job description, even if they can’t. So what’s the biggest way to break through your competition? By offering even more. Chances are you’re capable of so many more skills than those bullet points. Can you animate as well as design? Are you great at making gifs? TELL THEM THAT. Give additional specific ideas for ways you can expand the role that are unique to your skillset. “Oh by the way, I know you want me to be making social media graphics and templates, but I can do so much more for this role. I can take and edit photos and create gifs to make the content more engaging!” HIRED. DONE.
Tip #3: Remember that you also have the power
It’s so easy to fall into a submissive state when applying and interviewing for jobs. To nod and agree with everything they say and appear like you drink the Kool Aid. That’s great and perfect if you’re truly excited about the particular color of Kool Aid they’re serving. But, remember that the interview process is a two-way experience. They are lucky to be getting any interest and time with you! Don’t be afraid to interview them back.
Everyone loves it when an interviewee is inquisitive and thoughtful about the questions they ask about the position.
If there are certain aspects about the company culture or job responsibilities you’re curious about that affect what kind of lifestyle you want to have, ask away! If you know you want to work with a company that has a very specific management style or team structure, ask about that too! Interview them right back to make sure it’s a good fit for you and know that at any time you can bow out and reject them. They don’t want you working there if it’s a bad fit and vice versa, right?
And heck, if they reject you don’t sweat it! If you keep yourself excited and empowered enough to know you deserve a job that embraces and supports who you are, it makes rejection a whole lot easier. If you’re upfront and honest about your interests, skillset, and what makes you amazing and they’re not into it….they’re saving you from working from a place that isn’t a right fit for *you*.
Tip #4: Make connections with individuals, not brands
In the design, media, and tech industry, folks don’t keep jobs very long anymore. We’re used to moving around every year or three. Why this is happening is best kept for another article, but I think it’s something you can use to your advantage.
If you make friendly, supportive connections with individuals, chances are they’ll move to another company and advocate for you in the future.
So, if you end up at a job or company you don’t love but you make invaluable personal connections with other team members, they’ll likely move in the future and think of you for a designer role at their new awesome job! Stay in touch with coworkers, meet as many new friends as possible, and share your dreams/goals/interests with everyone you can. You ideally want as many people swimming around in the world with you on the back of their mind as possible.
Was this a lot? It was a lot! Hopefully by now you’ve enjoyed my favorite color of Kool Aid, purple, and feel more confident and empowered to advocate for yourself. This is such an exciting time for you and I wish you a lot of fun figuring out this next step in the adventure of your life!
Meg Lewis is a designer making experiences for happy companies and a speaker and educator creating more fulfilling lives for humans of all kinds. Meg empowers individuals to discover their unique selves through books, video series, workshops, and talks titled Full Time You. She also founded Ghostly Ferns, an international collective of designers and commercial artists.