JOBS: Hiring & Firing in Design
Part 1: Getting Hired & Staying Hired
Your views of the world of work will change as you get older. Wisdom comes with age, but all that means is some of the mystery and puzzlement over the course of your career will be clarified through personal experience. Separate yourself from the flood of resumes designed into oblivion; they are hard to read and difficult to decipher; will your work be the same? Those rockin' hot typefaces you used (all 10 of them) will fade with time and become dated, sorta like shoulder pads and platform shoes. Don't worry, if fashion is any indicator, they will cycle back in about 30 years and you'll be right on top of things again. But it won't be easy for you to get a good design job. Keep your resume simple, easy to read and pertinent.
The trouble with job interviews is that so many people stretch the truth about their skills, nobody knows what to believe. The assistant with her degree from the Art Institute who felt her beauty, grace and appearance were enough to keep her employed was fired. The assistant who said he had a degree in advertising but really had majored in journalism was fired. Human beings are complex, emotional and pretty prejudiced about certain things when forced to make quick judgments about strangers they must hire. You can maximize your chances of being hired for the right job in a very competitive field by following a few simple rules. Bear in mind that the right job may not be the job you want or think you deserve. It should be one that matches your skills and abilities at the time.
FIVE COMMON SENSE PRINCIPLES FOR GETTING HIRED
1. Be neat. If you appear disheveled when applying for the job, is it because you are 1) poorly organized, 2) not really enthused about the job, or 3) not worried about making a good impression? Your potential employer won't ask; they'll just write you off. All three of those things are important skills in keeping the job once you get it.
2. Be on time. If you are late to the interview, is it an indication of 1) not planning ahead and allowing enough time, 2) a bad case of too busy to pay attention to the time, or 3) applying personal relationship rules to business relationships by being fashionably late? Again, it's up to the interviewer's impression and prejudices, but they will choose one. And again, all of those things are deterrents to success in this field particularly when it comes to deadlines.
3. Be respectful. Even if your interviewer has a wart the size of Mount Everest on the end of his nose, he deserves your rapt attention. If you are completely laid back and slow to react during your interview, does it mean you are 1) not impressed with the opportunity at hand, 2) uncertain of how to answer questions, or 3) still enjoying the buzz from last night's party? Since your interviewer doesn't know for sure, perk up and show a bit of enthusiasm or accept whatever preconception they assign to your comportment. Pay attention, be cooperative, and don't be overly pushy; this is not American Idol.
4. Be honest. If you get the job and fail, is it because 1) you don't know how to do the work, 2) you lied about your qualifications, or 3) this isn't really your dream job and you aren't inspired? Every employer with a job avail wishes you wouldn't waste their time or yours by applying if you are not qualified. Don't use time and opportunity to satisfy third party demands like your Dad who paid your way through college. Apply only if you are genuinely interested in any given career opportunity.
5. Be prepared. If your presentation is poorly executed, is it because 1) you abhor public speaking and freeze up, 2) you're just bad at presentations, or 3) you haven't had time to organize and update your portfolio? Your portfolio and how you present it is a good indicator of how you will perform as an employee. Most creatives must show and explain their work; and know how to produce it. It's part of the job, so practice until you do it well.
Don't let your appearance interfere with your capability. As an employer, if you show up with lots of bizarre body piercings, extreme goth dress (or is that S&M? Never mind.), five inch finger nails, angular bangs that constantly poke you in the eye, or offensive body odor, you won't get the job. You won't get the job either if you wear too much fragrance. The precedent you set at the interview is the one employers expect you to deliver on a daily basis. These personal details distract both you and your coworkers from the work at hand. The art assistant or production assistant job is an apprenticeship that will teach you important things you didn't learn in school, including how to increase your keyboard speed and deal with the public. If you were fortunate to have instructors who ventured outside of academia, then you know some of those things; but trust me, you don't know them all.
Those of us who might hire you will be working harder than you and won't have time to babysit if you get the job. If you repeatedly cannot come in because you must care for your alcoholic husband, sick child, or pet raccoon, eventually we will be hard pressed to finish our work and yours; so we expect you to be reliable or expect you to be fired. The work world is not the kind embrace of your family or school. We expect you to carry your share of the work load and do it without whining or coddling.
We also expect you to follow through on assignments with a minimum of interruptions. Before you run to us with a ton of questions, try to figure things out for yourself. We appreciate people who work independently, use their brains, pay attention when assignments are made, and take notes. Ask your coworkers for help if you must , but don't bother the boss. Principals carry more of the work load than you because they are more experienced. Don't make them waste precious time holding your hand. When you become a distraction from our work, either because you need constant help or are disruptive to the work environment, expect to be fired. When it costs us more in time and effort to keep you on board than the money we pay you, expect to be fired. Remember there are thousands of well qualified graduates out there jockeying for your apprenticeship, hundreds of thousands if it is a paid apprenticeship.
When we lose a big client due to no fault of our own, or when the economy collapses, the most valuable workers will survive layoffs. In the arts, it's not a pecking order as in other businesses because the last one hired may be the biggest contributor either through work load or creative output. The creatives who hone their skills and out work their peers in sheer sweat will always survive the layoffs. You will enjoy your career as a designer more if you understand the laws of survival.
If you are fired, make sure it's for a good reason and not because the biggest client's son just graduated from college and needs a job. Your emotional brain needs the relief and future employers need to know that you are not a slacker. You can always improve your skills, but can't change insurmountable workplace politics, so don't fret about it. Every time I've been fired, it's always worked out for the best. And I've been fired more times than a potter's kiln; read about THAT here. Good luck.
Want a few more tidbits of advice from a seasoned designer? My second edition is ready and waiting for you at bookstores and Amazon; it's been updated and the resource guide has been completely revamped. Whether you are employed or freelancing, Start and Run a Creative Services Business will help you avoid the pitfalls of being a trusting creative in a dog-eat-dog world. I've shared mistakes and wild adventures both as an employee and freelance designer to help you avoid some of the pitfalls. I truly want you to succeed. My book prepares you for unscrupulous characters disguised as customers, vendors and professional peers and shows you how to protect yourself. You can read excerpts here and view my online portfolio, plus download my first promotional piece, Melon at the Plaza, NYC. Good luck and make great art!
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