How Not to Get a Job in the
Creative Industry, Part 2: The Work
JUSTIN GIGNAC / WNW Co-Founder
If you haven't yet, first make sure to check out Part 1: The Portfolio.
You've probably heard all of the advice there is on how to get a job in the creative industry. So I'm here to tell you what you need to do to NOT get a job. Everything you can do to completely blow it. This is based, in part, on what I've experienced and observed both in my years in advertising and as the co-founder of Working Not Working. But primarily, the following advice, or the opposite of that advice, is coming directly from a bunch of Creative Directors and Recruiters on Working Not Working. They're the people you need to answer to if you want to get through the front door of companies like Wieden+Kennedy, Droga5, Nike, Facebook, Chiat, B-Reel, McCann, Butler Shine, and more. They told me very specifically what annoys them, what kind of work makes them groan, and what nixes applicants right away. I figured this will be helpful for all you students and up-and-comers to know. And if you're a seasoned creative making these mistakes, they'll be twice as glaring.
Part 1 focused on blowing it with how you present your work. This is all about how to not get a job with the content of the work itself.
It's really easy to see what's trendy or what's winning. People aren't going to hire you to do the stuff that's already been done. They're going to hire you for what hasn't been done.
The first few years of Working Not Working, we looked through people's portfolios every day. It's really exciting when you find great talent, but it is often more like mining for some limited resource called "talent." Eyes are bleeding going through portfolio after portfolio trying to find potential. Create work that will excite people looking at it. Or make them laugh or get them to feel something. Anything. Whatever it is, connecting with people on a human level will help your work stand out.
Right now, if you're a student, you have no limitations. This is the chance to go nuts. Don't go nuts by throwing a celebrity in every one of your ad ideas. Go nuts with your thinking. There's no client right now that's too afraid to say no to it. That's what happens once you get into the business. You'll find clients that are brave and willing to take the risk because they're a challenger brand and they can't afford not to, they want to make a name for themselves or they actually give a shit about putting great, additive work out into the world. But in your future career, you'll also find plenty of other clients who are just afraid to take a chance and the thinking is, "I have to check these boxes to prove I did these things so that it's not a bad business decision." But right now you don't have to deal with any of that. So have a lot of fun and make a lot of bold, adventurous work.
A good example of this is side projects. I got all of my jobs in advertising mainly because of this one dumb idea to sell garbage. My Creative Director from my first job at Ogilvy told me, "Look, one to one, ad to ad, you hold your own with your book. But taking the initiative to sell garbage and getting a ton of press, making it for no money, that's why I hired you." Those side projects show hirers what you care about and what gets you excited. There's no excuse not to do them.
All of the tools are there for you to come up with an idea on a Friday, make it over the weekend, put it out on Monday, and have it shared around the world. A really good litmus test before building on an idea is to send it to your friends and family first. If they share it on social media, it's a good indicator that other people, in turn, would take the time to share it. However, if your friends and family, presumably your biggest fans, don't share it, that's a sign that maybe you shouldn't invest too much time into it. As Sir Jay-Z says, "on to the next one."
I could overthink all of the ideas I've had for personal projects over the years, but a lot of times I don't think at all. It can be surprisingly easy to go and put stuff out there. It's when we overthink things that we tend to get too afraid to make any progress on it. Stop giving a shit and just create.
A lot of people do it to build up a concept that maybe isn't a strong idea to start with. "Well, I thought about the problem 360 and comped up every possible touch point and it had a QR code and a geo-based Snapchat filter and I added a Coldplay track to this video so it feels really big and important and distracts you from the fact that nobody cares."
Don't rely on someone having the time or patience. Like I mentioned in Part 1, 1-3 minutes is the average window of time you'll have someone's attention. It's unlikely they're going to sit through a case study video and still make it to the other projects in your portfolio that are worth their time.
This is a very advertising industry focused issue, but the lesson can be applied to everyone: present your work clearly and concisely.
People too often just post one image of a project or piece of work, but what did you do? What was the brief? What was your thinking behind it? Hirers do want to know that. They want to see how you're looking at a problem differently, how you're seeing the world differently, and being really clear about what you did. A lot of times people feature a project where they just happened to be in the room when the idea came up or only contributed a small part. It's ok to include that project if you were proud of what you did. Just be overtly clear what that contribution was.
I also see people coming out of school and putting that they're Creative Directors. That's a terrible idea. Don't do that, because now you just look like a really shitty Creative Director. You'll get there. It's okay to own where you're at in your career. Nobody knows what they're doing and it's ok to admit that. I'd rather hire someone inexperienced who is enthusiastic, hungry and can clearly own and articulate their ideas than someone who pretends to be something they're not.