5 Ways to Build a Kick-Ass Creative Career

The new age of employment comes with new rules. We work from home, from across the country, we conference call during rush-hour traffic and send emails from planes at 35,000 feet. Stuck on a project? Search the Internet for a tutorial. Need extra hands for a big event? Craigslist will get you the help you need. When everyone is able to work better and faster than ever before, how do we differentiate ourselves? Now it’s more important than ever to make sure you provide unique value to your employer.

As an employee, especially in creative arts, there are specific ways to set yourself apart from the rest of the pack. Your job is not to just show up to work and do what you are told; you must be strategic to progress your career.

Some things are great for your portfolio; some things are great for your resumé


Last week you may have finished the your most creative project to date; this week you may be making a graphic that looks like a throwback, but nope, it’s a request from the company president still stuck in 1984. Not everything you do will make it to your portfolio, but everything is a learning experience that can boost your career. If you’re stuck with a boring and mundane busywork task, use your energy to increase your design proficiencies by picking up a new skill so that you can kick ass on the next project that gets you fired up. That’s the one you can proudly add to your portfolio.

Argue project outcomes, not your own opinions.


If you have a great idea you’re trying to sell to your manager or client, frame it in the context of your end goal. Don’t talk about why green is the perfect color to complement your graphic; talk about why green is going to appeal to the target audience. If you think a website would look better with more professional photography, don’t talk about why you don’t like the photos you have. Talk about how the client can command a higher price for their products by upping the quality of their photography. Phrases like, “I just don’t think that looks very good,” need to become something more like, “We need to improve the quality of our work because it’s what the target market expects.” Sometimes you may not personally like the direction a project needs to go, but as a professional, you need to do what is best for a successful outcome.

Form relationships with clients, even if you are not the project manager.

Most of us in creative industries will change jobs many times throughout our lives. You never know who can help you along the way. You may be a 23-year-old designer in your first job where someone above you deals directly with the client. That doesn’t matter. If you sit in on meetings, introduce yourself to the client and get to know them. They could turn out to be your next employer, you could be dealing with them directly someday, or your first client when you start your own firm 10 years from now.

Don’t be afraid to go above your immediate bosses head, but avoid it if you can

We’ve all had terrible bosses at some point in our lives. Especially in larger corporate situations, you may end up answering to a contender for the new character in Horrible Bosses 3. Whether it’s personal differences or problems with a project, try to solve things on your own first. But if it doesn’t work, find someone higher up and professionally voice the problem at hand.

I once had trouble with a client because they lost their communications director and assigned an IT guy to spearhead work on designing new collateral and a website. I tried to work with him, but he seemed to have something personal against me. A month in I went to the president of the organization and let her know that the project would be completed more efficiently  if they could assign someone who had a better attitude. A week later, I was working with a new person who was awesome. Another week later the project was done, and it turned out to be an awesome addition to my portfolio. This is a last resort, but sometimes you have to do it.  If you have the clients’ best interests in mind, they will understand why you did it.

Know that you are expendable, and prove your worth.

You are replaceable. Creative fields are more competitive than ever, and it is not enough to be able to make pretty graphics or focus a camera on what the director wants. Your strong suit may be photography, but if you know a little HTML, you are exponentially more valuable in our multimedia-driven world. You might love writing, but if you can hone some PR skills on top of it, you open yourself to more employers. More importantly, if you plan on managing creative projects, you will likely be managing all aspects of a campaign, so a basic knowledge of more than one discipline will allow you to understand what your videographer, programmer, graphic designer, or illustrator is talking about. Be more than a practitioner of your craft; be a forward thinker in your industry.

For more career tips, check out 5 Ways to Be a Badass Boss


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