So you think you create…
In the last 8 months I’ve been a director, a cinematographer, an art director, a graphic designer, a web designer, an account manager, a public speaker, a copywriter, a networker and a creative director. But that’s #StartUpLyfe.
I don’t think it was my desire to “just get a job,” or that I felt like I was running out of time, but either way, I found myself packing west post-college to work on a $20,000 a year salary and absolutely no idea what potential I might find in my work. Or myself, for that matter. All I knew was I wanted to work creatively. FOREVER.
I had spent the previous year doing freelance video work in the city of Duluth, MN, and if you know anything about that area, media isn’t in high demand. Of course, I was also working two other part time jobs, one of which was with WDIO, the local ABC affiliate as a cameraman.
Two months ago we reached a pivotal point in SkEye history.
Our gaze shifted to the use of outside resources, primarily freelance and contract work (so if you’re somebody who is trying to get their foot in the door, you’ve got big ideas, and you’re ready to do whatever you can to be the best, hmu via twitter, I’m trying to be more active on there). We started our internal discussions primarily confronting the fear of the “outsider.” When trying to grow, trusting the hands of someone who isn’t working in your building, doesn’t know your history, doesn’t share your dreams, and potentially lacks initiative is a scary commitment. My fear was to give a project that I was capable of completing myself to someone who will probably require some form of coaching or direction. It’s the typical exchange of money for time, but I knew that I would still be stressed about the quality of the project, the interactions with the client, etc. It’s very much like having my own employee, but not being able to see them everyday.
Amidst the backend of a particular oral surgeon’s marketing overhaul, I found myself swimming in oral surgery websites, trying my best to get a feel for the content. Oral surgery is textbook, historically, focusing on accuracy of information with little-to-no emphasis on personality and tone. From my interactions with the Doctor, I knew that I needed to be on my toes when it came to verbiage. I started looking for a copywriter.
This is when I found C.
I’m going to refer to C as “C” because I’m mentally incapable of fabricating an alias that doesn’t sound like a ridiculous play on that person’s name (Pat would be “Pete”, you get the idea). C was about to graduate college and had sent over an application in response to our copywriter job posting. A posting I didn’t even realize had been posted, but a good company is always hiring, so they say. I started rifling through, and I was dismayed to find that within her application there were a couple of spelling/grammatical errors, a resume devoid of writing experience, and a writing style that reeked of “I’ve been told this is how to resume,” instead of trying to make an impact or leave an impression. A copywriter application with writing mistakes? I imagine most employers would scoff while trying not to miss the garbage bin with their rolling chair fadeaway.
But I sympathized. Hard.
It wasn’t more than a year ago that I too was scrambling to find validation by getting work as a creative, working long hours to learn a new after effects trick to add to a demo reel, or sending out video elevator pitches in earnest, almost begging to be considered. A lone tear rolled down my cheek. My butt cheek, that is.*
So, I thought,
“What could I say to help, and not slowly whittle away at what ambition still burns in this young creative?”
What do I wish someone had told me all those years ago?” Yes I said that out loud. Coworkers have no patience for verbal musings, no matter how insightful I am.
But seriously, I knew there was no value in leaving C hanging, and I told her so in my response. I informed her of the mistakes she had made in the application, and told her that I would be interested in giving feedback, if that was something she thought she would benefit from.
She apologized, thanked me, and told me she would like me to send some honest feedback.
So I did.
Here is the email. I think I started to get a little cathartic, but sometimes this stuff builds up in you, and no matter how many times you tell your little brother all the things you learned along the way, it just isn’t the same. So, without further ado, this is what I wish someone had told me 2 years ago:
Your cover letter says you have a great deal of writing experience in different fields, but your work experience doesn’t explicitly state any real writing responsibilities or examples. Now, as someone who might be interested in hiring a copywriter, I would be looking for jobs that you’ve been assigned to do, or even just little sections on a website, project for school, campaign, anything really that shows when you’ve written creatively.
Even if you haven’t actually been PAID to do something, written examples help to give someone an idea of your skillset. The thing to remember with creative work is that as much as experience is viewed positively, ambition is way more valuable. Shitty experience is still shitty, but good ambition is priceless. I want to read a personal statement, a piece of work where you didn’t listen to rules, something that shows gumption and attitude.
Think of the kind of writing you want to do eventually. Don’t just try and appeal to someone who might be trying to hire the safest choice.
“I’ve been telling stories and helping others tell their stories since 2004”. Prove it. And also, who cares? That’s what copywriters are EXPECTED to do. You’re young. You read, you write, you try to improve on your writing. But I already knew that before I opened your application. Too often young creatives think that they have to work for 20 years before they are actually someone who gets paid for their REAL ideas. I say, start writing your real ideas now. If you don’t have jobs, make them up. There’s a term used in the industry: “spec work”. An example of this is, say you want to work with Nike. You then go and create a Nike ad out of thin air, without asking permission and without getting paid. Your plan is to send them the ad, and they will be so impressed, they’ll want to work with you. This style of work never works. You will inevitably lose money as a creative and die. However, you’re in a special position where you literally have nothing to lose. You’re only looking to gain, so your losses are nil. Fail fast and fail often. Create content like you got hired by Wieden+Kennedy. Create content like everyone is waiting anxiously for the C piece. THAT”s what I want to see from my young ambitious applicants. And besides, your application is only words, but so is your career choice.
What are you going to do with those words to make me want you?
If you want to stick to a more corporate style profession, you could probably keep the same format you have, but mix up the wording so you’re still turning heads.
But if you want to get into creative writing work, give me something I can enjoy to read. Something that doesn’t look like someone is trying to apply for an entry level job (even if you are). Get weird, get funny, take risks. I promise you, in a world where anyone can write copy, everyone is looking for the people that make splashes.
Most importantly, always adjust, and have fun. Your attitude will be reflected in your work. High energy and high ambition is in high demand. I probably changed my resume like 6 or 7 while applying for jobs, and that was without feedback.
The other thing is don’t wait. Always be looking for opportunities. The job I landed here was almost entirely due to a chance mutual friend. And I still don’t think I’ve peaked. We work hard, and we get paid nothing. But it’s the times when you have absolutely nothing to lose that you grow the fastest, if you let yourself.
NOW. I know I sort of rambled (clearly I’m not a copywriter 😉 ) and I don’t have examples to share with you of what a good resume looks like. And that’s hard, because you have to up with your content. But remember to use your experiences to your advantage. Everybody is interesting in their own way.
And lastly, do not reapply. At least not for a while. I don’t want you to come back and try to negotiate your abilities or change of heart. Take some time and develop some content. And get some peer reviews. Even the people who do not write or who don’t understand writing give valuable insight. After all, you will soon be writing for everyone, not just those that understand you.
However, send me content. Show me what you do, and who you are. I want to see what C becomes, but also who she really is.
Good luck, and get crazy.
*Sorry about the buttcheek thing. I made a footnote so that readers wouldn’t be totally derailed, and also to offer an apology, I just thought it sounded funny in my head. My sense of humor can be childish, sue me.
Written by Patrick Fischer
As our witty Creative Director, Patrick oversees the creative process for projects here at SkEye. He’s the brains behind the beauty: designing stunning visuals that will blow your mind.