By Diane Domeyer, Executive Director, The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service placing creative, digital, marketing, advertising and public relations talent with the best companies on a project, contract-to-hire and full-time basis.
Some careers follow a narrow, well-trodden path with clear checkpoints marking progress toward the summit. Creative career paths, however, tend to be less straightforward and linear — which is why I prefer to view it as a “career journey” versus a “career path.”
Young graphic designers, for example, often prioritize knowledge acquisition and diversity of projects over career advancement. They often move quickly between projects, maximizing their exposure to new methods, ideas, mediums and industries — increasing their creative arsenal, but not necessarily accelerating their professional trajectory.
At some point, however, even the most freewheeling creative may want to take stock and decide where they want to be in five years’ time. A recent survey of more than 500 creative professionals by The Creative Group and AIGA, the professional association for design, found that 50% of creative workers are concerned about their career advancement, while 78% said it would be challenging to keep their skills marketable.
No matter where you are in your creative journey, it can be tricky to figure out your next move. Here are 10 ways to give your professional prospects a boost and set yourself up for the future.
1. Get Some Help.
Speaking to a career counselor or mentor can help you gain perspective and focus on what you want to achieve. Nobody can tell you which path you should take, but channeling your thoughts and desires into words makes them instantly more tangible.
2. Make A Career Map.
In most journeys, we wouldn’t dream of setting off without directions or a map. The same is true for your career. Rather than passively waiting for the right opportunity to come along, draw up a map detailing your career objectives, core values and the types of companies, projects and work that motivate you. Similarly, define where you want to go and the best ways to reach your goals. Having a map doesn’t stop you from taking interesting detours, but it can help steer you in the right direction and get you get back on track if you stray too far from your preferred route.
3. Set SMART Goals.
When you’re ready for new opportunities, set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Based) that address both your current situation and your long-term ambitions. Breaking goals down into smaller chunks makes them easier to achieve.
4. Expand Your Skill Set.
The more skills you have, the more valuable you become. It’s really that simple. To keep up with industry trends and ever-evolving technology, you need to adopt the mindset of a lifelong learner. Find out what skills are most in demand by researching job postings and looking at your peers’ digital portfolios. In the survey by TCG and AIGA, animation and motion graphics, UX/UI design and research, and brand design topped the list of skill areas creative professionals want to develop.
5. Ask For More Responsibility.
If you’ve mastered your tasks and grown comfortable in your role, taking on new challenges can help you grow personally and professionally. Think about the skills and knowledge you want to develop, and ask your boss if there are additional projects you can work on. Be proactive about pitching ways you can contribute to the firm’s mission. Alternatively, seek side projects that can help you expand your capabilities.
6. Think Ahead.
The job market moves quickly, especially in creative industries. It’s easy to get swept up in what’s happening now in your career without thinking about where you’re heading. Many of today’s creative roles didn’t exist a decade ago. What does that mean for your profession in 10 years? Could your role be replaced by artificial intelligence? If so, what skills will you need to work with that new tool? Alternatively, how can you switch lanes into a market that’s growing?
7. Find Your Niche.
It may take some time to decide on your trade, but once you do, knuckle down and master it. Whether it’s logo design for small businesses, animated trailers for children’s books or podcast branding for startups, think about the work you want to do and the people you want to work with — and then position yourself as an expert in that domain.
8. Nurture Your Network.
If you’re not actively networking, you might be missing out on opportunities that come via referral, whether from a past client or a colleague who knows your work. Tapping into the grapevine is also an essential way to learn about industry happenings or trends. Reach out to people whose careers you admire, and actively participate on professional forums.
9. Embrace Change.
Shifting markets, increased competition and ever-changing technology mean today’s designers need to be adaptable and ready to pivot. This doesn’t mean retraining or starting again, but being able to reposition your offerings, content and message for the current moment is a highly valued attribute.
10. Be Resilient.
It doesn’t matter how talented you are: At some point in your career, you’re going to face rejection. In order to cope with this, you need to develop tenacity, perseverance and a thick skin. Understanding how to respond to criticism, work through challenges and believe in yourself is vital if you’re going to succeed. Don’t let the occasional setback stop you from hitting your goals.
Creative industries can be tough to break into and advance through, but they provide valuable and exciting career journeys. To embrace the adventure and progress professionally, you need planning, drive and discipline. Forcing yourself to step out of your comfort zone and take on new challenges can help you gain confidence, stay inspired and unlock your creative potential.