Competition for creative jobs is fierce, but what will give you the edge? A university degree, or an exciting portfolio? Does experience from an internship, or a sparkling personality, put you ahead?
Martin Lawless is a designer and creative director. He spoke to Creative Choices about the skills and qualities he looks for in a new recruit.
Qualifications remain important
Degree or HND level qualifications remain the minimum entry point for most jobs in the creative sectors.
"There is no degree called ‘Creativity’, although that is very much what we are looking for."
There are exceptions, and some companies offer apprenticeships for those not continuing to higher education, but at present these are few and far between.
“Everyone we recruit has a degree or HND, often in graphic design or communication, but not always.
"Design management degrees are useful, and we also take on people with a degree in unrelated subjects such as Classics. They might be from Oxbridge, but not necessarily. We usually recruit people with a minimum upper-second class honours degree.
"Although academic qualifications are important, they are only part of the picture. There is no degree called ‘Creativity’, although that is very much what we are looking for.
"Many of our clients are international, and they look to agencies in the UK to provide an increasingly broad and less-focussed approach. So we are looking to recruit people who can demonstrate originality, which in turn helps our company to have the cutting edge.”
Gaining industry experience
The issue of unpaid internships is a contentious one, but previous experience is very important in this highly competitive industry.
“People come here for four weeks at a time to gain work experience, which means I can take on twelve placement trainees each year.
"Placements give people the opportunity to participate in creative problem-solving whilst working in teams with other employees. But at the same time they are expected to do menial tasks willingly, such as making tea and coffee. In fact offering someone a coffee can provide the ideal opportunity to ask that person about their work.
"We cover their travel costs and subsistence, but other than that the placements are unpaid. Placements can be the route into a permanent paid job with our company. They certainly provide the ideal opportunity to understand about the job role and our expectations.”
The value of a portfolio
"New graduates want to see the start and finishing line, but there is no finishing line.”
Portfolios remain an important part of the selection process for creative jobs. But for Martin they are not as important as you may think:
“When I recruit people, I attribute about 80 percent importance to the person, and only 20 percent to the portfolio.
"In a couple of years, they will look at their portfolio and possibly feel quite embarrassed: was that really my work? This is because their work changes so much.
"It is my personal opinion that by the age of 21 or 22, their personality will not change that much. For example, shyness can hold you back. I have turned down applicants who have come across as too shy. When we meet with clients they are very affected by the personality of the person they are working with.”
Having the right personality
"With so many people applying to creative companies for jobs, often speculatively, personality is crucial.
"People whose sole focus is on achieving top grades may find they neglect opportunities for personal development and growth.
“We are looking for highly intelligent people who may also have a quirky aspect to their personality. One of our team here is also a stand-up comic. Others have talents and achievements in the arts or sports – the main thing is that they do have interests outside work."
Some of the other qualities:
- Excellent interpersonal skills, a friendly and helpful personality
- An understanding of business and a head for figures
- Highly creative, smart, curious and interesting
- Ability to meet deadlines and cope with pressure
“When people arrive here from university there can be several issues that need addressing. Colleagues must not be seen as competitors, rather as friends. If you have been spending all day working at college on your own projects, you can come across as insular.
Some people want to impress me, as if I am their college tutor. The student/tutor relationship must be consigned to the past. New graduates want to see the start and finishing line, but there is often no finishing line.”