THE CREATIVE CAREER SEARCH
You can't stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.
Winnie the Pooh
A creative career search involves a creative, active approach to researching careers and making job applications. Rather than being passive (reading books and surfing the Web) and reactive (waiting for a vacancy to appear before making an application) you take the initiative in finding out what is involved in a career or about job opportunities
The main elements to the creative career search are:
- Developing a network of people who can help give you advice and/or information
- Making speculative applications using a curriculum vitae and letter
These may be used separately or together. The creative career search is particularly important when there is a lot of competition for the jobs for which you are applying, for example during a recession, or for popular jobs such as those in the media or environment.
"Most people find a job in film by word of mouth: the more people you know in the industry, the better your chances."
THE FIRST STEP - DOING YOUR RESEARCH
The first stage in any career search is research. Find out as much as you can about the job(s) in which you are interested using the booklets, videos, and reference files in the careers information room and the Internet. You might also find public, academic and business libraries a fruitful source of information.
This stage is essential, because no potential employer will be interested in you unless you can show them that you have at least gone to the trouble of finding out the basics. If you don't know what career you want to enter, try PROSPECTS PLANNER, a powerful program to help you with career choice www.prospects.ac.uk/links/Pplanner
Networking can be used, once you have completed your initial research, to gain a first-hand insight into jobs and careers that will help you to ensure that you have made the right choice. It can also be used for actual job hunting, and the contacts that you make through networking to inform yourself about careers may be helpful later when you are actually seeking jobs.
At its simplest, networking is just asking people to help you. Most people enjoy talking about their work and are usually happy to help others who are interested in that work. You can develop a network through existing contacts, or create your own using the ideas below.
Suppose, for example, that you want to find out about careers in insurance. Start with people that you know - do you have any friends or family who work in, or know people who work in, that field? What about your own, or your family's insurance policies - perhaps the nice salesperson who arranged the contents insurance for your student house last year could help? Are there any Kent graduates in the Careers Network you could get in touch with - or a professional body such as the Chartered Insurance Institute?
Remember, when networking, that your first contact does not need to be a person actually doing the job that you want to do if they might be able to put you in touch with the right person. Your interest may be in insurance broking, rather than sales, for example, but that salesperson may know brokers or know somebody else who does. This is what networking is all about - once youve found the first people to start your network, others will begin to fall into place.
"Speak to people and tell them what you are looking for. I work part time at Waitrose and often talk to my customers about university and what I’m doing, many have given me ideas and said they know someone and have so passed on the names of companies to me."
Below is a list of some sources you could use to find contacts for your network:
Research by Dr Kaberi Gayen (Napier University Employment Research Institute) found that job-seekers who have many employed friends are more likely to find work themselves. The "who you know" theory is as important as ever.
"For the younger generation, the number of people they know overall is more important than whether those they know are employed or hold senior positions. Younger people have wider networks, which could be due to their greater use of new information and communication technologies"
- Friends and relatives
- Friends of relatives; relatives of friends
- Tutors, academics
- Community contacts - doctors, accountants, bankers, family solicitor, church members, Chambers of Commerce, local councillors and MP
- Local employers
- Professional Institutes and Associations
- Members of clubs and societies
- People mentioned in newspapers, magazines, professional journals
- Ex-graduates from your institution - many universities now have networks of these who can help you.
- If you belong to a particular minority group, you may find groups available to help. The Womens Film Network, and the Law Societys equal opportunities officer are two examples for particular careers.
- Anyone you meet!
Send people who have helped you a Christmas card to thank them and remind them of you.
See also our new page on Using Social Media in Jobhunting
Information interviewing is basically talking to people about the work they do and can be a great help in making career decisions. It will enable you to:
- Gather information about various careers by speaking to professionals in those fields.
- Learn what types of job opportunities exist in a given field/organisation.
- Develop contacts with key people who either do the hiring or who know those who do.
- Enhance your confidence and improve your interview skills by speaking to a variety of professionals in a non-threatening, open-ended situation.
- Visit people in a variety of work settings to gain insight into different working environments.
Remember, you are not asking the person for a job: you are gathering information on which to base decisions. Make sure your contacts understand this. Explain how you obtained the persons name, e.g. the Careers Network, a friend who works at the same company.
Unless the person has asked you to call him/her directly, it is best to write a letter or send an email explaining your intention to arrange a meeting. Follow up your letter with a phone call to set the appointment time, asking for just a few minutes. The meeting may well last much longer than this, but if you only ask for a short time, you're more likely to be seen.. Be punctual and professional. If they say that they havent got vacancies, reassure them that its information you want.
You need to go to the interview having done as much reading as you can about the job, so that you come across to your new contact as a clued-up and interested person over whom it's worth taking time and trouble.
- Take a notebook in which you have written the questions you want to ask and also use it to take notes.
- Be prepared to take the lead in the conversation, if necessary. Remember, you are interviewing him/her.
- Respect the persons time. Be appreciative without being apologetic and plan a manageable agenda. Do not wear out your welcome.
- Recognise that everyone has his/her own attitudes, biases and feelings which must be evaluated. By talking to several people, you will gain a variety of opinions.
- Keep your eyes open for other clues about the organisational environment.
- At the end of the interview, ask if there is anyone else that they can recommend you to see, thus extending your network.
- Send a thank you letter immediately following the interview. You can also use this to tactfully remind your contact of anything they promised to do.
It's perfectly possible to conduct an information interview over the phone if you cant get to visit an organisation because its too far away. Although its not so effective, you can talk to more people more quickly this way. Again, remember to prepare your questions in advance.
QUESTIONS TO ASK AT AN INFORMATION INTERVIEW
- What do you do as a ....?
- How do you spend a typical day/week?
- What kinds of problems do you deal with?
- What are your major responsibilities?
- What do you find most/least satisfying about your job?
- What is the competition for jobs like in this career?
- Where are vacancies advertised?
- What would you look for in a new applicant for the work?
- What sort of salary could I expect?
- Is there a typical career pattern for new graduates in this field?
- How is performance at work assessed?
- Which parts of this field are expanding and likely to offer opportunities in the future ?
- What is the work culture here? i.e. is it very informal, formal, do people work autonomously, does everyone come in early, stay late?
- What are the typical entry level jobs?
- What are the toughest challenges that your organisation is facing?
- Are there any professional journals in this field that I should read or professional bodies that might be helpful in providing information?
- Are there any related careers that I could consider?
- Could you look over my CV and offer suggestions for improvement?
- Do I appear to lack any skills or qualifications that would be necessary?
- Can you suggest anyone else to whom I might talk?
- Are there opportunities for workshadowing or voluntary work experience?
These are only suggestions - you may have questions to ask that are more relevant to your personal situation.
A key point in creative jobhunting is the understanding that most jobs are not advertised - one source put the figure of unadvertised jobs at 80%. So why is this? Here are some of the reasons:
- It costs money to advertise - perhaps £1,000 to advertise in the Guardian.
- Employers may get more applications than they can cope with - many adverts now attract hundreds of applicants
- Employers may have already received CVs from suitable applicants who have written in speculatively, so they can just call these in for interview.
Mr. A. Hack, Editor,
- Self assessment: knowing your skills, interests, values and personality.
- Researching jobs
- Identifying and approaching contacts (networking)
- Information interviewing
- Gaining appropriate skills/work experience
- Solving an employer's needs: being extra creative!
- Marketing yourself (Application and interview skills)
Advantages of Creative Jobhunting
- It unearths jobs which arent advertised
- It impresses employers by showing that you have initiative/motivation
- You find out about a job before entry rather than afterwards when it is more difficult to change your mind
- It bypasses application forms -this could be useful if your academic qualifications are weak
- You get advice on other routes into the job
- It makes you feel that you are in control of your situation rather than feeling powerless
- It can be combined with traditional techniques
- It takes time: as much, if not more, than normal jobhunting
- It requires "gumption" (confidence and assertiveness)
Not everybody will use all the aspects of creative jobhunting outlined here, but everybody can use some aspects, on a pick and mix approach, and these may give a powerful boost to the effectiveness of your normal jobhunting. Creative jobhunting may demand more time and effort than traditional jobhunting but it could also prove to be more fun!
Speculative applications are those you make to an employer when you dont know if there is a vacancy. The standard method is to send out lots of CVs and generally the response rate from employers is low. There are, however, a number of techniques you can use to increase this response rate dramatically:
- Make sure that your CV and covering letter are of the highest possible standard. There is always room for improvement, and lots of information on CV design in the Careers Service to help you
- Target your CV carefully. Its better to send out ten carefully targeted CVs, than to send out a hundred at random. Research companies to make sure they have the right type of work. Try to find out the name of the relevant manager from brochures, the Web or by phoning the switchboard.
- Individualise your covering letter -dont just send the same letter to many different companies. Say why you are applying to this particular company and tell them what you can offer.
- Some people use a shortened, one-side CV for speculative applications - a busy manager may be more likely to read this than a longer document.
- Follow up your CV with a phone call or letter after a week or so if you havent heard anything.
See the example speculative letter to the right.
This involves finding a fresh way of making contact or demonstrating your aptitude for the job. One way to do this is to solve a need of an employer, as in the following example:
A graduate wanted to become a trainee journalist on her local newspaper. She decided to carefully analyse the content of the paper and compared it with similar local papers. She conducted a small survey of readers' opinions on the paper by interviewing passers-by in the city centre. Using this information, she drew up a list of possible changes to the paper, wrote a sample article to show what she had in mind and sent these to the editor. The editor invited her in to discuss her suggestions - they had a long discussion and the next vacancy that arose was offered to her without competition.
A languages graduate found a job by displaying a "Give Me a Job" placard and a giant copy of his CV during his one-hour stint on Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth in August 2009. The graduate’s skills included three foreign languages and his interests included "plinth dwelling". A London business consultancy contacted him shortly afterwards to offer him an interview and he got a job with them! (See the picture to the right).
One French student stuck a QR Code (a 2D bar code) on his CV which when scanned by an iPhone streamed a video of him talking about why he should be offered the job. He ended up getting several job offers after the video went viral www.victorpetit.fr/QR-CODE-Talking-Resume
One student called for interview with an advertising agency got his friends to carry him in, in a coffin. The friends told the panel to ask a question and then wait for a response. The student then sat bolt upright and answered all the questions sitting in the coffin, emerging only to show his portfolio to the amused and slightly ruffled panel.
David Rowe, a Kent History graduate who was struggling to get a job, walked down Fleet Street in the centre of London wearing sandwich boards asking for a months work experience. He was also offered many other interviews and an international recruitment firm was so impressed with his initiative that they promptly offered him a placement.
One Irishman spent £1,700 on a huge advertising board saying "Save me from Emigration!" (by giving him a job), after making 200 unsuccessful applications. The advert resulted in lots of interviews and four job offers including one as a communications executive which he took. Make sure you don't fly post though: Jobseeker fined for flyposting CVs
At Haloween the recruitment company InAutomotive found four carved pumpkins on their doorstep with their CV in the middle. The pumpkins had been carved to read "GIVE ME A JOB!". The person who placed them there was later interviewed for a creative marketing job.
Matt Atkins stood at the roundabout in Essex, with a placard saying he was "desperate 4 a job". He was offered a role with a cleaning firm and has now been promoted to managing the company's landscape and gardening business.
Leah Bowman a graphic design student created a Lego minifigure of herself in business dress for an advertising CV. The CV highlighted her skills and qualifications.
She posted her CV on Reddit saying: “I wanted a fun way to stand out to agencies and get my resume out of the trash can – I’ve always loved LEGO and I created this set to highlight my creativity, skills and initiative! It’s something I hope to be able to send out along with a job application."
Luisa Downey began boarding trains and handing her CV to fellow passengers. She was offered a job as a result.
In Graeme Anthony’s CV video he changes into different clothes to demonstrate that he can be "anything you want him to be"
Very funny video by an unemployed media production graduate who makes fun of his abilities www.employadam.com
A former Army tank driver who had been rejected for 790 jobs has landed work after advertising himself on Twitter
An advert designed to sell an old car has helped an unemployed Swede land his dream job as a motor magazine journalist.
And finally 25 Super Creative CVs
For more examples of being extra creative, see our lateral thinking skills page which complements this page and includes a quiz to test your creative thinking skills!
"Develop persistence: don't take no for an answer": this is the advice of a creative director at a top advertising agency.
In his final year he applied for graduate training schemes with all the top advertising agencies but found that no one was interested as he was heading for a lower second class degree. After lots of rejections he decided to email lots of agencies but was devastated when he got no response. So he decided to phone the agencies but couldn't get past the receptionist.
After this setback he thought a lot and decided that the only path left open to him was to visit the agencies in person. He made a list of all the agencies within reasonable traveling distance and spent the next week going round them and asking for some unpaid work experience. Again the same problem: everywhere he visited the receptionist said that everyone was unavailable or too busy to see him. He was finally on the point of giving up on his dream.
He decided to have one final throw of the dice.
He decided to go back to the agency he most admired. He arrived early in the morning and asked the receptionist if he could talk to one of the managers about the possibility of getting some work experience with the agency. The receptionist said that this wasn't possible, as he knew she would. So he sat down in the reception area and refused to leave until someone saw him.
Late in the afternoon, the receptionist whom he had got to know quite well during the day and who had taken a liking to him rang one of the managers, explaining the situation and asking her if she could come down have a very brief chat with him. After hearing his story, the manager took pity on him and told him she could offer him just a few days work experience but nothing more.
At 7.30 when the doors opened on Monday he was standing outside and that week he was always the first into the office and the last too leave at night. No task was too menial for him and he put one hundred percent into everything he was given to do. The manager was so impressed that she offered him a temporary job at the minimum wage.
He never left ....
Whether you are making speculative applications for jobs, or want to try networking directly to employers, then there are four main methods of approaching these employers - writing, emailing, phoning, and walking in and asking to be seen ( door stepping). Choose the best method for you: some people write very good letters, whereas outgoing individuals with a chatty nature might prefer door stepping. You can, of course, try a mixture of approaches - phoning and door stepping local employers whilst writing to or emailing those further away. Below, we outline some of the pros and cons of each method. Don't ask for a job, ask to met the person to find out more about the career.
The most traditional approach, and the best method if you get tongue-tied or nervous over the phone or face-to-face . Send a CV and a tailored covering letter to the organisation.
- If you use email as your contact method, put your covering letter as the body of your email and send the CV as an attachment. It is wise to format the letter as plain text (use the format heading on Outlook Express to do this) as it can then be read by any email reader. Your attached CV is probably best in MS Word format as this is the most commonly used, but Rich Text (.rtf) or html format are also acceptable.
- Your email address should make the right impression when it appears in the employers inbox. Avoid humorous or offbeat email addresses and go for something plain based around your name, such as S.J.Brown167@whatever.com
- If you havent received any response to your email after about ten days then send a paper copy of your CV and covering letter. Because this takes more time and effort and employers subsequently receive less of these, they are more likely to take the trouble to read it than an emailed CV.
- Sending a stamped addressed envelope with a postal enquiry may help if you are applying to smaller organisations but adds substantially to your costs.
- If you still have no success, try ringing the organisation.
- For help with CVs see www.kent.ac.uk/careers/cv/cvexamples.htm
These CVs can be very effective if you are going for multimedia, web design or computer games jobs, allowing you to use graphics, colour, hyperlinks and even sound, animation and video to present yourself and display your technical skills. Make it look professional though - use of garish colours and inappropriate fonts or music will make the employer wonder if you will apply the same standards to your work. See our Creative CVs page. Also, be aware that different web browsers may show your work in different ways and that some of your special effects may not be visible on an older browser. You can include the web address of your CV in emails or letters to employers. A portfolio can be a useful tool here.
The quickest method: if you reach the right person, you will know within minutes, but getting past the "gatekeepers" (secretaries and receptionists) to the right person can be an art, and you may be asked to send a CV.
"The one thing people in PR will respond to is if you have the guts to ring up and tell them about yourself"
If you use this method, think through your phone call carefully in advance, since the person you call may be very busy. Your call will have to hit home in a positive way.
- A phone call is always an interruption, so give your listener a few moments to adjust from what they were doing or thinking about to what you are saying.
- Your first few words may be missed so write down your opening words: say who you are and what the purpose of the call is: Good morning, this is Kate Jones speaking. I am ringing about .... .
Also do this when you answer the phone because it may take your caller a few moments to adjust from the ringing tone to your voice.
The 30 second CV
When meeting someone new or speaking to them on the phone, it's a good idea to have your "30 second CV" ready.
This is a brief description of who you are, what you do and if relevant, why you are seeing or phoning them. It short be clear and succinct: "Hello, I'm Jane Adams and I've just finished my Law degree at the University of Kent. I'm now looking to start work .... etc."
If face to face, look the person in the eye, smile and be ready to shake hands. If over the phone, make sure your voice is clear, unhurried and confident.
- Prepare a brief statement to introduce yourself and outline what you are looking for. You can write it down to remind yourself, but try to sound natural and not as though you are reading aloud!
- Because your call is an interruption it is good manners to ask, Have I called at a convenient time or would you rather I called back?
- Make sure the other person has pen and paper to take notes.
- If the person you wish to talk to is not available, suggest a time to call back. If you wish to leave details ask if the person has a pen and paper handy.
- See our page on telephone interviews for more tips.
Be prepared for your contact to ask questions, or even to react in a negative manner.Think quickly and try and gain something from even an unhelpful person. For example:
- “This is nothing to do with me—I’m not the right person for you to talk to”
Ask who is the right person and note down their contact details
- “We don’t have anything available right now”
Ask if they may have anything in the future. When would be a good time for you to call again?
- “You don’t have the experience/qualifications that we need”
Try and find out more—what are they looking for? Are their requirements standard for this business? Are there any post- graduate qualifications that would be valuable?
GETTING PAST THE GATEKEEPERS
Be pleasant and polite to the gatekeepers (the secretaries and receptionists who protect their bosses from unwanted intrusions). They may even be willing to help you if you get on their right side and could give you some useful tips.
- "This is Sarah Jones calling to speak to Mr Smith" may be more effective than "Is Mr Smith available?" - it suggests he is expecting your call.
- "He's in a meeting/not in the office right now": ask when he will be back, or if there is anyone else in his department who you could speak to.
- "May I ask what you're calling about?" - again, be pleasant and businesslike but non-specific.
At some companies, the relief staff are not as efficient at gatekeeping, so try to call during lunch and coffee breaks. Try calling very early or very late - outside normal working hours - when the gatekeepers may not even be there!
Prepare a message to leave on voicemails or answering machines - keep it brief and sound calm and professional.
|I want to see someone and I ain't leaving until I do!|
This method requires some gumption or bottle. Dress smartly. Focus your walk-ins on the personnel department or the main reception desk. At Personnel, you may leave a CV and ask for an interview. Consider mapping a route round several employers using an A to Z. You may be in the right place at the right time, but follow-up phone calls may be necessary.
Your One Minute Introduction
This is a short introduction to potential employers which tells them about you. It is a short statement about your three most important selling points. It can also be used at Careers Fairs and other situations where you have to introduce yourself.
State the positives from your education, skills, and work experience. Show the employer that you are a good match for their requirements. You need to make a good impression and say why you are of value to them. Write out your introduction, and practise saying it out loud and keep rewriting it until it's concise and smooth. Make sure you smile and make eye contact and be prepared to shake hands.
"Hello I'm Debbie Smith and I've just graduated from the University of Kent with a degree in English. I'm really keen to enter a career in journalism and have lots of relevant experience working for the university newspaper. I'd be really grateful for a few minutes of your time ..."
One survey suggested that 90% of jobs in the media are not advertised as most media organisations receive enough speculative applications to be able simply to select from these. Networking is therefore an essential skill for getting any media job.
- Before you start to network, try and develop relevant practical skills through activities such as student journalism, hospital radio and film-making societies. Budding journalists will need a cuttings file to show to editors. Office and IT skills are also valuable and could be your best way in at this early stage.
- Know your media: read/watch/listen to the output of the organisations you plan to contact and be ready with comment and ideas.
- Be prepared to be initially offered unpaid or low-paid work experience rather than a salaried post.
- Successful candidates tend to be those who are persevering - even pushy - and not easily discouraged by an initial negative answer. Be polite but persistent.
For more information and links see our Media Careers page
Much of the above advice on media careers also applies to these areas, but in addition you should:
- be aware that advertising and PR are businesses whose purpose is to communicate a message
- Read relevant publications such as Campaign or PR Week (see "Explore types of jobs" on Prospects Web for full lists)
- Use professional bodies - the Institute of Public Relations website, for example, lists charities which take on students for work experience www.cipr.co.uk
- See our Advertising and PR pages
Again, most environmental organisations receive enough speculative approaches to be able to fill their vacancies from these. Voluntary work is a major way of building up experience and contacts. See our Environment Careers web page www.kent.ac.uk/careers/environment.htm for more information and many links.
While there are many directories and websites advertising vacation placements and training contracts in the large firms, speculative approaches are essential for smaller and local firms. You can find a complete list of firms on the Law Society's website See also our Law Careers Links
See our lateral thinking skills page which complements this page and includes a quiz to test your creative thinking skills!
A graduate called Joe had just finished his degree and was looking for a job. After some time without success he finally landed a job as an assistant at the local zoo.
One day the bear at the zoo died. The zoo was facing a financial crisis and could not afford to buy another bear, so they asked Joe to dress up in a bear costume and pretend that he was a bear.
Well the money they offered was a small increase and so he took the job. He was put into a cage and in time became very good at imitating a bear, but he had one worry: the bars between his cage and the next were loose and in the next cage was a very ferocious looking lion.
One day his worst fears were realized and a bar broke. The lion jumped through the gap and raced up to Joe.
Extending his paw, the lion said, "Hi, I'm Phil, a drama graduate from Brum!"
Last fully updated 2014