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What can I do to improve my chances of changing industries?

05 Jan 09:00 By Lawrence Akers

Lawrence Akers Improve Chances of Changing Industries

I doubt many people had a clear idea of what they were going to go on to do at the start of their career. When I began working, my 'first real job' (apart from Coles) was working in the music industry. At the same time, I was a lighting operator in a nightclub. If you had asked me back then what I thought I would be doing 30 years later, I would've probably shrugged my shoulders, rattled off some ideal and got back to my 5th shot of the night... or morning... or afternoon. You get the picture.

As my career progressed though, I went from music retail to music promotion, and from music promotion to music marketing. After that, I often say that I 'fell into' recruitment. Prior to recruitment, I had limited experience with graphic designers (although I had plenty of experience with creatives and that creative mindset) and no experience in picking up the phone and doing cold calls or trying to sell my service. My first year in recruitment wasn't an easy one. It was full of challenges, frequent self-doubt at my ability, and the learning curve was absolutely massive.  

More recently, my career has evolved and changed again and there has been a desire to introduce new challenges in a completely separate industry. Like many people, we reach a point where we feel we've potentially achieved what we could and that it is time to find new challenges that push up and make us learn.

Even last week, I started a two week online marketing challenge and I've found it exciting and frustrating and challenging and annoying and engaging and everything rolled into one. And that's a good thing because what it all means is that I'm being forced to think outside my default thinking, step outside my comfort zone, and to learn! 

Without learning, we can't create that space to have new opportunities open up to us.

Now, after four paragraphs, enough about me. Let's talk about how this all related to what I experience in the creative industry.

I get to meet many talented people every week. It's one of the best aspects of my job. When you get to meet someone who is truly engaged and connected to their passion for design, it is so inspiring that you can't help but to get excited with them. It isn't uncommon for any creative to desire a change after a while in a particular role or industry. If you've been producing catalogues for the past five years, it is understandable that you might want to do something different and to continue to both develop your skill set as well as ensure that your desire and passion for the industry stay energised from the opportunity to be challenged and to learn new skills.

This can often be a challenge though as many potential employers aren't keen to hire people simply because they have a desire to do "something new". If they have a position going, they're generally going to want someone who has experience in that type of work to give them the confidence that they're going to be good at what they do. You can understand this too; if they're looking for someone who can do packaging and you've had no experience in packaging, apart from your faith in your own abilities, how are you going to prove that you're capable of doing the job AND doing it well?  

This can even extend to creative ability. I've presented candidates to clients in the past and been told that they're not 'conceptual enough'. That their style of design 'is not a match', or 'just wrong'. This comes back to the whole idea of creative ability and, just like any skill set, unless you exercise and develop this, you are likely to produce just what you know.

Of course, experience in any job is going to continue to enrich and develop your design skills however sometime the ability to become more creative needs more than that. I recently sparked a debate in the office when I asked if people believed creativity is something you're born with or something you learn. Most of us agreed that it is somewhere in between - yes, you're born creative but then the best creatives are the ones who continue to push themselves and to learn more.

Maybe you've been working in one industry sector (ie. retail) for a long time and you're tired of it. You want to jump into another industry sector (ie. financial) but no one seems to want to give you the chance because you don't have work that reflects that industry. How do you do it?

The first thing to note is that, yes, it isn't an easy transition. Jumping to dated reasons like 'I've been a designer for xx years and have transferable skills' is not really going to cut it because, again, we're relying upon your own faith in your abilities and little else. Every brand needs social proof and case studies to convince their potential demographic that they can deliver, right? So why would you be different just because you believe you deserve it? Which isn't saying that you don't deserve it. Just that there are a lot of people out there who believe they deserve it, so you're not alone.

Part of the answer could be this; the design industry is, unsurprisingly, a visual industry. Potential employers want to SEE that you can do the work that they do. If they can't see it, chances are that they're not going to be interested in shortlisting your application. You need to give the an example from your work that matches what they do, or else you're going to have to work twice as hard to convince them that you've got those transferable skills.

Set yourself some private projects. Yes, you can use them in your folio provided that they're clearly labelled as private projects. Never try to pass them off as commercial work. However, do it in the same way that you would any other piece of work. Get a job brief. Set yourself a time limit to do it in. Put aside some time and become creative.

This is going to help you in a handful of ways.

It is going to provide you with a piece that you might be able to show as an example of the type of work you produce.  

It is also going to help to either reinforce or question that faith you have in your ability to do that kind of work. This points requires authentic self-reflection and honesty though. It's ok to discover that you're not awesome at everything.

The third benefit is that, like any skill set, it is going to give it a work out. Make it challenging. Step outside your comfort zone. Be confused for a moment and begin that process of allowing yourself to see things differently so that you can connect up those creative strands that might not have been used before.  

Like going to the gym, your creativity is a muscle that deserves to be given a bit of grunt occasionally and the web is not short of resources that can help you with this. Check out some of the links below that I've found which may assist you in growing your creativity, helping you to become a better designer and, ultimately, expanding your skill sets.