Wednesday, February 23, 2011

If you're good at something, never do it for free.

It’s no surprise to anyone these days that times are tough and jobs are scarce. Consequently, it’s much more competitive in the realms of job-seeking and one must do what they can to gain an edge over the competition. People often try new things to get noticed and someone else says “Hey, that’s a good idea” and they try it themselves and it spreads and snowballs until it becomes the norm. I have no proof or way of finding out, but I’m pretty sure the concept of the “cover letter” started with some overachiever saying “Hey, what if I include a letter with my resume? That’ll make me stand out!” Then, eventually it became a requirement in a job application to include a cover letter (or, if not a requirement, it at least made you seem inadequate if you failed to provide one). Personally, if I ever do find out who pioneered the cover letter, I will happily kidnap them, torture them, and kill them (if somebody already hasn't).

Regardless, that’s water under the bridge. What I’m most concerned with these days are the burgeoning future job-seeking trends that will no doubt become mandatory. I have been working in the area of art direction and graphic design for nearly 15 years now and every time I have sought a new job, the guidelines have changed. Well, not necessarily “changed” so much as “increased”. Artists and designers are unique in that a big part of the hiring process (the most crucial part, I would hope) is based on the quality of one’s portfolio.

When I first started looking for work as a designer fresh out of college, the way it worked was I sent out my resume and cover letter like anyone else and, if the prospective employer liked what they saw in my skills and experience, they called me in for an interview at which time I presented my portfolio. A few years later, it seemed they wanted me to enclose samples from my portfolio along with my resume and cover letter so they could get a general sense of my talent before deciding if they wanted to see more. Great idea! I've always felt my portfolio was stronger than my resume anyway and sending employers a tiny taste to whet their appetites seemed like a sure-fire way to get my foot in the door.

Shortly thereafter, when the internet became so thoroughly integrated in every aspect of American life and business, companies that were hiring wanted me to send a link to my portfolio online. Okay, that’s great because it saves me the trouble of having to print out samples, it saves me the cost of shipping and handling, and it saves me the time of having to wait for them to receive my goods and get back to me. However, once they’ve seen my whole portfolio (and without me there to talk about it, no less), what else do I have to show you when I come in for an interview? Makes things a bit anti-climatic, doesn’t it? It’s like having the entrée served when they’re supposed to be eating the appetizers. Still, I can appreciate the efficiency of this method even if it does strike me as slightly less-effective.

However, now that I’m looking for full-time work as a designer once again, I’m noticing a new fad starting to pick up steam that I find both disturbing and annoying. Now, it seems, in addition to my online portfolio, employers want a detailed explanation of the creative process behind each piece. Whoa, whoa, whoa… Hold it right there. If you wanna know how I work, you gotta call me in for an interview, bub. That’s how it goes. I’m not giving you all the goods up front. The method you’re suggesting is akin to requesting nude pictures from a girl before you even ask her out on a date.

The work in my portfolio either measures up to your standards of design or it doesn’t. You either like the work or you don’t. You’ll either want to learn more about me or you won’t. At this early stage in the hiring process, what does it matter what my process is? Are you so pretentiously sensitive that you’re afraid my thinking process doesn’t jibe with yours (even if the end result is completely successful)? Or are you simply looking for quick, new, underhanded ways to poach other people’s creative methods rather than just actually hiring them? It reminds me of a line from the high-stakes poker film “The Cincinnati Kid”. Rip Torn’s character Slade has just been cleaned out by Edward G. Robinson’s character Howard and Slade asks him “How in the hell did you know I didn’t have the King or the Ace?” and Howard succinctly replies “All you paid was the looking price. Lessons are extra.” Well, employers… When you hire me, you get the full package with all the bells and whistles. Until then, you gotta give action to get action.

I realize that this disdainful attitude of mine (whether it’s justified or not) probably won’t increase my odds of finding a job anytime soon and I’m even more aware that the job market is so tight right now that prospective employers can get away with requesting applicants do all sorts of unreasonable (and even humiliating) things just for a shot at an interview. But, seriously: How much free work must all of us be expected to put out for a job that only one person will be hired for? I may be a whore, but I’m not a slut.


  1. I agree. Your creative method is borderline intellectual copyright and to share it up-front is ridiculous to ask. I mean, the point of getting an interview is to give the potential employer a taste of your portfolio, so they will want to meet you in person.

    It used to be best practices to only select about half a dozen pieces of your best work, not give away the whole farm. Plus, this shows your ability to distinguish your best work. You don't want to waste the potential employer's time. The Internet is a great tool to display your portfolio, but I think our easy access to information, has started to take it out of control.

  2. Women are much more likely than men to have gaps in their resume because it is not uncommon for women to take time off from work to care for a sick or aging relative, to have children, or to go through periods of under-employment or unemployment for various other reasons. Sadly, however, hiring managers will see this “resume gap” as a red flag and will want to know why you took time off from work. Learn more:

    employment tips