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Unemployed and Overwhelmed? Creative Ways to Land Creative Jobs

Spark Public

Unemployed and Overwhelmed? Creative Ways to Land Creative Jobs

January 23, 2017

Maybe you’re getting ready to graduate from college. Maybe you’ve been out of school for years and have struggled to find the right career opportunities. Whatever the case, if you are currently job-hunting, you know it can be a tough and frustrating experience.

For young adults, it’s not always feasible to take an unpaid internship or work for peanuts when you’re hemorrhaging money from student debt and rent payments. As a result, breaking out of the catch-22 when you’re just starting out in your career can seem impossible.

Annie Zelko is a senior recruiter at Creative Circle, a staffing agency that works to place candidates in creative industries such as design, user experience, marketing, production, copy writing, etc.

Annie has been in the recruiting business for over five years and reviews around 100 resumes every week. I sat down with Annie to get the inside scoop on how to succeed in an incredibly competitive job market if you’re just starting out.


Q: What is Creative Circle and how do your services work?

A: We are a specialized staffing agency, which means we work on behalf of our clients (employers) to place the right people in their companies. We do a mix of everything from freelance work to contract positions, as well as full-time hire positions.

Q: How do you connect people to the right job?

A: Culture fit is a huge thing in this town. That doesn’t come across on a resume necessarily, so we really strive to get a good idea of the company’s team and workflow so we can make sure we match not only the technical skills [needed for the job], but the soft skills as well.

Q: What are the benefits of going through a staffing agency like Creative Circle rather than going it alone?

A: One [benefit] is just our speediness and the number of opportunities we have available. We’re also very communicative.The most frustrating part for me, when I was applying for jobs, was that you apply to all of these jobs and then you just never hear back. We keep you updated on where a job status is at. If it turns out that you are under-qualified for something that we have you in front of, we’ll let you know. We’ll [also] help you better prepare yourself, and maybe that will give you some insights on things you need to change on your resume or change on your portfolio.

NOTE: Unlike some staffing agencies, Creative Circle is unique in that it does not take a percentage of your income. Creative Circle also provides full medical benefits, 401k coverage, and holiday pay. Just keep in mind that not all staffing agencies are the same.


Q: How can a young professional stand out on their resume when they are still in the process of building up experience?

A: Your resume should be pretty clear and concise. Be honest about what you’ve done in your past experience. I see a lot of resumes that are kind of fluffed up or have this eloquent language to them. I don’t really look much at that. I care about what was your job, what did you do.

It’s helpful if there are any success metrics (or measurable achievements) that you can include. For example, if you were leading an email campaign, what was the open rate of the emails?

Proper spelling is huge. You wouldn’t believe some of the things that we see, and there’s really just no excuse for that because you have all of the time in the world to proofread it.

When I was applying to jobs, I’d often just read my resume out loud so that  I could make sure all of the sentences made sense, that there weren’t any grammar issues and make sure that everything was phrased as clearly as possible.

Formatting should be consistent. How you title your headline, your bullet points and spacing — just make sure it’s the same throughout. That stands out to me on paper.

Q: How important is it to have a uniquely designed resume?

A: If you’re a designer you should have a pretty, well-designed resume, because people will be looking at how it’s laid out. A good use of white space and margins. I also see a lot of over-designed resumes, so there’s definitely a balance to be had with that. (See below examples).

Example Resumes:

Click on each image to enlarge and download

Less Exp

Resume with less experience example

Less Exp

Marketing resume example

Less Exp

Design Resume example

Q: What about tailoring your resume for SEO and keyword screening? How can you make sure someone actually looks at your resume?

A: Make sure the words that are in the job description are reflected on your resume. For example, if [you’re applying to] an email marketing job and you’re going to be working with a particular type of email software and you have that experience, list that on your resume. I think a lot of those SEO [bots] look for repetition of some of those keywords, so make sure they’re in the bullets.

Q: Is the “objective” section on a resume necessary these days?

A: If you have a cover letter or some sort of an email intro, I think it’s a little redundant. Plus, there’s a huge margin for error if you forget to change that section when you’re applying to other jobs. I think it’s great if somebody’s trying to switch industries, then they can kind of speak to that in a more general tone, but [otherwise] just take it off. 


Q: What do you look for in a cover letter?

A: I’m looking for “I’m interested in this job because of this,” or “I have this experience that seems inline with what you’re looking for.” For example, if somebody is applying for a marketing coordinating position, and you’re going to be doing designing and managing social media for a company, I’d look for something like, “I have a minor in graphic design so I am comfortable working with this design software.”

Keep it short. I think after  eight to ten sentences people tend to stop reading. Your resume can be somewhat standard, but the cover letter is really your opportunity to make a case for yourself.


Q: In your experience, what is the number one mistake a person can make in an interview?

A: Not being prepared. Not doing your research about the company or having some talking points that you can speak to. Swearing is also probably a bad thing to do.

Outside of that, let the interviewer guide the conversation. I think people have a tendency to babble and take over, which causes things to run super-long. So listen to what they’re saying, be engaged, answer questions correctly. And then you can always email them a follow-up letter to thank them and you can reiterate some of those points too.


Q: Should  job-seekers apply for a position even if they aren’t sure they meet the qualifications?

A: I’d say apply but don’t necessarily expect to get a call back. Usually if you hit about 70–75 percent of the qualifications, it’s a good idea to apply. If they want five years of experience and you have three, still apply.

Q: How much time should you spend researching the company you’re applying to?

A: Do your homework. Look at their website. Give it a good hour or two, especially before you interview with a company. If anything jumps out at you, that would be good to mention in a cover letter to demonstrate that knowledge base.

Q: What is the best format to send your resume and attachments in?

A: .PDF is pretty universal. I like it because I’ve noticed that Microsoft Word can change the fonts and formatting depending on what version of Word you’re using. So while you could have spent a ton of time creating this beautifully crafted and formatted resume, if someone opens it up and the formatting is changed, it doesn’t look the way you intended it. So just stick with .PDF.

Q: What is the appropriate way to follow up on a job and how many times should you do so?

A: You don’t want to be overly aggressive, as it turns people off. I’d say if it’s a job you’re really excited about and you have an employer’s email address, maybe follow up once to just reiterate your interest in the position. I think a better use of your time is to try and network within that company — LinkedIn is a great tool for this — see if maybe there’s someone you know who might be able to put in a good word for you. Or maybe you can just get on a call with them to learn more about the company. I’d recommend that over just showing up in person, I think that’s kind of a no-no these days.


Q: Many young people work in service industry jobs but then find themselves stuck in the catch-22 position of not being able to get the type of experience they need to work in another industry. What can they do?

A: I started in the service industry when I was out of school, and I actually look for that on people’s resumes because there are so many skills that you learn in that category. So don’t think it’s not valuable experience to have.

If you are in a service job and you aren’t working a full 40-hour week or you have weekends off, use that time to do additional training. There are a lot of great online resources if you need to brush up on certain tools or skills. has a lot of tutorials [for creative industry professionals]. For our design students, we always recommend School of Visual Concepts, or if you want to go deeper, there’s a lot of boot camp programs you can do that are more immersive.

Q: How can someone in a creative industry who’s been freelancing for a long time break into a full-time job ?

A: Do some spec work — design challenges or writing challenges that you just give to yourself, to build your portfolio. Even though it’s not real client work, it still goes a long way. That proves to the client that “Yes, I can do this job and here’s the proof.”

I’m glad you mentioned freelance work. That’s a great way to not only boost up your resume but also get your foot in the door. I can’t even tell you how many projects will start out as two-week freelance gigs and they’re still there, months and months later because you got in the door and that’s the hardest part. When you integrate with a team [as a freelancer] and they love working with you,  you’re probably the first person they’re going to call when they have more work. So the more flexible and open you are to any number of [projects], I think the more  success you’re going to have.

Q: What advice can you offer for negotiating salary?

A: [If you’re] coming right out of school, your number one goal should be to build up your experience in whatever way, shape or form that comes in. Once you’re two, three, four years into your job search, then you can be a little more picky since you’re bringing more to the table.

Know your walk-away point when it comes to compensation [if you have a little more experience]. Not every job is going to be able to pay the same, even for the same kind of work. There are a lot of tools out there that you can use to research salaries, but knowing what your bottom line is salary-wise to be able to live is going to be the most important thing. Just be wary of shooting yourself in the foot by pricing yourself out of an opportunity.

Q: How important are degrees in the creative Industry?

A: It depends on the job. For designers,  employers are usually looking for some sort of professional education in design. Sometimes [a job post] will say BFA required — it’s just kind of at the discretion of the employer.You’d probably need to be working for a few years as a self-taught designer before people really trust that you have the technical level of experience they want.

Q:  The job market today is constantly evolving. How can you keep your skills current?

A: It’s very important to keep up to date on things like software and design trends. Not to say that you need to become an expert in everything as soon as it comes out, but do your research. User-experience designers have a ton of website tools at their disposal, and a lot of them are very similar. If you know the differences between tools and programs, you can speak to that in an interview.

Follow the work of agencies in town to see what’s [being] produced. I follow a lot of them on Twitter, and that’s where they tend to post a lot of their new projects so that’s something to consider [as well].

Q: What advice do you have for someone who’s been job hunting for a long time and feels really discouraged?

A: It’s tough. We understand. I’d say just keep pushing forward and make sure that you’re being targeted [in your efforts]. The people who tend to kind of just blast out stuff everywhere tend to be less successful than the people who really take their time and apply for just four, five or six jobs a week that they are qualified for, feel strongly about and can tailor their cover letter or resume to.

Use your time  to continue to build up your resume and portfolio. Taking on volunteer or pro bono work with a nonprofit can help you continue building your experience. You’re probably going to be better served doing that than just aiming to send out 50 resumes a week and hoping something happens.


Jen Germain

Jen Germain is a media producer with the Creative Services team at Cascade Public Media, helping to drive brand and programming initiatives. Previously, Jen worked as a producer with Spark Public, where she helped lead digital strategy and mentor a team of millennial multimedia journalists. Find her on Twitter @jengermain. 

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In December 2016 I joined the Creative Circle talent pool. About 99% of the jobs I've applied to through them I never heard back. It's really no different than job searching independently.