So I’m sitting in the marketing executive’s office, finishing up an interview for a senior writer position I really want. It’s gone well so far. I’ve given more good responses than mediocre, I think, and as far as I can tell no really stupid ones. Then he hits me with this…
“Robbie, I like your work, but there are a lot of talented writers interviewing for this job. Can you give me one compelling reason — right now — that you’re the one we should hire?”
My first thought: Oh, crap.
I don’t do well in these situations. And in terms of questions I was hoping to hear, this one ranks up there with “Where do you see yourself in five years?” or “Are you really going to wear that?”
There’s no outsmarting these situations. I don’t know this guy. I have no idea what he wants to hear. So I transition immediately to my second thought: Just tell him the truth. And here’s what I say.
“I consider myself the luckiest guy in the world, because I get to write, every day, for a living. I think what sets me apart from many of the writers you’ve seen so far — and probably much of your current creative staff too — is that I see this as the dream job. I’m not a frustrated novelist looking for a copywriting gig to pay the bills until I get discovered. This isn’t a steppingstone — it’s my end game. I get to be a writer. I bring a real joy and passion to my work that I don’t think most creatives do when they work in a corporate environment.”
Yeah, I rambled. But he was smiling the whole time, so I kept going until I’d made my point.
And apparently I made it well, because they hired me, and this exec later told me that after hearing that response he would’ve given me the job on the spot if he didn’t first have to get the okay from the CEO.
Here’s what I learned from that experience — and from conducting an ongoing (although unscientific) poll ever since with employers who hire creative talent.
One thing businesses often fear when they bring on creatives is that they’re never going to get our best work. Employers often view writers, graphic artists, web designers, video editors and other creatives — sometimes justifiably — as frustrated artists who’d rather be doing something else. At best, they reason, we’re just biding our time with them, doing so-so work, just enough not to get fired, until our dreams come true. At worst, we resent having to work for a business at all, and we’re doing pretty lousy work while spending most of our energy on our real passions.
That presents you with a great opportunity to differentiate yourself: Show your enthusiasm for the work by making the case that it’s what you love to do. I promise you: That’s what a lot of would-be employers and clients want to know before they bring you onboard, even if they don’t ask.
As a creative professional, you have a unique advantage here. I’m sure a tax accountant or an insurance underwriter can show enthusiasm in a job interview. But let’s be honest: Not many kids grow up thinking, I want to be an associate manager of transportation logistics.
You, on the other hand, can make the obvious case that, yes, you’ve always wanted to be an artist. So of course you’re genuinely enthusiastic about this Graphic Designer job in the company’s marketing department. It means you get to be an artist, all day, for a living — just like you’ve always wanted. Incredibly, very few creative professionals even try to make this case in job interviews.
Now, you might be thinking, Wait a minute. I’m not enthused about the Graphic Designer job in the office. I want to draw comics. My advice here applies only if you can honestly say you’re excited about a creative position. And if you don’t think that’s the case — if you consider working for any business a necessary evil until your dream job comes along — then I have one more suggestion. Perhaps the person you need to convince how incredibly lucky you are to be able to do this type of work isn’t a potential employer — it’s you.
Yes, designing marketing collateral and icon sets for a big tech company might not be as fun as drawing an animated TV series. But it’s drawing. You actually get to wake up every morning and go to “work” drawing. How close do you think the work tax accountants do all day is to their dream jobs?
We creative types are the lucky ones. Convince yourself. Then convince your would-be employer. It opens doors — I promise!
Featured photo credit: Dream Job Exit Sign via shutterstock.com