Monday, May 26, 2008

CRAFTY BUSINESS WITH LAURA-JEAN: applying for a creative job

In this edition of Crafty Business, Laura-Jean offers some tips on how to think outside the box when applying for jobs where grey suits and cubicles are not part of the picture.

crafty business

I recently posted a job listing, and got a flurry of applications. I was surprised by how many of them were very "by the books" applications, like you might be taught in school. For a creative job like this, I just skipped over them, and when one applicant asked for follow-up feedback on her application, it occurred to me this might be a good topic for the Crafty Business column.

If you dream of starting your own line of something one day, getting a job in the industry can be the best starting point. You gain so much knowledge about running a small business: how to produce things efficiently, marketing, financial planning and you gain valuable contacts. My assistant Jessie is launching her own jewellery line, Sugar Rush and her involvement in Fresh Baked Goods and Fresh Collective is the best small business boot camp ever!

Here are my top tips on applying for a creative job:

1) This is a 'by the books' tip, but spell-check, and proofread! Typos and grammatical errors look sloppy, and in a fashion job, it makes me wonder if you'll do sloppy work like not noticing threads that need clipping, or not be able to communicate clearly to a customer. I was surprised by how many applicants didn't do this, while mentioning attention to detail as one of their strengths!

2) Maybe it's just me, but I don't like opening attachments. As well, some of them I just couldn't open. So, if the email cover letter didn't get my attention, I probably won't bother opening the resume and waiting while my computer checks for viruses and all that. I'd prefer to see the resume cut and pasted into the body of the email. You have to realize a creative, fun job like this gets lots of responses quickly (I got over 20 in the 8 hours that my ad was up!) so I don't want to waste a bunch of time reading each one. You have to catch the employers attention quickly!

3) Read the ad carefully. I asked for a creative response including pictures of things that people had made and telling us a bit about themselves. So many included none of these things, and although they may have had perfectly applicable experience, I felt like they were not following instructions already! How could I expect them to understand what I'm looking for from them on a day to day basis on the job? Others stated that they could only send one picture through craigslist, but I included my email address and website in the ad, so a careful reading and a bit of problem solving would have helped there.

4) I look for a certain energy and spunk. I have found that the best employees are the ones who are excited about the job and thrilled to be getting their start in fashion, so enthusiasm about the whole thing works on me. Since we're a creative and slightly wacky business, I respond to that type of tone in the application. Plus, part of the job is retail, so I look for a personality that will fit in to our style. I need a person who is confident when talking to customers, and sends out the right energy. On top of all that, I want someone who will be fun to spend the day with and who will fit into our workplace where we discuss pressing issues such as the latest episode of America's Next Top Model and start business meetings with the phrase, "You know what would be cute...."

*****Even in a plain email you can find a way to show some spunk and personality********

5) One time I hired someone who had impressed me by repeating and addressing everything I had mentioned in the ad. Even things that she didn't have she addressed, like "although I don't have fashion retail experience, I feel confident that my experience in waitressing has taught me to juggle a lot of customer requests at once without getting stressed, and think on my feet when need be. I loved showing my customers a good time and really realized that I love working with people! It's fun to put together cute outfits for myself, and am sure I would be great at helping customers find clothes and accessories that suit them. I look forward to learning more about fashion sales and learning the skills needed to blah blah....." That kind of thing. It made me feel that she understood what I was looking for and was willing to learn, work hard and grow with the business.

6) Any employer is going to love you showing knowledge about the company. Although it takes extra time to do this for each application, you'd be wise to check the website and then demonstrate some knowledge about the business. As well, match the tone of your application to the type of business. If you apply to Betsy Johnson, for example, a pink resume with curly writing and an opening sentence like "I started in fashion making dresses for my Barbie's and it's always been my dream to work at Betsy Johnson's!!!!" You need to show your personality and stand out from the crowd. And an application to Calvin Klein would be totally different, of course.

I'm always surprised at how many people apply with their totally standard resume, which states their career goals as "Using my skills to further the objectives of the company" or other such nonsense cliches. It makes me feel they'd be just as happy to work with me, or with Office Depot. They just want a job. Maybe that's OK for some jobs, but if you really want a fun, creative job, you just have to offer more than a live human!

7) Many applicants stated that they had co-op experience at various local businesses, which is great. Real work experience is better than any education in my books! Make the most of your co-op placement! So many students just do what they're asked and do the job, but this is your big "in" in a new industry! What are you interested in learning there? Step up and ask for more responsibility! The more initiative you show, the more likely your placement might turn into a job. And even if you don't get hired on there, you can take your successes with you. I had a lot of applicants say something like, "I worked at a co-op placement at Boutique X, and learned some sewing there."

I'd rather see something like this, "At my co-op placement at Boutique X, I started learning to sew. Although I had never sewed before, I found I really loved it, and practised at home. By the end of the placement, I had made a skirt and a top for myself and still continue working on learning more complicated techniques. I also approached the owner of the shop with some sketches and ideas for a window display. I was very excited that she put me in charge of three window displays, and I had a lot of fun planning and setting up the windows. I was proud that several customers commented that they liked the windows and bought the outfits right off the mannequins! I really enjoyed my co-op placement, and learned a lot, and look forward to being able to apply my skills to another creative fashion job." This tells me a lot more about what type of applicant I'm getting than just a standard resume listing the facts.

So, what did the successful applicant send in her email? I felt her tone got her personality across, and the skills were there to back it up. She had retail experience, good sewing skills, eagerness, and a sense of fashion. Actually, she didn't even send a resume, or have any fashion education other than grade six Home Economics. The pictures were worth a thousand words. Here's her letter:

Hi there!

I just came across your posting on craigslist and I really, truly, think that this is the perfect job for me! Seriously!

First, let me tell you a little bit about myself:

My name is Siân, which is pronounced 'Sharn'. It's Welsh and tends to confuse people so I usually just say that my name rhymes with barn. I'm twenty one years old and am living near High Park with my cat, Wesley Snipes. I love all aspects of the fashion and beauty industry. I actually work part-time as a makeup artist, but love clothing and fashion just as much. Perhaps even more, if you judge my overflowing closet!

I had actually considered a career in fashion design when I was in high school. I wanted to go to design school and then open up my own clothing store on Queen Street. I originally learned how to sew back in my 6th grade home economics class, and my mom has helped out with tips and techniques since then. I used to create my own one-of-a-kind outfits back in high school and made a couple of dresses, including my prom dress, which was this gorgeous bright fucshia ball gown.

I lived in New York last year, which was an amazing experience. While there, I ended up getting a part time job at an Urban Outfitters. It was a crazy, hectic job, but it really helped to develop my fashion and sales skills. I also worked on the merchandising team, and did some shipping/receiving and inventory.

I love putting unique outfits together and turning heads when I'm walking down the street. And it's a personal goal of mine to never wear the exact same outfit twice. My obsession with fashion magazines (my faves including Nylon, Zink, Strut, Lush, Paper, ID, Italian Vogue, etc) keeps me up to date on the latest trends also.

Lastly, I just want to mention that I've been a fan of Fresh Baked Goods and Laura-Jean, Knitting Queen for years. I first discovered your work when I was googling for local Toronto designers. It would be an amazing experience to be part of the team. :)

Sian included some pictures of the dresses she had made and some pictures of makeup work she had done. Overall, I just got a sense of what she was like, and already felt confident that she could represent my business to my customers.

I hope everyone out there finds this advice useful to help them land that first fun job that could end up taking you down the road to your own exciting creative business! Just remember to stand out from the crowd, let your personality shine through, and show that you have the skills, willingness to learn, energy and enthusiasm to offer to back it all up! Good luck!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love the blog and always helpful information, tips, ideas and suggestions for us crafty types. However, I do question posting an applicant's actual letter/resume in a blog forum. There are some privacy issues to be concerned with...

2:15 p.m.  
Anonymous Laura-Jean said...

Hi, Laura-Jean here.... and yeah, I would never post something like that without clearing it with the person first. As well, much of my advice is inspired by actual problems that designers I know have come to me with, but I change enough indentifying info so no one could figure out who it was I was referring to.

I find advice is a lot more useful when concrete examples are used, and in this case, I could say things like "Let your personality shine though" but without seeing exactly how to, I think it's hard for someone who has been taught to follow all the rules when applying for a job to see just how I'm encouraging you to break them when applying for a creative job.

I'm totally into protecting people's privacy! And I'm glad you like the column.

3:29 p.m.  

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