Should I Look For A New Job?

One of the trickiest of the questions I get from students and former students is “How do I know when I should find a new job?” It’s an easy question if you’re miserable at your current job (or if you’ve just been laid off or fired). But let’s assume that you’re happy at your current job. It can be hard to jump from a big comfortable ship. Let’s also assume we’re talking about really looking for a job, not just being open to new opportunities. I don’t care how great a job you have, or how much they tell you that you’re family, you should always be open to new opportunities.

But let’s say we’re talking about actively looking to set off for greener pastures. How do you know when it’s the right time?

People will tell you various things. Find a new job if you’re not producing anything. If you’re not making enough money. If you’re not selling good work. If you’re not adding things to your portfolio. If you’re surrounded by incompetence. If you’re surrounded by assholes. If you’re not getting the good assignments. If your office isn’t big enough. If you have to work too many hours. If nobody else wants to work as hard as you.

I have a very simple answer: Find a new job when you’ve stopped growing.

Growth can come in different forms. Because I like diagrams, I’ve drawn out how I look at growth.

LEARNING. Are you in an environment that is helping to educate you? Are you regularly exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking? Do the people around you stimulate your curiosity? Are people in the agency good about sharing cool things they come across? Does the agency bring people in to give talks? Do they send you to conferences and award shows?

PRACTICE: Do you have enough work to keep you busy? And do you have enough time to really work through the problems you’re working on? If you’re a writer, do you have enough time to write 800 headlines? To come up with 100 concepts? This is sometimes a luxury you won’t have, but making ads is like anything else–practice makes you better (and sitting in pointless meetings does not). Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, talks about how it takes 10,000 hours of practice to really master anything. How many hours are you spending actually working?

EXPERIMENTATION: Doing the same things over and over will make you better–at that one thing. Does your agency push you to try new things? Do you have opportunities to push yourself? Do you have the freedom to fail spectacularly? There’s only one way to find out what you’re capable of.

CREATION: Are you actually selling ideas and producing them? Producing ideas not only builds your portfolio (assuming you’re producing good ideas), but it allows you to hone the skills of your craft. To fine tune. And having a finished product is good for the creative soul.

Ideally, you’re firing on all cylinders. But there will be dry spells. There have been two times in my last eight years where I’ve gone an entire year without producing a tv spot. But during both of those times, I didn’t jump ship because I felt like I was growing in other ways. That said, if you find that you’ve gone that long with nothing to show for it, meaning not the right kind of practice, or no chance to try something new and you don’t feel like you’re really learning anything, then it might be time to start shopping the ol’ book around.


Stop Being Such a Baby

At some point in your career, you’re going to be a junior creative who no longer wants to live under the title “junior creative.”

Maybe it’s wanting to shed a label you think no longer applies. Maybe it’s wanting more of the creative opportunities that usually go to the senior creatives. Maybe it’s just about ego. Whatever the reason, getting people to see you as something more than a junior creative can be harder than it should be.

Here are a few ways you can stop being a junior. With two caveats:

  1. This has nothing to do with politics, brown-nosing, or acting like someone you’re not. That stuff will get you nowhere.
  2. Reasons for advancing vary from agency to agency. The size of the shop and your relationship to the people in it have a lot to do with it.

Work hard.

Duh. If you produce great work, it will be recognized. By your bosses. Your peers. Headhunters and other agencies. Just make sure you don’t confuse working hard with treading water.

Stay at the same place for a long time.

Some places may promote you eventually. This requires patience and the afore mentioned “hard work.” But when you’re not only invested in the company’s culture, but you’ve helped maintain and build it, you should be bumped up eventually.

Ask for a promotion.

Tell your CDs that you want to advance. That you want to spearhead a pitch. Or have more facetime with the client. Don’t expect it to happen immediately. But let them know where you see yourself in five years. Then do what it takes to put yourself there.

Be lucky.

You have so little control over this, it’s almost not worth mentioning. But there it is.

Get another job.

This is probably the most effective way for junior creatives to become non-junior creatives. New agency. New faces. Suddenly no one knows you as a junior. It’s also probably the most effective way to increase your salary. Just remember, the better your work, the better chance you have of getting the job and opportunities you want. It always comes back to the work.

10 Other Ways to Become a Better Creative

During my brief stint as a mechanical engineering student in college, I had a professor tell me that I should avoid being a monkey wrench. “A monkey wrench is an okay solution to lots of things. You want to be a 3/8″ socket wrench. Be the best at one thing.” In other words, specialize.

Advertising is different. One of the things I love about being an advertising creative is that it involves many different aspects of art, business and human interaction. To be great, you’ll have to use every part of your brain. We talk a lot about how to be better at advertising, but here are some ideas about how to be better at other things, which will then make you better at advertising:

1) Get into music. Whether you take up an instrument or just listen to music, it can be a powerful tool in producing work. It works a different part of your brain and falls at the nexus of math, art and groove. At some point, you’ll probably have to work with a composer, and it helps to be able to speak the language (at least a little). FURTHER THOUGHTS ON MUSIC

2. Take a fiction-writing class. Story story story. You probably won’t write many short stories in your career, but the ability to construct a story, to use vivid and concrete language, to set up and resolve a conflict, to build a character–these skills are invaluable. And if you can earn yourself a reputation as a great writer, not just of ads, but of anything that needs writing, you can become invaluable to an agency.

3. Take a film class. Probably even more than music, film is a common language in advertising. You will talk to a director at some point, and although you may not need to analyze the opening scene of Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, it’s helpful to know the difference between a tracking shot and a pan.

4. Take an acting class. The only thing I could think of that’s more frightening is to take a singing class (okay, maybe a dance class too). But you will write scripts, and you will have to bring them to life. I know a writer who can take any material and write a funny script to it, then have a room in tears laughing because he’s such a funny actor. It’s a good skill to have. Not only that, but you’ll be able to articulate what you’re thinking to a director on set.

5. Improv class. If you haven’t realized it yet, the rules of concepting and the rules of improv are the same. I say something, then you say “Yes, and…” And we build. There’s performance in improv, sure, but the ability to take an idea that someone throws your way, spin it and keep it up in the air, that’s the important part of improv.

6. Learn how to tell jokes. Not too long ago, I was at a planning convention and I went to a workshop on joke writing. It could have been a workshop on how to write a headline. And for all the classes I’ve taken and taught on writing headlines, this was the best breakdown of why a good headline works. Plus, the best jokes are stories (see #2).

7. Go to a presentation seminar. This should be self-evident, but it’s like running wind sprints. You’re probably only going to do it if someone makes you. At the very least, read a book on presenting. As nice as it would be, ideas don’t sell themselves.

8. Read everything you can get your hands on. Whether you’re reading fiction and absorbing the style and voice or reading non-fiction and picking up little bits of trivia that may come in handy some day, whether you’re into books or blogs, be a sponge. I once read The Vagina Monologues while working on a Tampax assignment. It made me think differently about…well, about vaginas for one thing.

9. Read books on business. Or blogs on business. Advertising is full of art and craft and everything else we like to focus on, but every piece of advertising in the end is a business solution. We often think of business as the boring-as-hell SWAT analyses we did in college, but real business is full of creativity. And a broad understanding of how brands operate on the other side of the fence can make you seem like an engaged, astute, and rare creative.

10. Take an art class. Art directors have presumably done this at some point. Writers should too. Not just to understand some of the basics of design, but being able to draw out ideas is an important communication skill. And thinking with doodles, again, engages a different part of your brain.

There’s ten. I’m sure there are plenty more. Please, suggest some others.

More Experienced Partners

When I started my career, I was fortunate to be partnered with an art director who had a couple years’ experience. My first assignment was tv spot, and about a month into my first job, I was on a shoot. I would have been completely lost had it not been for the help of my partner.

The learning curve is pretty steep when you start at your first agency, but it will be steeper if you work with more experienced people. If you have an opportunity to partner with a seasoned vet, take it. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to look foolish.

Agencies often pair juniors with juniors. This, I think, is a mistake. Juniors will grow much faster if they have someone to show them the ropes.