How to Be a Strong Creative Candidate

September 26, 2023
Job Seeking

The longer a job search lasts, the more it can feel out of control.

Companies may or may not get back to you, you're entrusting recruiters with your career advancement, or you may be in between jobs and dealing with anxiety about not working.

Most of us have been there too.

Putting your future in the hands and judgment of others can be scary. Is there anything you can do to retain some control of your search? Yes.

According to our recruiters, with some persistence and time, our actions can make us stronger candidates, transform our confidence, and keep us plugged into our industries.

Try the following if you feel like you’re hitting a wall with your job search.

Tailor your resume

We often tell applicants to think of resumes like a film preview: you want to introduce yourself and pique the interest of the person reading it to learn more.

One way to do this is to tailor your resume to the job you’re applying for.

Some will say it’s best to aim for quantity of applications over quality; others will tell you to only go for jobs you’re qualified for.

Like most things, your job search requires a bit of trial and error to find a formula that works for you. Unfortunately, there’s no proven optimal method because each job search is unique; the amount of experience you offer, the similarity or difference of your last or current role to the one you want, the state of the job market, and salary requirements all factor into your search.

Sometimes, applying for a new job is a numbers game, or it’s a matter of marketing yourself as having the most relevant experience.

Let’s consider the latter.

You don’t have to tailor your resume for every job—that would be overwhelming and nearly impossible.

Instead, tailor your resume for job openings you’re truly interested in.

This method blends the benefits of mass applying with making your resume appear made-to-order for certain roles.

Although it once took a lot of effort to modify your resume according to the job description, ChatGPT and other generative AI tools can dramatically reduce the time involved.

Try this prompt with ChatGPT:

  1. Please read the following job description: (paste the job description)
  2. I’d like you to act as a resume writer. Without changing any of the information in my resume, please rewrite it to highlight my relevance to the job description: (paste your resume)

What should appear is a revised resume tailored for that role.

The language you choose is important as the closer it aligns with the job description, the better a match applicant tracking systems (such as Workday, Greenhouse, BambooHR, iCIMS) will recognize and rank your resume.

This won’t guarantee an interview, nor will it ensure that your application will be read by an internal hiring person. However, it’ll improve your chances, and that is the most control you can have in this situation!

Getting personal counts

Hiring managers want to see the full scope of your creative ability and skill and the work you produced most recently, especially what you’ve been cooking up in the past 5 years. Think of your portfolio as a way to flex your latest and greatest hits.

Published work produced for a client is necessary for your portfolio: it shows what you can accomplish within client guidelines and requests. Hiring managers consider this when evaluating creative candidates.

On the flip side, including personal work can spark a hiring manager’s interest in you for projects with a less defined creative scope. What can they learn about your perspective and frame of reference when the sky’s the limit?

Using some of your downtime to produce a creative project or help out a friend or a non-profit could lead to the perfect piece that starts a conversation with a potential employer.

If you use social media, share it with your network or in online communities where others in your discipline or industry hang out.

If you’re going to add one or two personal works to your portfolio, save them for the end of your book and specify that they are passion projects.

Personal work serves the dual purpose of demonstrating what you can do without limits and keeping your skills sharp—this matters.

Keep your skills sharp

Some internal hiring teams have a preference for employed applicants. This is becoming less common, but the lean emphasizes the need to exercise your skills.

You want to appear current, knowledgeable, and ready to dive into the work to those who may think unemployed applicants have more difficulty doing so.

Personal projects are an excellent way to keep your skills current.

Adding to your cred is if you offer those skills in service to others. A few hours of volunteering your skills to a positive cause, either on a project-to-project basis or weekly, looks great on your resume. (You’ll also be helping others in need—reason enough to do it!)

Can you include volunteer work in a portfolio? Yes! (Just be sure to indicate it’s volunteer work.)

Other ways to stay sharp include free (or priced) online courses such as Berghs, Domestika, Skillshare, or Hyper Island.

Bring your perspective

Sticking with the learning theme, don't underestimate the power of reading and writing!

Continued learning can take many forms, and those who excel in their professions are lifelong learners. You can consume educational content in various ways: ebooks, podcasts, courses, vlogs—the list goes on.

For example, let's say you're an ACD who wants to improve your conceptualization skills—look up some work you admire or a few award-winning ads, find the names of the creative professionals behind them, and search for their books. Study them!

The next step is to write about what you've read; the best way to retain what you've learned is to share it. Additionally, offer your perspective.

Something else to keep in mind is what questions recruiters and hiring managers may have for you. How do you keep up with industry developments? What are agency or in-house teams discussing? What problems are they encountering?

A complaint our recruiters occasionally hear from clients as they reach out to us is that candidates don't have a perspective on their agency or brand's work or industry developments.

What's your perspective?

Stand out from other applicants by cultivating and offering yours!

Be the strongest candidate you can be

You may have noticed a theme in tailoring your resume, presenting personal projects, keeping your skills sharp, and having a perspective—it's all about becoming the strongest candidate you can be.

You can take steps to empower yourself in a job search. Most of your influence comes from how you present yourself and communicate.

The duration of a job search, the preferences of the company, and the responses you receive from recruiters and hiring managers can vary; the best you can do is control who you are and how you present as a candidate. Keep applying and networking until you have a signed offer!