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How to Successfully Pursue a Creative Career

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Thinking of pursuing a creative career, but not sure what to expect? If you’re a creator, then you’ve already thought about the possibility of doing what you love for a living. But you’ve also thought about the hard knock life that comes with pursuing a creative career.

The good news is that just because you want to play music for a living doesn’t automatically mean you’ll have to play in the streets.

Let me explain, there are attainable and practical creative professions that you can strive for without having to go broke.  

So if you’re a student, recent graduate, or would just like to switch out of your corporate 9 to 5 job, the creative career path might be right for you.

Finding the right fit and plan of action are key to succeeding in any career.  

In this article, you’ll learn about:

  • The pros and cons of pursuing a creative career
  • How to choose your creative career path
  • How to pursue a creative profession

Let’s get started.

The benefits of pursuing a creative career

Creative career: street artist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wondering what’s in it for you on a creative path? How about an Oscar, Emmy, Tony or Grammy, which are the top prizes given annually for creative endeavors in American film, TV, theatre and music.

It’s true that people who receive any of these awards, or even a nomination, represent just a slice of everyone in show biz – which in itself is just a slice of all the creative professions out there.

Some are in the public eye, some are behind the scenes, but all appreciate the stimulation and inspiration from pursuing a passionate life.

If you’re interested to know the benefits of creative careers, begin with this list:

The Flexibility of a Career Creative is Unmatched

Ever get tired of the same work, schedule and co-workers? Do you find the environment of 9 to 5 jobs too stiffing? Following a creative career will give you days of excitement, freedom and unpredictability.

Creative Jobs Have Less Time Restrictions

Creativity can hit anytime, whether it’s during the day or middle of the night. In creative fields, modifications and revisions are endless since there are no set criteria. A creative person and a time clock rarely combine well.

You’ll Gain Exposure to Other Creatives

People with similar passions seek each other out, and can often combine their energy and enthusiasm into something incredible, dynamic and inspiring. An easy example is graphic designers collaborating with writers to help forge an effective marketing team.

Public Attention for Your Creative Work Ain’t So Bad

Creative types don’t always seek money, or even other people’s approval. But that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate recognition from their peers and community. There’s a degree of vanity, certainly, but it feels good to get applause for something you did.

The Satisfaction of Making Something Out of Nothing

Though any career path, creative or otherwise, includes moments of accomplishment, creatives feel pride when something cool they’ve imagined becomes ‘real,’ from a successful invention to the name of a project or product.

Challenges to consider in creative careers

Creative careers & challenges

People who caution others from pursuing creative dreams actually make some valid points. Compared to traditional careers, creative careers are more risky.

Here are some of the downsides that come with pursuing a purely creative lifestyle:

Variable Hours

While a job in finances will always mean the same eight hours daily, a creative project might take 50 hours one week, 30 another. Flexibility and spontaneity are appealing, but can become stressful for others in your life who depend on you.

Not Everyone’s Dreams Will Come True

Broadway and Hollywood are full of people who used to believe they could make it big with enough perseverance. Real talent can make it to the top, but sometimes luck/randomness also plays a part. A takeaway is to keep striving for preparedness for that big break, but understand it may never come.

Public Criticism

Though many creatives crave the spotlight, it can also be a scary, lonely place if something goes wrong. It’s important for your future mental health to learn how to not care or ignore about negative attention.

Inconsistent Income

It’s a challenge to manage a home/family if someone only relies on creative output to pay the bills. If you’re working long hours below minimum wage, be prepared to make other sacrifices.

Too Limiting

Kudos to anyone wanting to do nothing but paint or play music all day! The world, however, still requires basic marketable skills, which could be anything from ordering supplies to handling publicity to tracking sales. People may want to consider outsourcing these tasks, or even taking classes to educate themselves on topics like business. Plus, if you ever hit a slump or want a break, you’ll have useful job skills to fall back on.

Nothing is impossible but you have to be ready to put in the extra work if need be.

“Network with everybody…You can be an amazing artist but if you stay in your studio, you’re not going to go anywhere.” – words of advice from Chicago based street artist, JC Rivera.

Find the right creative career path for you

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There are plenty of occupations that provide creative opportunities. Everything from performing or visual arts, to trades and technical roles, such as a costume designer or set builder.

So which occupation and industry is right for you? We’re going to share some great tools and resources that will help you explore your options in depth.

But before we get into that, here are some factors you should take into consideration when choosing what creative profession you’d like to pursue:

  • Wage and employment outlook
  • Skills, education and experience necessary
  • Tools and technology involved
  • Daily tasks, work style and pace

Remember, choosing a creative career means more than just doing what seems fun.

The fact is, you want a career that’s compatible with you, your lifestyle, and your goals. 

That’s why learning as much about creative fields is important. You want to make sure your strengths and weaknesses fit into the occupation you choose. You also want to know what to expect in terms of pay, as this is important as well.

With that being said, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is a great resource where you can cross compare occupations by their wages and employment statistics. These figures are updated annually, which allows you to make an informed decision about the job you want to pursue.

If you’re looking for statistics of artistic/creative careers, here is a step-by-step navigation you can follow.

So let’s begin.

Once you’re at the home page, go to the ‘Subjects’ tab,  and click ‘Employment.’

Bureau of Labor Statistics

In the ‘Employment’ tab on the left, drop down to ‘Employment By Occupation.’

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Under ‘OES Data’ click on ‘Occupation Profiles.’

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Next, you’ll be given a list of major groups you can choose from. Click on the ‘Arts, Design, Entertainment’ group.

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Here, you’ll be able to look closely at different occupations and their stats, including:

  • Wages (hourly and annually)
  • Industries with employment in these occupations
  • Top paying industries for this occupation
  • Employment rates by location (state and metropolitan)
  • Top paying areas (state and metropolitan)

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So how does this information help you? Here’s how:

  • You’ll have an idea of what your earnings will be
  • You’ll know where you can expect to find employment

The truth is, making it in a creative career is difficult–but not impossible. If you do your research you’ll know what to anticipate and how to plan appropriately.

That said, here is a list of jobs in artistic and creative fields that you can explore in the OES. Below you’ll also find examples of data retrieved from the OES just to give you an idea of what information is available to you.

List of Creative Careers:

  1. Actor/actress
  2. Director
  3. Painter/fine artist
  4. Web designer
  5. Graphic/digital artist
  6. Musician
  7. Sound Engineer Technician
  8. Photographer
  9. Art director
  10. Sound designer
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    Public Relations Specialist: Top paying metropolitan areas for this occupation

    Metropolitan areaEmployment(1)Employment per thousand jobsLocation quotient (9)Hourly mean wageAnnual mean wage (2)
    San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, CA Metropolitan Division3,6403.572.25$48.02$99,870
    Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metropolitan Division18,9307.834.93$46.20$96,090
    San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA1,8401.821.15$45.22$94,060
    Charlottesville, VA2402.261.42$37.18$77,340
    Silver Spring-Frederick-Rockville, MD Metropolitan Division1,1802.061.30$37.00$76,960

    Public Relations Specialist: Industries with the highest levels of employment in this occupation:

    IndustryEmployment(1)Percent of industry employmentHourly mean wageAnnual mean wage (2)
    Advertising, Public Relations, and Related Services38,0607.94$36.23$75,370
    Business, Professional, Labor, Political, and Similar Organizations20,9104.85$33.79$70,290
    Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools16,4400.55$27.63$57,480
    Local Government (OES Designation)9,9800.19$28.96$60,250
    Management of Companies and Enterprises9,6100.43$34.61$71,980
  11. Composer
  12. Writer
  13. Poet
  14. Crafter/craft artist
  15. Quilter
  16. Filmmaker/cinematographer
  17. Editor
  18. Set designer
  19. Costume designer
  20. Sculptor
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    Fine artists: States with the highest employment level in this occupation.

    StateEmployment(1)Employment per thousand jobsLocation quotient (9)Hourly mean wageAnnual mean wage (2)
    California3,1000.202.25$33.42$69,500
    New York1,3100.151.65$35.32$73,470
    Ohio9400.182.01$13.62$28,330
    Texas7700.070.75$22.62$47,050
    North Carolina4300.101.18$23.45$48,770

    Fine Artists: Industries with the highest levels of employment in this occupation:

    IndustryEmployment(1)Percent of industry employmentHourly mean wageAnnual mean wage (2)
    Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers3,9607.47$25.03$52,060
    Motion Picture and Video Industries1,2200.31$36.06$75,010
    Newspaper, Periodical, Book, and Directory Publishers4400.11$32.09$66,740
    Software Publishers3700.11$45.99$95,650
    Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools3600.01$25.12$52,260
  21. Chef
  22. Glassblower
  23. Multimedia artist
  24. Fashion designer
  25. Industrial designer
  26. Screenwriter
  27. Floral designer
  28. Interior designer
  29. Illustrator
  30. Inker (Comics/Publishing)
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    Graphic Designer: Top paying States for this occupation.

    StateEmployment(1)Employment per thousand jobsLocation quotient (9)Hourly mean wageAnnual mean wage (2)
    District of Columbia1,3201.961.32$35.98$74,840
    New York20,5102.281.54$30.09$62,580
    California28,9401.871.26$28.57$59,420
    Maryland3,3501.290.87$28.32$58,910
    Massachusetts4,8901.440.97$27.17$56,520

    Graphic Designer: Industries with the highest levels of employment in this occupation:

    IndustryEmployment(1)Percent of industry employmentHourly mean wageAnnual mean wage (2)
    Specialized Design Services26,89020.45$26.58$55,290
    Advertising, Public Relations, and Related Services22,6104.71$25.21$52,440
    Printing and Related Support Activities18,5504.10$19.87$41,320
    Newspaper, Periodical, Book, and Directory Publishers17,4504.35$21.87$45,500
    Computer Systems Design and Related Services9,2100.49$29.12$60,570
  31. Inker (Tattoo)
  32. Marketing writer
  33. Technical writer
  34. Woodworker
  35. Foley artists
  36. PR/Marketing specialist
  37. Animator
  38. Game designer
  39. Theater manager
  40. Copywriter
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    Writers and Authors: Top paying States for this occupation.

    StateEmployment(1)Employment per thousand jobsLocation quotient (9)Hourly mean wageAnnual mean wage (2)
    District of Columbia1,1701.735.49$46.23$96,150
    Massachusetts1,1800.351.10$40.53$84,300
    New York6,7100.752.37$40.16$83,540
    California7,8900.511.62$40.11$83,430
    Maryland1,1600.451.42$34.66$72,100

    Writers and Authors: Industries with the highest levels of employment in this occupation:

    IndustryEmployment(1)Percent of industry employmentHourly mean wageAnnual mean wage (2)
    Advertising, Public Relations, and Related Services7,2201.51$37.24$77,450
    Newspaper, Periodical, Book, and Directory Publishers5,4801.37$28.78$59,860
    Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers3,5906.78$41.18$85,650
    Motion Picture and Video Industries3,0200.77(8)(8)
    Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services2,0900.17$31.50$65,510
  41. Eyewear designer
  42. Graphic novelist
  43. Musical instrument creator
  44. Event director
  45. Landscape artist
  46. Magician
  47. Producer
  48. Silk screen printer
  49. Architect
  50. Advertising director
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    Sound Engineering Technician: Top paying States for this occupation.

    StateEmployment(1)Employment per thousand jobsLocation quotient (9)Hourly mean wageAnnual mean wage (2)
    New York2,1900.242.42$37.00$76,960
    Nevada2400.201.97$36.65$76,230
    California4,2600.272.74$35.53$73,900
    Washington3300.111.11$32.84$68,300
    Colorado2300.090.92$30.13$62,680

    Sound Engineering Technicians: Industries with the highest levels of employment in this occupation:

    IndustryEmployment(1)Percent of industry employmentHourly mean wageAnnual mean wage (2)
    Motion Picture and Video Industries4,2801.10$39.74$82,670
    Sound Recording Industries2,62016.22$25.42$52,870
    Radio and Television Broadcasting1,4700.66$26.03$54,150
    Performing Arts Companies9200.77$25.80$53,660
    Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers5801.09$28.97$60,260

In a nutshell, if you want to know what your estimated income and chances of employment will be, then we highly recommend using the OES, especially if you’re considering a creative career.

But you’re probably wondering, where can you learn about a specific job? What are the daily tasks involved? Responsibilities?

Well, you’re in luck!

Another helpful resource is O*NET OnLine, a free database with hundreds of occupational definitions, including what skills, tools and tasks are involved daily.

Once at the home page, simply type in a job you want to research.

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Search a creative career in ‘Occupation Search’

Here, you’ll get specific details about your job search, both expected and unexpected information. For example, you may not know this but technical writers are also responsible for drawing detailed technical illustrations. For anyone aspiring to be a technical writer, this is crucial to know in case they aren’t skilled artists. As you can see, it helps to know what to anticipate when considering creative career.

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Bonus: If you click on the “+” on the left hand side, you’ll get a concise list of other occupations that use that particular skill, technology, etc.

Finally, if you’re looking for a full list of all creative occupations, simply go to ‘Career Cluster.’

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Next, click on the group or field of work that you’re interested in.

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This list has jobs with similar skills, which is perfect if you’re a creative individual but not really sure what you want to pursue.

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Now let’s suppose that after doing your research you still have questions left unanswered. If you’re willing to go the extra mile, then an informational interview might be your answer.

What is an informational interview? 

Simply put, it’s a process of gathering information about an occupation or an industry. You ask the questions to real professionals.

Here are some great reasons you want to conduct an informational interview:

  • further explore careers and clarify your career goal
  • broaden your professional network
  • access accurate career information
  • identify your professional strengths and weaknesses

Informational interviews are the best networking opportunity for you. Not only will you walk away with insider knowledge of a career, but potentially with a job offer as well.

Informational Interview for creative careers

On that note, learning how to land an informational interview is the first step, so be sure to do the following:

Look for shared connections

Although you may be tempted to email a CEO that you found on LinkedIn, without a shared connection you might not be able to get a meeting. Instead, ask your circle of friends if they know someone they can get you in contact with.

Check your rhetoric

When you craft your email, frame your message so that you do the following:

1.) Make them feel important. Make it clear that you’re coming to them for help, and I guarantee it will increase your chances of an interview. Bonus points if you can specify why you’d like to talk with that person in particular.

2.) Give them ease of mind. Let them know you have a specific topic you’d like to go over, and that you would appreciate 15 minutes of their time. Offering a quick coffee is another great way to show you won’t be taking up too much of their time.

Hook ’em with your subject line

For your message to stand out in a sea of emails make sure that your subject line is clear and concise. For example, try something like “Mary – Request for Informational Interview.”

DON’T JOB SEARCH

This is not the time to ask for a job–don’t even send in a resume unless they request one.

Now that you’ve arranged a meeting, the next step is to prepare your interview questions.

Here’s your chance to really ask about the specifics, the nitty gritty, of a particular creative career. Consider asking them these questions:

Questions about Interviewee’s Career Field

  • How has your occupation changed in recent years?
  • What do you think is unique about your career?
  • What skills or personal characteristics do you feel contribute most to success in this career?
  • What sacrifices have you had to make to succeed in this field, and do you feel the sacrifices were worth it?
  • When people leave this career, what are the usual reasons?
  • What are the most significant characteristics of this industry?
  • How do you find out about industry news/jobs?
  • What is the most important thing that someone planning to enter this career should know?
  • What’s the general pay range for starting positions?
  • What’s the general pay range for established people?

Questions about Interviewee’s Job

  • What precisely do you do? What are the duties and responsibilities of your job?
  • What is a normal day like?
  • What kind of hours do you normally work?
  • What kinds of problems do you deal with?
  • What do you do if you can’t solve a problem on your own?
  • Describe some of the toughest situations you’ve faced in this job.
  • What do you do outside of work to stay creative/recharge?
  • How do you motivate yourself to stay creative?
  • Is this your passion?
  • What tools do you use regularly (literal or figurative)?
  • Is your work primarily individual or predominately in groups or teams?
  • Is it competitive or collaborative?
  • What moment are you proud of?
  • What are some misconceptions?
  • What part of this job do you personally find most satisfying? most challenging?
  • Are there aspects to your job that are repetitious?
  • What are the educational, requirements for this job?
  • To what extent does this job present a challenge in terms of juggling work and family life?
  • What are the major frustrations of this job?
  • If you ever left your job, what would most likely drive you away?

Questions on Preparing for this Career

  • How did you prepare for this work?
  • What are some important skills/habits to pick up?
  • What early on experiences are worth trying in preparation for a creative career?
  • Does your work relate to any experiences or studies you had in college?
  • What courses do you wish you had taken that would have prepared you?
  • If you were a college student again, what would you do differently to prepare you for this job?
  • What steps would you recommend I take to prepare for this career?
  • How important are grades/GPA for obtaining a job in this field?
  • What do you feel is the best educational preparation for this career?
  • If you were entering this career today, would you change your preparation in any way to facilitate entry?

Questions about Interviewee’s Career Path

  • In what way did this type of work interest you and how did you get started?
  • What was your major in college?
  • How did you get your job?
  • What kinds of things did you do before you entered this occupation?
  • What other interesting creative jobs have you’ve had?
  • Which aspects of your background have been most helpful?
  • What’s the best way to enter the field?
  • How did you get where you are and what are your long-range goals?
  • If your job progresses as you like, what would be the next step in your career?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • If you could do things all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? Why? What would you change?

When all is said and done, make sure you send a thank you note or email within a week after the interview! It’s a polite way to show your appreciation and a good networking strategy.

TL;DR – If you’re serious about pursuing a creative career, do yourself a favor and research, research, research! Use the resources listed above to learn about the statistics of a given career, but make sure to also seek out input from real professionals.

Finally, this next section will provide you with tangible steps you can take to help you in your pursuit of a creative career.

Working towards your creative career path.

plan out a creative career

If you’ve found an area you want to pursue, time to get moving! A big part of being creative is taking the plunge even if you don’t quite know what the water is like.

The following are checkpoints you should aim to reach in order to be as prepared as possible for the creative career you’re after.

Practice, Explore, & Learn

Your secret weapon will always be hard work. Hone your skill everyday and improve on what you’ve already accomplished. Avoid falling into a creative rut by exploring outside of your area and learning about other styles. Learn about new tech tools that are used in your field and ideal industry. 

Be Productive

Set goals for yourself and keep busy outside of your creative bubble. If you know that your ideal job requires some education, take a few course at your community college. Remember to practice creative thinking at work, even if your current job isn’t related to creativity. Keep in mind that this is a skill that employers are always looking for. Stay on top of your goals by using apps like Habit List which allows you to track your progress.

Market Yourself

Being able to market yourself well is vital in a creative career. Today, social media is the easiest way to gain exposure and social proof. By showing proof of your projects and accomplishments, you can impress potential employers.

social media marketing

Smart social media habits:

  1. Keep active. Show that you’re always contributing to the greater Internet or at least your channels by regularly posting your thoughts and opinions, instead of just lurking or liking other people’s pages.
  2. Get involved in discussions. Take the opportunity to interact with peers and ask questions, have conversations and exchange ideas.
  3. Keep it light. Your ultimate goal is to promote yourself and find work, but let people get to know you and your ideas first.
  4. Use appropriate channels. If you’re into design, focus on visual-oriented sites like Instagram or Pinterest. If you like clever wordplay, try Twitter. Facebook is good for longer conversations and more interactions.
  5. Share about your life – but not too much. Let people see your interests, hobbies and creative efforts.

Likewise, here’s what to avoid:

  1. Unprofessional photos. Show a fun day at the beach, but maybe not the crazy after-hours party.
  2. Empty page. Anyone can start a Twitter page or other channel, but it looks bad to show that there hasn’t been any activity for years especially if you claim to be active.
  3. Fight. It may get your creative juices flowing to indulge in the occasional flame war, but to an outsider, especially a prospective employer, it may appear that you’re argumentative and don’t play nice.
  4. Push hard. Whether you’re promoting a product or yourself, people may not appreciate if that’s the only thing you talk about.
  5. Touchy topics. Unless a position calls for a particular religious or political affiliation, or something equally divisive, try to keep these thoughts and opinions off-line.

Meet people

networking

Talk to other human beings. Networking is the gift that keeps giving. Talking to other creatives can lead to collaboration opportunities, commissioned work, and job offers. The great thing about networking is that you never know what you’re gonna get or who you’re gonna meet.

Try these strategies for effectively leveraging contacts into possible creative employers and partners.

Networking Tips to Try Out

  1. Prepare a short introduction.
  2. Give cards or contact info.
  3. Follow up contacts with a tweet, email or call.
  4. Reintroduce yourself at future events to reinforce contact
  5. Ask more than tell.
  6. Compliment someone on their appearance.
  7. Be polite – no complaining at a first contact
  8. Don’t get too shallow – find more common ground more than weather.
  9. Don’t get too deep. Nothing philosophical/heavy.
  10. Prepare some questions in advance
  11. Don’t take too much time at group events with one person.
  12. Look for personal references/common colleagues  to ‘open doors’
  13. Be complimentary about your current employer
  14. Pick up the tab. If you want to learn about someone’s world/industry buy them lunch or coffee.
  15. Watch them in action. If someone has a public performance or something visible, check it out.

Final thoughts

Lastly, the creative career path is full of bumps and rough patches, so don’t be discouraged by minor setbacks If you do everything you can, put in the work, and become an expert in what you do, others will recognize that and see the value in your work.

Good luck!

Miriam Ortiz

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