In the creative industry, everything can change in the blink of an eye – or the click of a mouse. So, how do you ensure your skills keep up with the latest technologies, trends and standards? That's the million-dollar question.
I've been traveling across the United States for 14 months, offering my services to agencies as a freelance copywriter as part of my project, The Great Agency Adventure. As the journey comes to a close, I'd like to share some of the most crucial pieces of career advice I've gathered along the way.
Following are eight key career development tips to help you keep ahead of the curve.
1. Figure out what you stink at
While this isn't groundbreaking career advice, it is important. If you have a professional weak point, fix it. Take it upon yourself to identify your skill gaps and work to fill them day in and day out. Once you correct one issue, move on to the next. As a creative professional, if you're not willing to constantly improve your skill set, you're in the wrong field. It takes passion to succeed in this industry and when you don't have it, your weaknesses become more apparent as the days wear on.
2. Learn something new every day
In addition to getting better at what you know, it's important to understand the things you don't. For instance, if you are a web content writer and aren't grasping why account services keeps pushing for more social content, ask them. Get the inside scoop on what the client is looking for. Not only will it help you deliver more targeted work in the next round, but it also can help you better understand the needs of future clients.
3. Become indispensable
Did you hear through the office grapevine that your boss is looking for a writer who is familiar with video game culture? Offer to take up the task. When you can do something that no one else on the team can, like coding or optimizing content for the Web, you have an undeniable advantage, which helps to keep your position in tact. The more of these "added benefits" you can master, the more valuable you become as an employee. The bottom line is if you want to get ahead in your career, you have to be willing to continually learn, adapt and improve.
4. Engage those around you
Are you a big fan of a fellow copywriter's work? Invite that person to lunch so you can pick her brain. Are you fascinated with the impressive output of a particular graphic designer? Shoot him an email and ask about his process. When you engage with other creative professionals, you open yourself up to new ways of thinking.
They could share a nugget of information that completely redefines your process or alters your method of delivery. Plus, you never know when the opportunity for collaboration may arise. That's how some of the world's most lucrative companies got their start – two people throwing their ideas at one another.
5. Read more
Whether it's bookmarking a few blogs or picking up a new novel from your favorite author, we can all benefit from reading more. Don't limit yourself to a specific field or specialty or you'll miss out on a (literal) world full of information. As a writer, I always benefit from keeping up with the industries I'm writing for – from finance and healthcare to consumer goods and advertising. You never know when a new piece of knowledge might click to help you create a million-dollar campaign.
6. Maintain a good work-life balance
This one is a little harder because it's not always in your control. However, a healthy work-life balance can make all the difference between a good career and a great one. Sure, you could stay an extra hour at the office and churn out work that isn't due until tomorrow night. Or you could spend it with your family, get plenty of sleep and produce even better work the next morning.
Too many of us have come to believe that "the brass" favor workaholics. However, I've come to find that many managers prefer individuals who keep work in check because employees who enjoy a life outside the office are often happier and more creative.
Again, I know that this piece of advice isn't always in your control. But, it's important nonetheless. Before I ventured out on The Great Agency Adventure, I had never been west of Chicago. Sure, I had ideas about what the rest of the country was like, but actually experiencing these places is much different. Whether you live in the city and take a weekend trip to the suburbs or you dwell in a small farming community and drive a few hours to Canada, any exploration can help your career development.
We now live in a very interconnected world and it's important to understand as many cultures as possible. In fact, this knowledge could mean the difference between producing a campaign that resonates with or offends a certain part of your audience.
8. Be yourself, always
No matter what field you work in or what job title you have, you should always be yourself. The minute you start pretending to be something you're not is when your career development begins to descend. In most cases, a company hires you because they like your work and enjoy your personality. So don't feel pressure to be someone you're not. A strong work ethic and a good personality and eagerness to learn will often transcend any shortcomings you may have.
To end this post, I want to take a moment to thank The Creative Group for believing in and supporting my project. Their continued generosity played a big role in The Great Agency Adventure's success and I'll always be grateful for that. I also want to thank each and every one of you, who've followed along since day one. Your encouragement helped the project become bigger and better than I ever thought possible. So, thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.