Keeping Your Creative Career On Track

We all have felt the direct impact of the recession, and if you listen to the pundits you don't know if we're on our way to recovery or still waiting to hit bottom. While it's no doubt these are uncertain times, we aren't helpless in keeping ourselves and our careers on track. A recent article by The Creative Group offers some helpful tips to do just that.

1. Find your niche. What can you do really well that few others in your firm can? If you're having a hard time coming up with ideas, it's time to revamp your skill set. Identify abilities that are in strong demand, both within your company and in general. Also, master processes or activities that are instrumental to your organization – particularly those that make your manager's job easier.

Don't wait until your career hits the skids to diversify your skill set and increase your marketability. The best time to take action is when you are in a good place professionally. If you're angling to hone your HTML skills, for instance, your firm may subsidize training, a far more desirable option than funding it yourself.

2. Shore up your soft skills. Hard skills aren't the only ones that can earn staff members a spot in the company's lifeboat. When budgets constrict, spirits sag; if your presence lifts the collective mood, your manager has one more reason to keep you on board.

All firms prize people who can mentor new team members, talk a client off the ledge and build consensus on projects. In fact, these "softer" traits often are more highly regarded than specific how-to abilities because managers feel they can more easily teach someone a process or software program than fine-tune their people skills.

One relatively painless way to enhance your communication abilities is to observe those who excel in this area. Notice how they craft their messages or deliver tough news. If your role models seem open to it, you might ask them to mentor you. In addition, many firms offer training courses that can help you improve your soft skills.

3. Get credit where it's due. Communicating well with others boosts your career prospects, and so does spreading the word about your accomplishments. Many feel reluctant to highlight their achievements because it feels like bragging, but those who are most adept at building visibility do so without coming across as egomaniacs. Here are a few ways to help draw attention to your triumphs:

Issue reports. Even if they aren't requested, let your manager know that you'd like to send weekly status updates. This provides a vehicle for keeping your supervisor informed of your contributions.

Thank the team. Call attention to successes by sending an e-mail recognizing those who helped with a group effort and copying relevant managers.

Pass it along. Receive a gushing e-mail from a client? Be sure to forward it to your manager. Just take care in how you position it: Try, "Wow – this really worked well; we should do it more often," versus, "I rock! Score another victory for me!"

4. Be ready for anything. Always have a "Plan B" for your career. The first step is to update your resume and portfolio. This not only prepares you to launch an instant job search but also gives you a sense of any skills gaps you should fill. For example, if you notice most of the samples in your portfolio are similar, you might seek out a new type of assignment or take on pro bono work.

It's also wise to nurture your network. The best time to approach new people is when you don't need anything from them, so make an effort to build relationships while you're happily employed. Participate in organizations such as InSource, a group for in-house creatives, or local Ad Clubs or Adobe User Groups. Websites such as and also allow you to connect with new contacts from the comfort of your own home. Creating quality relationships will help you in good times and bad.

Remember that the techniques that can help you secure new employment or keep the job that you love are the same in any market conditions. Stay positive and be proactive in keeping your skills and knowledge base current, and you'll survive in both good times and bad

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