How To Land Your Dream Job In A Creative Field

Do you fantasize about working in a creative industry — fashion, design, entertainment, media, what have you — but have no idea where to begin? Maybe you're just starting out in the workforce, or maybe you're looking for a career shift because you just can't with corporate life anymore. It's tough enough to land any job, but a creative gig can seem like a wild card to the uninitiated. Do you need to be artistic and business-minded? Will you have to slog through an unpaid internship first? Will you never be able to leave work at 5 p.m. again? What do you even wear?!

We spoke with Leonardo Lawson of BOND Creative Search and BOND Collective, Inc. to get the answers to these questions and more. BOND is a women-driven consulting firm that works with all levels of creative workers — from up-and-coming talent to top executives. Lawson has partnered with the likes of Alexander Wang, MAC Cosmetics, and many more. One of his favorite parts of the job is "working with young people with bright ideas and big dreams and watching them grow," Lawson tells us.

If that sounds like you, read on for Lawson's advice (spoiler: Yes, you should dare to dream of a brand-new artsy career). Get ready to do what you love and love what you do.

Think outside the (corporate) box.

It may seem obvious, but the first step to landing a job in a creative field is realizing just how many options are out there. It can be easy to assume you're better off on a "regular" career path — in, say, finance or corporate law — that you think will give you more job security, greater pay, faster advancement, or whatever it is you expect a creative gig will lack. But reality is far more complex.

Lawson works with high school and college students to disprove these very assumptions and "help them understand that there's this whole other world out there outside of corporate America," he explains. "It's vibrant and growing and huge. Design is pushing forward after the recession."

Plus, the workforce — like the rest of the world — shouldn't be approached in such black-and-white terms. There's immense overlap between many industries, and tremendous value is placed on creativity in any successful company. "Creative thinking has been brought into general corporate America," Lawson explains. "It's necessary and strategic and makes a difference — even in huge corporations. It’s about being passionate."
Don’t let a lack of business savvy psych you out.

With all this overlap going on, does that mean you need to be bringing the perfect storm of creative skills and business acumen to the table? Do you need to be one of those rare people — do they even exist? — who is equally confident in their left-brain as well as right-brain functioning? Or does the fact that you can't really calculate a tip (I'm right there with you) mean that your career as a creative is doomed?

Of course not! "Coming out of high school, you’re immediately categorized as one or the other: arts or business," Lawson laments. And he should know: When he started college at NYU, he went into the business school. "I was miserable," he explains. "But then I was able to create my own major at NYU Gallatin — in fine arts, history, economics, and business. More and more schools are providing these types of courses, especially design schools creating cross-curriculums. I try to help the students I'm working with understand that they can do both. The business piece can be learned."
Remember: An unpaid internship is NOT the only way in.

It's the classic employment catch-22: To get a job, you need experience in that field. To get experience, you need a job. What's a newbie on the job scene to do? Often, the only answer seems to be an unpaid internship — which can be problematic, to say the least. Plus, making these entry-level creative positions unpaid means they're only accessible to those whose family income affords them the ability to work for free. What about the rest of us — the vast majority of workers who may be talented and dedicated but also need a job that pays in order to live?

"I’m not a fan of the unpaid internships," Lawson says. "Conde Nast got into huge trouble a few years ago for this, and it’s not right. You can’t have someone working for you all day for nothing." So what's the solution? "What it comes down to is balance; if you find a great company where you can learn and be exposed, work out a part-time situation where you can also keep a paying job," Lawson suggests. But his greatest recommendation is a largely un-tapped resource: mentorship.

"Mentors are more available than people think," he explains, "and doing mentorship programs or just approaching people in careers you admire, you'd be surprised how many people want to be helpful and impart wisdom and give you guidance. Of course executives have busy schedules, but in my experience, they're open to it. It's all about what you're taking away from a relationship, even if it's just one conversation over coffee, and what you'll build from that. I've seen people build amazing careers from nothing; if you have the will to do it, you can make it happen."
Do your research.

So maybe you've zoned in on your ideal gig, made some connections, and gotten a foot in the door in the form of an interview. And yet you still feel utterly unprepared. How do you best present yourself as a potential member of this creative company? What on earth can you wear that screams "fun, fashionable, innovative, and original" but won't get you kicked out of the office? Well, we have some ideas for that last question. And according to Lawson, your best friend in this process just may be the company Instagram.

"Read everything about that company, look at its imagery, scan its Instagram and social media pages, and get a vibe of what your dream company is about," he advises. "Then, you can understand how to present yourself as you're going for that interview. The information is definitely there for young people to find — if you're looking for it the right way. Spend awhile on the company's media pages, and you'll get a vibe and draw a clear picture of that company's brand aesthetic."

And once you're in? "Absorb everything around you, as much info as possible," Lawson urges. "It’s not just a job; you want to have to live and breathe it." Which leads us to the next bit of advice...
Take a risk — don’t play it safe out of fear.

Creative jobs, from the fashion industry to media to start-ups, can get a reputation for having poor work-life balance. It makes sense that an environment that's filled with passionate people who are really dedicated to their work wouldn't foster a slacker attitude, but what if you're afraid following your dream will result in zero sleep (or social life) for the foreseeable future? The option to work in a less inspiring atmosphere, but one that allows you to peace out at 5 p.m. without "homework," may be tempting. But if you're wondering whether your dream job is doable long-term, well — you'll never know until you try.

"There are two ways of looking at it," Lawson says. "From one perspective, if you’re going to dive into an all-hours work environment, you should do that while you’re young. Do it while you have the energy. But on the other hand, that's really not the norm — and it all comes down to leadership. The right leaders will create the right environment in which their employees can thrive."

So when interviewing with a new, creative company, "understand what leadership is in place, find out what is important to those leaders, how they implement that in the company culture, and how that may align with your own beliefs and goals. This can help you find the perfect job for yourself. If work-life balance is something that's important to you, you need to find a leader who believes that, too. Many successful companies and leaders have created cultures where you don't have to work 24/7, and it's still 100% passion."
Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t “have it all.”

Work-life balance can be particularly important for women, especially those considering (or in the midst of) parenthood. After all, working moms still do the lion's share of household duties — and spend more time on childcare than working moms did in 1965. For women in creative fields, this can pose a tough choice: Can you really be a worker, innovator, artist, leader, and have a family life?

Lawson's response is a resounding yes. Of course, he's a dude, so he may not have the full picture, but two of the top executives at BOND are women, and in Lawson's eyes, they're superwomen. "My entire career, I've worked for women and with women," he explains, "and it's been a huge influence in my career and in my life. I actually don't know much about working with men! My best clients are strong women. No woman should believe the cliche that you can't 'do it all' or 'have it all.' I’m always astounded by my top executives, how they build their careers and manage their families. It's astounding; women can really do anything. It's a power that I think men definitely don't have!"