Five Magic Secrets

Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them!
(Madam C.J. Walker)

We learned in the last chapter that employers really want to hire pre-trained people with related experience gained working for someone else. Fine, that’s not you. Here are five Magic Secret ways to get around that stumbling block.

1. Internships

As I was writing this 2024 release, I had a comment from my friend Ken S., in San Diego –

“Jon – you might want to mention internships. I highly recommend them as they help you to decide if you want to be involved at all and if so, where. Many switch emphasis or whole directions. The internship gives you more than a peek behind a seemingly impenetrable barrier and for free. Some employers will even pay a pittance to test future waters.”

So true. And some pay more than a pittance, like my last employer, Qualcomm. Like other major high-tech companies, we paid interns about $28,000 for their three months of summer work. As Ken says, internships are a great way to get in the door, and, if you like it inside, to stay there. An internship is a hired introductory position for a defined period. It can be paid or unpaid, as the main purpose is for the intern to gain experience. You typically apply for an internship during undergraduate or graduate studies in your chosen field, and then work for a company for one or more months, either full-time or part-time. You might work as an intern over a summer or during a semester or quarter with your classes. Some internships allow you to receive college credit upon completion. Lots of benefits... as per this article on Not bad!

2. Digital Certificates

My son cared about as much for college as I did. Dropped out after a year or so, like I did. And then he took and completed a very rigorous Microsoft certificate course... an MCSE in system engineering. And that got him immediate employment with a great company and jumpstarted his career. Certificates of mastery are attached to particular courses. Junior college course completion certificates in Graphic Design – with specific Photoshop and Illustrator skills mastery – will warm your prospective employer’s heart. Never forget – they want somebody who can actually do something. Specific skills count!

3. Temp Agencies

At 18, new in NYC, I sat across from a nice middle-aged lady in an employment agency. “Can you read? Do you have a clean shirt?” Yes and yes, and she picked up phone, praised an unknown me to the skies, and before I knew it I was working as a PR assistant at Radio City Music Hall. Paid her two weeks salary for that call, worth every penny!

Later in life, transitioning from being self-employed by selling cars for a year, I asked a customer what he did for a living. “I’m a technical writer,” he replied. “Great job. They pay you a lot of money, and nobody knows you’re there.” So I dug out a software manual I’d written for a former client, went to a temp agency, and, just like that, had an interview at a small high-tech company. Showed two guys my manual, but they didn’t care. “Can you draw?” asked one. “Sure!” I said. “Prove it,” said the other fellow. He plunked a camera lens down on the desk. I drew it quickly, and was hired immediately. Turned out they were way, way behind in product illustrations. Great to be an artist!

4. Buy yourself a job

This one is so obvious that I should have thought of it back in 2012, when I first published Drawing For Money. Buy yourself a job! No, I'm not crazy. This may actually the best way to jumpstart an art career.

Here's how it works. In this example, we'll talk about graphic arts, but the concept also works for fine art or any other area (see the chapter Jobs - A Shopping List). Graphics prerequisite -- you get sort of good with Photoshop and Illustrator. One semester of class at junior college... or two months of intensive home self-study... with a basic portfolio of pretend work samples as your output. Lots of portfolio examples online.

Then a little research. What are the three best ad agencies in your area? What are the three best corporations with in-house artists? And for each of these, who is the Art Director or Marketing Communications Manager? Make a half-hour appointment, and here's the pitch:

"I want to work for XYZ. I know Photoshop and Illustrator and I love graphic design. I'm just starting out, and I know you want to hire artists with experience. But I'll work for you for free for three months."

(Option -- I’ll work for you for minimum wage for three months, if their objection is that they don't have unpaid slaves)

“...and then you can hire me if I'm good or fire me if I'm not. That's a good deal for both of us! What do you think?"

(Actually, if they like you, they'll pay you something anyway. But if they say no (an objection), counter with) --

"Look, let me make the deal even better. I'll pay you $2,000 to let me work here for those three months. Because at my end, I'd rather pay a company I really want to work for to gain real job experience -- than pay for college courses that don't give me that. Here's my portfolio...

(After they look at a few pages, gently take it back and say) --

"What do you think? I really want to work here. I learn fast, and I'll be productive long before the three months are up!"

Expect objections, and reply with a restatement of how much you love graphic design and want to work at a top company like XYZ. At the first opportunity, always ask "When can I start?" And repeat that after countering each objection. Basic sales. Modify the above to fit your own situation, and go hunting the job you want in a company you really want to work for!

5. Let the employer pay for your education

Go to work for any large corporation doing anything, any job you can get. Janitor, warehouse, anything. After your 3-month probationary period, go to the HR department, or your manager, and read over your company’s employee-education policy. They all have them. The deal goes like this: “We will pay all (or part) of the cost of any course(s) you take that can help the company.” And many corporations pay 100% for an A grade, 90% for a B, and so on. This is as good a deal as employer-matching funds for your 401K plan!

The trick is to convince your manager that the courses you want to take will help the company. Try to keep them practical, at least at first. Like Adobe Illustrator (ART-40527) at UCSD Extension (San Diego), 3 units, part of the following Certificate Program: Design Media, Technical Communication, and Web Media. Practical – helps your company, helps you build that skill set on their nickel. And go for a degree if you need one, like my friend at the last place I worked, who, over several years, ended up with a Master of Fine Arts degree in Illustration – paid for by our company! (She started there as an office clerk, by the way). Now, this is an extreme example – usually, all you will need is a two-year skills certificate to begin moving up the ladder. But large corporations will gladly pay for all the job-related education you can handle.

For 2024, a cautionary note – TRAP!

Many companies are suddenly asking new employees to sign contracts with ‘stay-or-pay’ clauses. Typical is a training-repayment-agreement provision (TRAP), which stipulates that the cost of on-the-job training will be borne by the employee... if the worker leaves before an-agreed-on period that the employer says they need to get back the money spent on the employee training. Now, if a company pays for a transferable credential, like an M.B.A. or a master’s degree in computer programming, it might make sense to require the employee to stay for a set amount of time. But beyond that – while TRAP started with financial hedge funds, then spread to high-tech, it is now popping up in other businesses of all types, even hairdressers. You should refuse to sign a stay-and-pay if there is no specified cost, or no defined, tangible benefit – or you can end up owing thousands of dollars if you leave to take another job. Just another unethical racket from the suits running the place!

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