3. Work at the top

Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master. (Leonardo da Vinci)

How to be noticed by those in charge – so you’ll survive a layoff? After all, like Ryan’s cartoons, anything you do in the workplace can be done by some guy in Bangalore for a lot less money. But the anwer’s right in front of you, actually, probably nearby in a corner office. Your company’s President, or CEO, or CFO... whatever the head suits are calling themselves at the time you read this. When these executives need artwork, they need it fast – done by someone they can work with face-to-face, in their own office, rapidly refining a presentation, an ad layout, a report cover or illustration.

Beat the org chart

In any large corporation, you are a little box on a very complex organization chart. The people at the top are totally unaware of your existence. In good times, that’s just fine. But watch out in a recession, or whenever the suits want to pump up quarterly profits to jack up the stock price. That’s layoff time, and, up there in a corner office, somebody starts drawing lines through the little org chart boxes.

You might not even have your own box. Instead, you may be just one of several names listed in your workgroup’s box. Point is, you’ll lose your job without anybody knowing who you are – what your skills are – why, basically, you should be kept on the island instead of kicked off.

Here’s an example:

Lets’s pretend that you are a technical illustrator for a high-tech corporation. Way down there on the org chart; invisible. Making graphics for engineering presentations, or line art diagrams for user manuals.

A good job, but we can make it a lot more interesting. and more secure at the same time. How? Be becoming a virtual freelancer while remaining a salaried employee. Basically, by creating your own little virtual business right in the middle of the hive.

Up the ladder

When you have your own business, you make a list of, say, five companies you want to work with... and you go hunting. Who’s the right person to sell to? Who can make decisions – and write a check? Very important – who is that person’s assistant... the gatekeeper? In high-tech, you’ll want to make contact with the right administrative assistant. The top-level ‘admin’. Just like selling freelance, you want to phone or email that person and explain how you can help the boss. In high-tech, that’s mostly helping with Microsoft PowerPoint presentations... at first, supplying great graphics; later, helping build the presentations themselves.

You may have heard jokes about PowerPoint. ‘Death by PowerPoint’. Or read pseudo-intellectual essays like Edward Tufte’s The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint. Academics love this stuff. But, as happens frequently, they miss the point: PowerPoint is the communications program of corporate America. Used on PCs (not Macs) to pitch ideas and concepts at all levels. From the CEO in the boardroom, all the way down to a young software engineer passionately presenting her nanotechnogy concept at a low-level workgroup meeting, PowerPoint is used to inform and convince others.

A presentation doesn’t have to be a succession of boring three-bulletpoint text slides. Try this right after lunch in a semi-dark conference room, and half your audience will be nodding off. They will not get the point, and you, the presenter, will not get what you want. People will argue and get off track and, by the end of the meeting, just put off making decisions about your project because they have no idea what it was about.

That’s where good graphics come in. Desperately needed! And I’m not talking about ridiculous animated bullet points that come whizzing in accompanied by a siren sound. High-tech folks just shake their heads. You’re not at some high-pressure investment scam gathering. No. Tech meetings are serious, and there’s little tolerance for time-wasting stupidity.

Your graphics are a tremendous help. Easy to make, small size JPGs or PNGs (if you want a transparent background) – that the executives or their admins can copy-paste right onto PowerPoint slides, or into Microsoft Word reports and other documents. Google ‘infographics’, or ‘professional powerpoint’ ... all the information you need to make great presentation art is right out there waiting for you. For example, check out Julie Terberg’s website ...good stuff. And get a copy of Nancy Duarte’s slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations. Very helpful.

Handling your manager

It’s never a good idea to blatantly go over your manager’s head, until what you’re doing is a fait accompli. After all, when you start to work on a presentation or report graphic for the VP of Engineering, your manager will get the credit. As well she should. You want to do everything you can to get your manager noticed. So, when that VP’s admin calls with a rush job, just mention that you’ll start right away, but “Could you call my manager and let her know about the project?” Make your manager a hero, and you’ll get raises, bonuses, and job security – at least until they lay her off because times are tough and she has no real skills. Sayonara!

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