As a creative just starting out in the business, you're faced with the same challenge and paradoxical contradiction that pretty much everyone has faced in their life. Here's how that conversation typically goes:
You: "Hello, I would like to apply for X job please."
Employer: "Great. You seem smart and you knew the difference betwen "Your" and "You're" on the application. But we need someone with at least 5 years of experience."
You: "Well, I don't have 5 years. But I killed my college classes, I'm probably smarter than half your current employees, and I never eat other people's food in the refrigerator."
Employer: "Sorry, we're looking for someone that's worked a meaningless job for 5 years. But thanks for stopping by, and by the way, we don't validate."
You: "Hello, I would like X job please."
Employer: "Great, we need someone that does everything you can do, but with 3 years of experience."
You: "That's what the last guy said. Look, I need a job to get experience. If you give me this job, I will have 3 years of experience working here. That's a pretty good proposition don't you think?"
Employer: "Well you don't have the experience needed for this job. But I like your style. We'll give you a job licking envelopes, and maybe grab us coffee once in a while. And then after 3 years maybe we'll see if you can handle sending needless emails and attending random meetings."
You: "Sounds great." (Because you literally have no other options)
And round and round we go. It's the same thing in the creative world, except the only difference is that you just replace "Years of experience" with "Portfolio" and there you have it. You need a great portfolio to land an awesome job. But to have a great portfolio, you need work! Oh what to do?
Well I have a solution (not THE solution. Just A solution.). You can do what I did and start working pro-bono for non profit organizations. Now some creatives ho-hum at this. They don't believe in working for free. And that's a legit opinion. But for me, i like doing it, and am continuing to do it.
It's really a win-win. Here are just some of the benefits of working pro-bono for an NPO:
- You look really cool in front of your friends (Okay, I guess giving back to the community helps too)
- You get a chance to work with other creatives on a project. As a copywriter, you need to meet and work with as many designers, directors or other copywriters as much as possible. This provides a great way to do that.
- You might be able to write it off come tax return season? I honestly don't know. I'm allergic to numbers.
- You can add work to your portfolio. Which is what we've been talking about this whole time.
Okay now that I've sold you on working pro-bono (just go with it), you might be wondering how to do it exactly.
My personal favorite is a site called Catchafire.org. What I like about Catchafire is not only the way they list their projects, but the organizations they are affiliated with do really great stuff. I have worked for 2 non-profits recently, and in both cases, they were very easy to work with and we came up with some great ideas.
Catchafire offers opportunities for almost all specialties, from IT, to Branding, to Copywriting, Design, Marketing, Photography and more (just go to their site). Their timelines are pretty reasonable too, so you can definitely work on your own projects and add one of theirs to your schedule as well.
So get out there, give back, and volunteer your skills. The planet will thank you.