Mind the Credentials! Why Creative Work Needs More Than ‘Experience and Qualifications’

“One of the major brakes on creativity in general is that people don’t often get the chance to think outside their sector.  How much fresh thinking are bankers going to bring to banking, or car retailers to car retailing, or computer designers to computer design?” (Guy Browning, Innervation)

Whenever a potential client says, “I’m looking for someone who’s experienced in writing for my industry”, my heart sinks a little bit.

It’s not them, it’s me.  I’m just disappointed that any creative ideas I might have will be ground to dust by whatever passed muster before.  

In other words, that potential client isn’t looking for originality.  They’re looking for well-constructed sentences, made up of reliable, tried-and-tested words that are used all the time, by lots of other people who all do the same job.  

While I know there’s a legitimate place for that sort of thing, that doesn’t stop it from being tremendously dull.

We tend to put all kinds of restrictions on people we want to do creative work for us.  If it’s not boundless experience, it’s pointless qualifications, like the many recruitment ads I’ve seen for creative copy or content writers that ask for a degree in English Literature…

…which would only be helpful if you wanted your content writer to produce an insightful 3,000-word critique of your company handbook.

What kind of creative work are you really looking for?

Often, people ask for experience and qualifications because that’s what everybody else asks for.  

Recognised credentials also do a good job of adding practical heft to creativity, which many people see as a whimsical process that’s hard to pin down.

But by asking what kind of creative work you want, you’ll be more likely to answer with the attributes you’d like that person to have, rather than focusing solely on their credentials.

For example, if you’re looking for a new company logo, do you want it to be exciting or reassuring?  Should your web copy surprise and delight readers, or be purely informative?  Idea-wise, can you afford to take a few risks, or is it a matter of ‘safety first’?

Once you know what kind of creative work you’re looking for, you’ll know more about the kind of creative person you need to do it.  

This knowledge won’t just help you narrow down your options, it could also see you recruiting people with different perspectives, and from backgrounds you might not have considered before.  

And that could lead straight to the kind of fresh ideas and original thinking you needed the most.

Could you take a chance on a would-be career-changer?

I wouldn’t be where I am now, if my first writing client hadn’t taken a chance on me.

Going against all reasonable advice, I left my job in HR with no paid writing experience, determined to live on my meagre savings as I somehow generated enough work to keep the roof over my head.

Going against all reasonable advice (again!), I spent hour upon hour posting my newly printed leaflets through local letterboxes.  Mostly, this was because I felt permanently anxious and antsy, and doing something physical felt more useful than passive advertising on social media.

When I got a call from one of my leaflet-ees, asking if I’d ever ghost-written an autobiography before, I truthfully said no.  But I did explain in detail how I would approach the work, and luckily, that explanation landed me my very first job.

Five years down the line, I couldn’t be more grateful for that amazing opportunity.  And for his part, the client now has a 100,000-word chronicle of his rollercoaster life, which he’s told me he’s immensely proud of, and which will be published very soon.

We’re always encouraged to polish our CVs (which focus on the past, not the future) whenever we want to find new work.  

But I genuinely believe that we’re more likely to discover creative magic by making decisions that go against the grain, and by offering opportunities to people who we just know will be able to turn them into something amazing…

…whatever their CVs happen to say.

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