Dispelling the Experience Paradox in the Creative Field

Dispelling the Experience Paradox in the Creative Field was originally published on Vault.

You’ve been creative for as long as you can remember, from drawing pictures on the walls with your crayons, to tirelessly studying all your theory and applying it flawlessly to your dissertation. You’ve mastered the Adobe Suite, honed your skills, and expanded your thinking beyond what you thought possible. With your shiny new degree in hand, you carefully craft your resume and start looking for jobs in your field only to be faced with what I so lovingly call “The Experience Paradox” (original name, do not steal).

The Experience Paradox is a phenomenon that occurs when you have no work experience in a particular field, but the entry level jobs require you to have a year or two of experience to be considered. This can be puzzling and frustrating, and in some cases, it can act as a deterrent from realizing your dream career. The Experience Paradox resembles the chicken and the egg conundrum, but it is far less fun to think about. Happily, there are many solutions to this problem.

Internships are great for getting real-world experience in the field of your choice. Some companies offer internship programs for both current students and recent graduates, so if you missed an opportunity while you were in school, the potential to score an internship still exists. In the creative field it is crucial that you save any and all projects you work on so that you have the option to add them to your portfolio, and this includes work you have done in an internship. Furthermore, it would be advantageous to seek out internships that lead directly into a full-time role if you are able to do so.

If the window for an internship has closed, there are still ways to get experience under your belt and add to your portfolio. Let’s say you want to write professionally, and you’re trying to get your foot in the door. You might be surprised to learn that many websites offer staff writer positions that are relatively easy to get; however, you’ll find the pay is usually nonexistent. In other words, you’ll probably be working for free. The upside here is you’ll get your name out there with published work that can be added to your portfolio. If your life circumstances require you to have an income, taking on a day job while moonlighting as a writer-for-hire will be a temporary inconvenience, but it is a tried and true method to success.

It helps to use your network to gain some experience as well. Perhaps you know a small business owner that could use some signage; you could offer to create some designs free of charge, under the stipulation that you can use any work you’ve done in your portfolio. Even something as simple as designing invitations for your friends’ events can be worthwhile, as the designs can be used as examples to show your experience. Try applying your creativity to seeking out experience in this way, as it can be done on your own terms and as much or as little as you’d like.

There’s no easy way to say this: breaking into the creative world takes time, and a lot of patience. It can take years before it is lucrative, and you may sometimes find yourself working more than one job at a time when you’re first starting out. The key is perseverance, and finding ways to build up your experience and portfolio. Before you know it, The Experience Paradox is dispelled, and you’re receiving a paycheck for doing what you love to do – this is the real reward for all your hard work. Well, that and being able to tell mom that all those crayon drawings on the wall finally paid off.