“Dealing with rejection” – if you’re a creative (graphic designer, writer, illustrator, photographer, etc.) you might as well add it to the “skills” section on your resume. As creatives, it’s part of our job description to take a risk and put our work and ideas out there to be judged by others. And, of course, there’s always someone out there who doesn’t like our work. But where there’s risk – there’s reward (a.k.a. how awesome it feels to nail a concept). So we learn (and teach) the art of giving and receiving constructive criticism to others…and develop a skin as thick as can be.
But what happens when the people judging our work, the creatives in positions of hiring power don’t understand “the constructive” part of constructive criticism and just criticize?
Ordinarily, I would highly prefer not to broadcast my rejections faced in the creative business. But I recently encountered a Creative Recruiter in a high position of power who was rude, condescending, unprofessional, and seriously lacked understanding of how to give constructive criticism. My hope in telling this story is not to fish for supportive jabs at the idiot Creative Recruiter (I know my strengths and weaknesses – thank you) but to bring light to the fact that behavior like this is unacceptable and potentially damaging to young creative professionals just entering the field.
A few months ago, I went out on a limb and contacted the Creative Director of one the most prominent advertising agencies in San Francisco. I was seeking freelance creative work (writing, concepting, etc.) and this firm, in particular, has been on my “top places to work” list since the beginning of my career in SF. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d even get a response but I figured I had nothing to lose (and everything to gain!) Thus, I was so excited when the amazingly talented Creative Director himself actually replied to my email. He was honest and said he thought I had talent, but I might not be a good fit for the agency at this point and he referred me to their Creative Recruiter who could offer a better perspective on how to “separate myself from the pack.” So I contacted the Creative Recruiter, but after a month of radio silence, I just assumed they weren’t interested in working with me. And frankly, with the personal email I received from the Creative Director whom I had deeply admired for some time, I was just as content to move on. Hey, that’s the way the creative biz goes.
Then I got the phone call.
After 5 weeks of zero communication, I naturally assumed the non-response by the agency meant they weren’t interested in working with me. And I was right. But just so I was totally clear on this point – the Creative Recruiter felt it necessary to let me know, in the most condescending way possible, that it wasn’t a good fit. He definitely did not offer advice on how to “separate myself from the pack” and he certainly did not provide constructive feedback. He threw in the word “cute” to describe my work (a snide insult in this business) and concluded the conversation with something like, “hope I didn’t dash your hopes of ever succeeding [in this industry].”
Was I upset? Hell, yes. Because of what he said about my work? No. I have solid confidence in my talent and have two successful creative businesses. But I was seriously disturbed and completely taken aback by his sheer rudeness. I can only imagine how many people with serious talent he’s hurt or discouraged along the way. And that is NOT acceptable. There’s never a place for condescension in any field.
In article after article I’ve written, I’ve been a champion and cheerleader of creatives everywhere. I’m contacted on a daily basis by newbie designers from across the nation seeking advice on their careers, feedback on their design or writing portfolios, or interests in interning (which I don’t offer at this time, btw). Time permitted, I do my best to respond and provide solid, constructive feedback to all who take the time to contact me. Why? Because I was in their shoes once (we were ALL in their shoes once) and support and encouragement go a long way.
So drop the ego Mr. Creative Recruiter. Yes, your agency has earned enough awards for its share of bragging rights. But you sir, need to get a clue. And yes, you’re right – it is certainly not a good fit.
Here are some good articles on giving and receiving constructive criticism:
(originally appeared in SF Examiner 11/30/09)