Help me build a worthwhile career
March 5, 2012 10:38 AM   Subscribe

27 years old and in a bit of a career crisis. I've been drifting between dead-end jobs and I want to steer myself into a more satisfying position. I'm especially interested in getting into a creative industry and/or web development/design, or something else that will play to my (self-perceived) strengths of creativity and technical aptitude. I need advice. So much advice. Perhaps some of you kind folks can help! [NB - This gets pretty long. Also, I'm in London, UK.]

Basic situation: I got a good education including an English degree, but apathy and laziness have resulted in me drifting between low-level jobs centred on administration and basic data management. The plan was always to work on my interests in my spare time and build up a portfolio of work, odd-jobs, skills and experience that would launch me into a fresh and exciting career. However, that never really happened. My current CV is here.

(I feel like part of the reason I've never had a fire lit under me to pursue a particular career is long-term depression, social anxiety and other mental issues, which I am now seeking help for. I'm also very introverted and pretty shy by nature, which has made me shy away from some jobs that would otherwise seem like a good fit).


My goal: I want to find a job that engages me. I'm especially interested in creative fields - writing, films, games and music. I write, draw and scribble down game designs in my spare time, but am only now starting to seriously put serious work into this and build up portfolios. So I guess my first question would be:

What route(s) are there for getting involved in these industries, without directly relying on a creative portfolio, which can potentially lead to roles that are either creative in a direct or indirect way, or at least close enough to the action to be interesting? I'm especially interested in games as they seem like more of a flourishing, growing medium - but film/TV, writing, and possibly journalism are also strong options.


Second, perhaps more conrete, option. I've always had a dabbling interest in coding, and I'm very keen to develop those skills into a potential job. I'm especially interested in web development/design (I have a lot of friends involved in it), but am interested enough in the problem-solving aspect to be looking at more generic software dev or IT jobs as well. However, as with everything else, I've done little or nothing to develop this interest. This is something I'm working on now, but in the meantime my second question would be:

A) What do you think are the best skills to concentrate on in this area, in terms of getting started reasonably quickly with at least entry-level work, either freelance or employed? I'm currently working on Javascript and HTML/CSS, with a view to learning PHP afterwards.

B) How might I best get a job in the sector using my current, pretty low-level skills, that I could develop into something higher-level and more rewarding?


Lastly, this. Out of all the low-level jobs I've had, the ones in the charity or public sectors have made kept me much more engaged than the others. If I can't fulfill my dreams of being a creative powerhouse or technical wizard, I'd settle for pretty much any job that was ultimately serving to make people's lives better. However, again, this isn't something I can really demonstrate through past history. So my third question would be:

A) What are the best ways to build up experience in the charity/voluntary sector - to demonstrate my interest, develop useful skills, and show how I can help?

B) What are the best hard skills to develop for getting into this sector? I've been involved in direct fundraising, but I really wasn't outgoing and naturally-friendly enough for it. I've done a little volunteer front-line aid-work, but I'm daunted by the conditions and pay. So what I'm mainly focussed on is either communications/PR, maybe relationship management, or something like support/administration/management.


Any advice on the admittedly broad and vague questions above would be much appreciated - I'll try and supply as much extra information as I can if needed.

I'd also appreciate any suggestions on how to use my current skills to get relatively low-commitment temp/contract work while I work on my longer-term goals. It used to be that agencies handed out temp jobs like free candy, but it's not so easy now. I want to try and avoid having to resort to jobs in recruitment, sales, retail, etc.

Othwerwise, if you have any ideas on sites, organisations people or companies who could give me advice then that would be great.

posted by Drexen to Work & Money (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I can't speak to most of this, but you could look into starting a program like CodeYear to help develop web coding skills.
posted by smitt at 10:59 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm actually working through Code Academy's lessons, which I believe are the same material used in CodeYear, at the moment. :)
posted by Drexen at 11:03 AM on March 5, 2012

I can help with your first one, anyway: The canonical way into games without a portfolio is sideways through the QA department. Note that as with everything associated with the games industry (and writing and film, for that matter) this can be grueling work for very little pay.

There really isn't a way to get into films or journalism without a portfolio. However, you might be missing the key first step to making a film, game, etc. for your portfolio -- find your local creator's community and volunteer to join a group of indie creators who are making something you could get excited about. How to go about finding these groups will depend on which industry you're after. It might be a student association, a meetup, a professional organization, something like that.
posted by Andrhia at 11:22 AM on March 5, 2012

First and foremost, know that most of society walks around under the illusion that you have to have a job and that you'll probably hate it. And that is an illusion.

Know that you can do what you want in your life. Also know that you are where you are because you chose to believe this illusion, and/or because you lack confidence.

It seems to me you partly lack focus, also. Do you not know what you are really passionate about, what you really want to do? It will be hard for you to find it, and hard for people to find you, if you don't really know what you want to do. So you may have to start at Step Zero: Figure out what you want to do next, before you can go to Step 1.

And then Step 1 may be to learn how to do this in your spare time, then you'll know if you like it and you will have something to show for it.

I can also testify to what Andrhia said regarding the game industry: you can get in the door as a tester and climb the corporate ladder from the bottom rung, which is challenging but do-able. I did it and made it all the way up to producer-designer.
posted by DesmondDoomsday at 11:36 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

As far as television goes, there are ways to get into that business without a degree or portfolio. One start would be to join a professional organization or list serve (in my area, it would be Women in Film and Video), which would email you notifications of job postings, internships, networking opportunity and industry events. WIFV has been invaluable to me in the past, especially when I was getting started, and I would recommend that as a solid first step (there's usually a fee, but it more than pays for itself).

You can also look into local production companies and pay them a visit; introduce yourself, give them your CV and explain that you don't have any prior experience, but you're willing to do whatever they need you to do. Once they see that you're competent and a fast learner, a good company will start throwing bigger challenges and responsibilities your way. Another benefit of this approach is that once you're there, you can get a better idea of whether you want to be a producer or a writer or an editor or whatever, and focus on that skill set.

If you decide to go the TV route, I would issue a word of warning to choose carefully which genre you choose--once you start in one genre, it's not as easy as it should be to branch out. I know that beggars can't be choosers, but if the only company willing to bring you on is one that makes cheesy 'true crime' shows and you happen to hate that style, chances are that after a while you'll hate your job, too. A possible solution would be a company that produces many different styles of show, and would move you around from one to another. Anyway, I'm rambling now. Good luck!
posted by SixteenTons at 11:39 AM on March 5, 2012

Also, I don't know anything about production in the UK, but here's a page [of UK production companies] from a site I found upon cursory search:
posted by SixteenTons at 11:43 AM on March 5, 2012

Thanks for the useful answers so far, guys.
posted by Drexen at 12:54 PM on March 5, 2012

MPC in London is advertising for a VFX production assistant jobs at the moment. With your background in administration and data management, an administrative position at a VFX or postproduction house might be a foot in the door.
posted by jade east at 1:18 PM on March 5, 2012

I think you'd be competing with a zillion other people for film/TV jobs. I'd say post-production, production accounting (not as dull as it sounds) or anything that moves you into producing, rather than actual crew jobs makes more sense. Same in games.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:52 PM on March 5, 2012

yea, I work in VFX, and there are definitely ways in - the production assistant job suggested above is a good one.

Note that as with everything associated with the games industry (and writing and film, for that matter) this can be grueling work for very little pay.

this is very true - it's a lot of work, and especially for the first few years as you are proving yourself, and learning the industry, you're looking at lots of stress and long hours. It does get better as you work your way up. There are a lot of different jobs in VFX, once you get a foot in the door, start looking around at what other people are doing and see if there is anything that appeals to you. Editing, animation, compositing etc. all have their own kinds of software that can be downloaded and practiced at home, so you can learn on the job, and build yourself a portfolio too.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:02 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

First and foremost, know that most of society walks around under the illusion that you have to have a job and that you'll probably hate it. And that is an illusion.

But you do have to have a job to pay the rent. If you don't at least account for having to do the crappy jobs on the way up, or the crappy jobs that will pay for you to do the unpaid non-crappy jobs that will get you to where you want to go, then you're being unrealistic at best.

Right. Are you registered with Judy Fisher? They're a specialist media temp agency - we get our temps from there (I'm in advertising/broadcast services) some of whom apply for vacancies when they come along. They're definitely worth a try.

Also, read Broadcast, Brand Republic and other trade papers. Do it in WH Smith if you can't afford them. Jobs are oft advertised there. You probably know about Guardian Jobs already, but if you don't, you can set up a jobsearch there. There are hundreds of post houses in London and there are thousands of people applying for them because they think it's glamorous, or without technical skills. You have an advantage on two fronts there.

Lastly, do you have a disability or are from an under-represented ethnic background? There are schemes available for those who are either under-represented or have difficulty getting into media, so if this is you I'd recommend investigating this. Channel 4 actively try to recruit from diverse backgrounds, and BBC offer a disability-led scheme.
posted by mippy at 8:46 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

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