Unemployed at thirty-six, with two little kids, a mortgage, car loans, and credit card debt was a new reality for me. Some of my old Inhouse clients and a few new friends with their own businesses came to my rescue with freelance projects that kept me busy over the summer, and covered my critical expenses, but I needed a real job, real soon. Not being able to get packaging projects because I didn't have any packaging examples in my portfolio, is a lot like hiring a job placement service when you don't have a job. You need to do the work, to get the work, even if you can't afford it, you can't afford not to. Touting themselves as the nation's oldest and largest career-management company, Bernard Haldane Associates ran big ads in The NY Times offering guidance in redesigning a résumé and career advice. Part naive, part vulnerable, I opted to reach out to their office in Paramus, and found myself dropping $1,500 to get into their 'system' and be assigned to Rich, my career adviser. Rich told me right off the bat he would not be making any calls, providing any contacts, setting up any interviews, or guaranteeing job placement in any way. He also was quick to point out that he had zero experience with anyone creative, and primarily dealt with business executives. As if the two were mutually exclusive, he also let me know he had no interest in seeing my portfolio, first because he admittedly wasn't qualified to review it, and second, because, as he explained, his role was to provide the tools I would need to have a successful job search.
At first, I really thought this was a gross waste of my time and money, both of which I was in short supply. I fully understood they would not be getting me a job, but they would change my entire paradigm about finding one. The first lesson - stop looking for a job - became a viable way for me to put my cold-calling skills to an entirely different task. I had a Rolodex full of contacts who were to become my new network and not my old hit list. The Haldane rule was simple enough - reach out to a few select people in your network and ask if you could meet with them to, essentially, pick their brains. Rich told me, "People love to talk about their own success. Ask how they got to do what they do? Trials and tribulations, and the like. NEVER tell them you're looking for a job. It's NOT a job interview, it's a career advisement interview." And, lastly, he said, "Before you leave, ask him or her for the name of someone else they might suggest you talk to." The other valuable lesson I bought from Haldane was, ironically, "You'll never find the job of your dreams by answering an ad in the newspaper." Considering I had found them by answering their ad in the very paper they were suggesting I stop looking in, I took the opportunity to use my creative license for reinterpretation.
As Picasso famously said, "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist." By October, my freelance was running dry, and my patience was wearing thin, so, naturally, I opened up the NY Times' Classifieds. On that particular Saturday morning, it occurred to me, after several conversations with my network contacts, that, professionally speaking, maybe I'm not who or what I thought I was. Maybe, after adding up all my experience to date, I wasn't a Creative Director, Art Director, or even a Graphic Designer, but maybe I was a business man after all. In self-evaluating my own portfolio, after building it continuously for over twenty-years, the Advertising and Packaging in my book were no longer about the execution of the creativity, but about the Marketing of Me.