First Hand — First jobs: The good, the bad and the ugly

Posted 11 April 2018

This week marks a full year since Lecture in Progress officially launched. In that time, we’ve interviewed over 320 people, celebrating their work and varied paths into industry across more than 400 articles. To mark the occasion, we reached out to our many brilliant contributors to dish the dirt on their own significant professional ‘firsts’. We had such a great response, that we decided to share their stories of early forays into industry in two parts. To kick things off, we discover the in-house roles and jobs that both shaped and scarred our growing network – from working in a sewage plant to apprentice carpet fitting...

The telesales executive 
My first proper job was selling classified ad space in a magazine called Local Government Chronicle. I was terrible at it because I don’t like talking on the phone at the best of times. But there was some useful theoretical stuff in the training. I learned to sell benefits not features: a feather pillow is a feature, a good night’s sleep is a benefit. I learned about avoiding qualifiers that lack confidence: maybe, might, quite, possibly, arguably... I learned that you have to make it about the customer, not the product. And I learned about different ways of going for the ‘close’, from the direct approach (the power of just asking) to the more cunning (offer a choice – do you want the large or small?). It’s all stuff that you pick up anyway as a copywriter, but it was useful to absorb it early, and coming from a telesales background made copywriting seem blissfully low-pressure in comparison.
Nick Asbury, copywriter, Macclesfield

The backwash boy
I was a backwash boy at a hair salon when I was 15; It was one of my favourite jobs. The over-60s totally loved to gossip to me about their husbands on a Saturday morning before getting their blow-dry. A personal favourite was a 68-year-old widow called Ellie, who spent 20 years of her life exploring the world on a boat. She lost part of her skull in an accident which meant I had to avoid putting any pressure on (what she called called) ’the squishy bit’, and used to sing along to the music we had playing.
Luke Evans, artist and photographer, Hereford

The failed applicant 
This wasn’t my first job so much as my first interview. I went for a ‘community manager’ role at a big advertising agency that I won’t name. It was all going well until they asked me about #TheAflockalypse – a hashtag they'd seen when they looked at my Twitter account. Basically, as a dumb joke, when my friends or I saw a dead bird, we would take a picture and I would tweet it (living between Brighton and London meant we saw lots of seagulls and pigeons). The interviewers then took it in turns to dismantle my dreams. They told me to leave and I returned to the job centre.
Louie Zeegen, senior copywriter, DesignStudio

The Yorkshire Student Designer of the Year
I won the very niche title of Yorkshire Student Designer of the Year, which meant I won a paid 12-month work placement at a place called Brahm, which I’d never heard of. Frankly I thought I’d got a bum deal – second place meant winning an Apple PowerBook. But it turned out that the design team was full of great people. I learnt a lot, won awards and even had a piece of work exhibited at the Design Museum. So my advice at this point of your career is, keep an open mind!
Adam Rix, creative director at Music, Manchester

“I thought I was forwarding the email to a colleague to complain about how stupid someone was, but I replied all.”

The man in black 
My first design job was in-house at a liquor company in New Zealand. I remember the marketing manager asking why I always wore all-black, and I earnestly told him it was because I didn’t want the reflection of my clothing to interfere with my screen.

It was also at this job that I kicked off my second career in sending regrettable emails. We were working with another company and someone there emailed me directly to request a change that I, The Designer, didn’t agree with. I thought I was forwarding the email to a colleague to complain about how stupid this person was (not a great move itself), but I replied all. Twelve years later I still struggle to look people in the eye.
Chris Chapman, design director at Droga5, London

The token Brit
My first job was with Danish superstars, Stine Hein and Felix Nielsen at Relax, We Are The Good Guys. I was the token Brit in an office full of Danes in Berlin. I joined as a digital designer, but Felix really got me into coding. I was there a year and I learned so much. Unfortunately the agency as it was closed down, but they really are ‘good guys’, and we’re still in touch three years later.
Jack Wild, developer, London

The first creative hire
I was the first creative hire at the mighty Work Club, and it was my first creative job. There was a set of bleachers in the centre of the office with a massive PA system. There was a Bichon Frisé who got a cease and desist letter from the Royal Mail. We framed it. There were chartered yachts during the summer and I got a singing Elvis telegram one Valentine’s day.

At first, I had no fucking idea what was going on, but seemed to get rewarded for writing stuff that made me laugh and figured it out from there. I got to make work that I wouldn’t have been allowed to make anywhere else, and then they made me creative director. It was the best postgraduate education any young messer could wish for.
L.A. Ronayne, creative director at Stink Studios, London

The shopaholic designer
My first job was at a small brand and digital design consultancy in central London called Structure. I started as a junior designer and worked there for six years. My first pay packet was in the region of £400 per week, paid weekly and on time, which was great for someone starting out. The studio was based on Carnaby Street so it wasn’t hard to spend it all before it hit my account though – from memory I purchased adidas Stan Smiths and Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars with that first payment. 
Craig Jackson, designer, London

The carpet fitter
I was an apprentice carpet-fitter for my dad (he was a fireman but a carpet-fitter on the side). I was so terrible at it that I was eventually sacked. By my own father. I still can’t quite believe it! He just suddenly announced one day, “Son, you’re really not cut out for this.” And that was it – on the job scrap heap. I was actually secretly elated.
Jimmy Turrell, creative director, Newcastle

The casting assistant
Once I left Central Saint Martins, I assisted Madeleine Ostlie for a few months – as a second assistant and casting for her agency AAMO. Although I worked out I didn’t want to do styling, I started to meet more people within the industry, and Madde gave me lots of advice that gave me the confidence to plunge into my career without worrying about whether I’d been to uni or not. 
Ronan McKenzie, photographer, London

“[It] gave me the confidence to plunge into my career without worrying about whether I’d been to uni or not.”

The sewage-plant worker 
My first job was at a sewage plant, which I did over the course of three summers. I also sold phones for a month, as a market researcher. I did some freelance work as an animator too, but besides that, Animade is my first animation-related job. 
Frida Ek, animator and designer at Animade, London

The small-studio apprentice  
First I interned for a well-known fashion photographer for four days, and then quit because I hated it. It was all ego and not my vibe. I then spent a couple of weeks at Saatchi & Saatchi which was brilliant, before starting at a small advertising agency in Brighton. Due to the size of the agency, I was exposed to all aspects of the business not just creative. This gave me a deeper understanding of the industry and the challenges facing other teams, which was invaluable. Working in a small agency also allows you more flexibility to work on a wider range of clients and in different disciplines – something that is more difficult in bigger agencies. I really recommend it. 
Gem Fletcher, photography director, London

The graphic design intern-turned-full-timer 
There was a three-month gap in between leaving uni and starting my first job, and I definitely remember feeling the panic creeping in, especially being a total newbie to the industry. I became a graphic design intern at Just So, who then hired me full-time. I learnt a lot there, mainly about the dynamics of a commercial work environment. Learning to think on your feet, working amongst a team and also (very importantly) quickly realising what I liked and didn’t like doing. 
Rose Pilkington, motion-graphics designer and artist, London

The prop maker 
One of my first creative jobs was prop-making for the web series Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, which was a really fun experience. Becky and Joe, the directors of the series, were the loveliest people and it was amazing to see them turning their own vision into a reality. Seeing that drove me to push my own vision and make it into my career. 
Stephanie Unger, illustrator, Brighton

The family-business helper 
My first job was working in my family’s corner shop in Leicester. I grew up ingrained within working life, learning to multitask and interact with so many different types of people. Leicester has a multicultural society we had to speak maybe four or five different languages. Working with my family taught me that you should enjoy what you do – it’s not a job, and I think I’ve carried that with me. 
Seetal Solanki, tutor, designer and creative director, London

“By the end of the shoot my eyes were twitching due to the lack of sleep!”

The blokey camera department assistant  
I’ve never worked for a company. I’ve done some part-time jobs, like waitressing at a restaurant but I was pretty awful at holding a tray properly. I started working as a camera assistant on short films and smaller projects while I was studying. I thought, you have to do it to learn it – you can’t just imagine what it’s like to be on set. I was working while my friends were partying (I wasn’t very sociable, I have to admit). I learned the basics as a camera assistant, but I didn’t like the blokey-ness of the camera department. I just enjoyed working with my director on the creative side of things and managing my team – rather than worrying about which screw goes on which camera plate.  
Rina Yang, cinematographer, London

The night runner
My first job in film was as a runner on night shoots. I got the job by messaging the producer of the film through Twitter. I had two weeks of working on the shoot at night and trying to do my own work in the morning. By the end of the shoot my eyes were twitching due to the lack of sleep!
Esrael Alem, director, London

The investigator’s aide
My dad was a private investigator, and one of my first jobs was with him, confirming and documenting personal injury claims. Even though I didn’t technically get paid, it still helped me buy some of my first photography equipment!
– Sophie Stafford, photographer, London

The forever friend
My first job was at a company called This Is Studio. It was here that I fucked up my first print job, made my first crap website and made botched attempts at identity work. It was the first place that put their faith in me, and took the time to teach me – I feel I really learnt my craft there. We still meet up, and I’m proud that they were my first real fiends in the creative industry.
– Fred North, designer, DesignStudio

The part-dressed professional
One of my first interviews for any kind of real, grown up job was with D&AD, and it was a dreaded Skype call. I was working part-time, which meant getting dressed wasn’t always top of my agenda if I wasn’t on rota that day. Knowing I probably only needed my upper body to wow them, I decided to go with the old ‘business on top, pyjamas below’ trick. All was going well, my shirt-clad upper body was nailing it. And then the cat decided to saunter in. But she’s not coming for a cuddle. She’s retching, like she wants to throw up all over my future. Forgetting myself, I leap up to shoo her away, baring my subterfuge to the screen. No, these pyjamas couldn’t have passed for a Cos number. And yes, they were hideously hideous.
Ellen Ling, creative at LOVE, Manchester

The Sainsbury’s aspirant
I worked at a garden centre sweeping leaves, in a T-shirt shop, and as a life model for about five years. I’ve also done data entry, bar work, festival wrist-banding and tried really, really hard to get a job at Sainsbury’s, but failed the interview twice. It’s lucky I ended up doing illustration because I was pretty sure I wasn’t cut out for anything else.
Ruby Fresson, illustrator, Romsey

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