Counseling Creative Clients: 4 Ways to Start the Dialogue

By Amanda Williams

According to the National Endowment for the Arts (2011), there are 2.1 million workers in the United States who identify “artist” as their primary occupation. In 2014, “750,453 U.S. businesses participated in the creation or distribution of the arts, employing 3.1 million people or 2.2% of the workforce” (Americans for the Arts, 2014). Additionally, 97% of U.S. employers say creativity is of increasing importance to them, while 85% looking to hire creative people say they are unable to find the applicants they seek (Lichtenberg, Woock, & Wright, 2008).

These statistics make it clear that there is a need to assist current and emerging professionals in creative roles and industries in connecting with the employers who are seeking their specific skillsets. Working with creative clients can have a different feel than working with those who might be in more traditional lines of work, but different doesn’t always equal difficult or complicated. In fact, it can mean more fun!
From 2010-2016, I had the privilege of counseling students across a number of design-related disciplines for the College of Design at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC. The students and faculty I worked with greatly expanded my views on what a job search in art and design can look like, and how career success can be measured in non-traditional ways. The purpose of this article is to share what I have learned over the past six years, in hopes of providing fellow career counselors with new insights and ideas for serving students and clients across creative industries.

Four Approaches
1) Unique Resumes: Creative resumes that I have come across for designers and artists have included infographics, color, and bold fonts. These unique additions are more commonplace when working with this demographic… and that is okay! These students and clients are focused on selling their experiences and talents immediately. By creating and sharing a professional resume with a personal design, it allows potential employers to see their style and presentation in the first 30 seconds, before even having to move on to a portfolio or website with work samples.

2) Brand Management: Speaking of portfolios and websites…consistency is key. It is important that clients create their own brand and carry it through all of their application materials. This means using the same fonts, logos, colors, lines, etc. on all of their materials, including resume, business cards, portfolios, websites, thank you notes, and social media sites. This consistency will allow for an easy flow through the application and may help potential employers more easily understand their design process and quality.

3) Designer vs. Artist: I have heard many descriptions of how these two terms carry different meanings. This can be a subjective discussion with varying opinions. One description I have heard is that “arts asks questions, while design answers them” (Duvall, n.d.). In other words, designers are problem-solvers, responding to the needs with a large focus on user experience, whereas artists are focused on expression, often based on personal experience, for the enjoyment of others. Is this definition agreed upon by every artist and designer in the industry? No. However, it provides a place to begin thoughtful dialogue with your student or client. This distinction – how they see themselves and want to be seen in a professional context – can be an important entrance into a conversation with someone in or entering a creative industry. Understanding where their specific interests and focus might be and determining the ultimate goals of their work can provide clarity around the job search process and the different directions they might explore throughout their career search process.

4) Opportunities – Small AND Large: As mentioned above, the majority of employers claim creativity is of increasing importance to their organizations (Lichtenberg, Woock, & Wright, 2008). Opportunities for those interested in working in creative roles are vast and can be found in unlikely places. Often I will hear parents ask a question similar to “what kind of job can they get with this degree?” They may assume that those with creative tendencies will be “starving artists” forever. This is not the case! Both small and large firms have a variety of needs when it comes to the employees they hire. For example, did you know that global companies such as IBM, SAS, Target, and Facebook employ large design teams? Is your client interested in a small organization? Try looking at stationary boutiques, non-profit organizations, or publishing companies… opportunities exist for creative work in organizations that label themselves creative, and those that do not. Clients and counselors alike will find greater success when thinking strategically about finding opportunities of interest in unique places, based on client priorities and preferences.

Final Thoughts
Every individual is going to have unique needs and variables relating to their career development and job search, those in the creative industry are no exception. This article offers a brief glimpse into the career development world of artists and designers, as well as others who may be interested in creative industries. The touchpoints provided can give career counselors the jumpstart needed in a conversation with a client who identifies an interest in this type of career. I thoroughly enjoyed the years I worked with Design students and learned a lot about myself and my own counseling habits in the process.


Americans for the Arts. (2014). Creative Industries: Business & Employment in the Arts. Retrieved from http://www.nasaa-arts.org/Research/Key-Topics/Creative-Economic-Development/Facts-&-Figures-on-the-Creative-Economy.php

Duvall, A. (n.d.). Design vs Art – The difference and why it matters. Retrieved from http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/design-vs-art/

Lichtenberg, J., Woock, C., & Wright, M. (2008). Ready to Innovate. The College Board. Retrieved from http://www.americansforthearts.org/sites/default/files/pdf/information_services/research/policy_roundtable/ReadytoInnovateFull.pdf

National Endowment for the Arts (2011). NEA Announces New Research Note on Artists in the Workforce. Retrieved from https://www.arts.gov/news/2011/nea-announces-new-research-note-artists-workforce#sthash.Rp5uDgyE.dpuf.


Amanda WilliamsAmanda Williams, Ph.D. is the Associate Director of MBA Student Services at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School in Chapel Hill, NC. She was previously the Director of Career and Academic Advising for the College of Design at North Carolina State University from November 2010-March 2016. A higher education professional with over 10 years of experience in career services and student support, she completed a Ph.D. in Educational Research and Policy Analysis – Higher Education from North Carolina State University with a dissertation titled "Mentoring in Student Affairs: An Interpretive Study of Experiences and Relationships." Amanda is currently serving as President for the North Carolina Career Development Association. She can be reached at amanda_williams@unc.edu.


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John J. Gosling   on Sunday 05/01/2016 at 06:42 PM

Thanks for this. I hope to begin serving mis-treated females and the center I interviewed at espouses this approach. May I use this article?

John J. Gosling, MSE LPC
Empowering & Educating Counselor
Appleton, WI 54914
Proud NCDA Member!

Ginny Ruder   on Monday 05/02/2016 at 09:50 AM

Amanda, this is a great article. I would add that having been an Interior Designer for years prior to becoming a Career Counselor I realize that the creative process, the ability to think outside the box and develop new concepts is a great transferable skill that all people in the arts need to express to potential employers.

If we use Holland's Artistic type and turn it into Artistic=Creative I think this is a great way to help artists talk about themselves.

Melanie Reinersman   on Monday 05/02/2016 at 10:20 AM

John, so glad you believe the ideas in the article will be helpful in your work. Here at Career Convergence we strive for practical application of all our articles. Yes, please use what you have learned. If you wish to actually reprint/distribute the article, please email me first for permission.
Good luck in your work!
Melanie Reinersman, Career Convergence Editor

JP Michel   on Tuesday 06/07/2016 at 08:58 AM

Hi Amanda,
This was a fantastic article. Thank you for sharing!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.