Q+A: How to find the perfect part-time job

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Dear Amy,

I recently read your excellent blog post about why artists & illustrators should get job and wonder if you have any advice about finding the ideal part-time job to help one reach one’s goal.

In my own case, I really want to write and create graphic novels full-time but am at a loss to find a complementary job that pays well enough and fits my analytical personality. I am even considering going back to school to learn animation or going back to learn something high-tech. But I also know that I’d toss both away if I ever had the chance to write and illustrate full-time.

What are your thoughts?

~ Benjamin

Hi Benjamin!

Finding the ideal part-time job is definitely the way to go as you go experiment and take time to hone your craft and work! Having a part-time job does wonders in alleviating the stress of having to worry where your next meal will come from and to avoid that awkward moment of trying to fake not being around whenever your rent lady comes a-knocking.

Finding a part-time job involves a two main scenarios:

Scenario #1: You have many different skills – writing and illustrating and illustrating is just one of them

This is the sort of situation where you’re a multipotentialite. Not only do you have a talent for drawing and writing, but you might also be a good strategist, or a great chef. I think that deep down, we all have different skill sets. While they may not necessarily go together and culminate in one job (that’s a tough find); finding different outlets where you are able to flex your skills is a great way to make yourself happy.

Scenario #2: You have one main love – writing and illustrating – and it’s hard to imagine yourself doing anything else.

If this is the case, you’ll need to do a bit of sleuthing to find out what would be a good fit for you. For me, what has always worked is to find something that would help me balance between time, money, and interests. And this formula would change throughout the years. For example, when I was in university, I would work part time as a retail assistant at a clothing store. I didn’t have much time (because I was standing on my feet the whole day tending to customers), little money (because the pay was a mere RM3.40 (USD$1) per hour), and I wasn’t really interested in it so much.

So the equation would look something like this:

[box]Retail assistant = Less time for myself + Little money + Low level of interest = on a scale of 1-10, this would be a 2/10 [/box]

I learned to balance things out by finding jobs that would tip the scales to what I was looking for at a particular time. For my part-time writing positions a couple of years after I graduated, the equation looked like like this:

[box]Freelance writer= Adequate time for myself (to work on Pikaland) + Adequate money (if you hustle enough) + High level of interest =  5/10 [/box]

Currently, I want to free up my time and also up the money factor (what this means is that I want to add value to what I do, instead of having my hours count instead). So I have a few options here – find higher paying writing jobs, or find another interesting part time job that would pay me more money than what I currently do. I’ve done both before, and I’ve just accepted a job as a part-time creative director of a PR/digital strategy agency, and this is how my equation looks like now:

[box]Part time creative director= Adequate time for myself + Good money + High level of interest = 7/10 [/box]

It’s always about finding out what you need at a particular time in your career or life – whether you’re looking to have more time to spend on your interests, to want to find more money to supplement your income, and what you’re willing to put aside (your interests) in search of a part time work that works for you.

Now we move on to another point: How do you find the perfect part time job for you? I’ve broken it down into a few key strategies:

#1: Find out what your skill sets are.

When I first graduated from university, I avoided sending my resumes to landscape architecture firms. I had a 6-month experience with being in one before, and I wasn’t exactly looking forward for more. So I thought to myself – I’ve been submitting my writing to the local newspaper and magazines, so why not try to do more of that, and get paid too? So my first job was as an editorial assistant – there was a lot of writing, running around scrambling for photo shoots and also helping my editor manage a few editorial projects, all the while keeping a tight deadline.

A few years later, I was an editor myself. And then I left to run Pikaland full time to see where it could lead me. My past experiences made me realize that I am quite fond of writing. And I could organize and manage a team of people. I could manage projects. I loved solving problems. I am happy when I am able to take something complicated and make it simple. And so I took these skills that I have and I ran with it. Starting up Pikaland utilized those skill sets (apart from my love of drawing and writing). So did determining what sort of part-time job I could pursue to supplement my income.

#2: Do what you’re comfortable with (for starters!)

A lot of times, finding a part-time job is about extending what you’ve been doing in the past, but perhaps scaling it down to suit your lifestyle. I chose to continue writing because I was able to excel in it (at least I think so!) Writing for an architecture and design magazine was a comfortable setup that I could tap into. It also helped that I love meeting people within the field, and they felt that they were talking to someone who understood where they were coming from. It became second nature.

As I go along, I began to embrace experiences that made me move out of my comfort zone – like teaching. Pitching bigger projects to clients. And it opened up new possibilities for myself. Soon, I wasn’t just accepting job offers – I made my own.

#3: Count on your contacts.

A lot of my freelance jobs/part-time job inquiries came from my friends and contacts over the years. I’ve found that when I did good work, it would lead to more referrals. Personal recommendations and rave reviews from my contacts – especially when I’m dealing with new clients – has gained me an easy foot in the door; sometimes even without the need to for a portfolio viewing. My illustration jobs were commissioned this way too. It doesn’t hurt to put your ear to the ground and ask around if anyone needs a hand or two!

#4: Create a bigger circle.

In addition to counting on your contact list, one of the best things that I’ve done is to not be content with who or what I know. When I quit my full time job, it freed up a lot of time for me to explore other things and topics that I liked (as opposed to it being something I had to do). So I got myself involved with the local tech community (yes, I am a geek!), educators and also other female entrepreneurs. Aside from having fun from all these experiences, I gained lots of new friends – we throw ideas around, get feedback and lots of support as we go along our way. The beauty of being able to craft your own circle (as opposed to just hanging out at your usual ones) is that you get to learn about a lot of things from different people. I think that this is one of the most interesting and fulfilling aspect of working as a freelancer and a part-timer that is harder for me to accomplish if I had been working full-time.

Finding a part-time job that will be able to cater to your analytical side will take some time and experimentation to see what works for you. A lot of times it will be through a series of trials and errors! The important thing is to go out and try out different things, and see what sticks. You won’t know something for certain until you’ve tried; and by taking that leap, you may just be pleasantly surprised at where you’ll land.

So there you have it Benjamin – I hope this will help you in some way! If you have any experience, advice or tips you’d like to share with Benjamin, I’d love to hear from you! Just write in your thoughts in the comments below and I’m sure it would greatly help others who are in the same situation.

Do you have a burning question that you’d like to get to the bottom of? Whether it’s questions about your life, career or if you’d like to just vent out your frustrations – send me a note and I’d be happy to offer my thoughts! And if you haven’t gotten on our newsletter just yet (but love articles like these) – sign up for the mailing list so you won’t miss out on anything!

Q+A: How to land that first job

Hi Amy!

I’m a budding young interdisciplinary illustrator/creative writing. Right now I am closing in on my final months at school and I’m worried about finding a job. What was your first professional job hunt experience like?

~ Alicia

Hi Alicia!

Congrats on your impending move up into the real world! I always tell my students that life after graduation is the best part about being in school – to which they’d have groans and moans about how difficult life out there is.

Funnily enough, I didn’t think in that terms. Not because I was rich or anything like that (I still lived with my parents then though – but I was on my own financially.) I just thought about what I wanted first and foremost, and it was a simple enough a goal: I wanted to be happy.

Being happy is such a broad term, so let’s break it down.

Before I was allowed to graduate as a landscape architect, we had to go on a 6-month internship at a landscape consultancy. I got my feet wet researching about plant selection and design, and was being given a crash course on how tedious meetings were. I told myself before I started the internship that whatever I chose to do after graduation would hinge on this 6 months of me giving it my all in the field. I didn’t hate being a landscape architect, but I wasn’t exactly ecstatic at the prospect of having to work on AutoCAD for the rest of my career.

And so I gave it my all – and what that meant was trying to be the best darn intern that company has ever seen. I asked the big boss to take me along for his meetings (he was stunned because I was the first one to ever ask), and I gamely took on site excursions under the hot sun just to rack up some experience.

At the end of the internship, I knew what I wanted.

And it wasn’t the path that I had went along for the past 6 months.

So before I graduated, I worked on a plan. I had decided that being a landscape architect wasn’t for me, and I was interested in publishing instead. Specifically, I wanted to be a magazine editor, so I was on the lookout for vacancies that started at the bottom rung of what seemed like an impossible ladder – an editorial assistant post. I love books and magazines, and the desire to be a part of a fast moving arena really helped make the scary jump.

I was lucky. I saw an ad for an editorial assistant position at a spa magazine (it was a decent, classy one) within a few weeks. The ad mentioned that they were looking for graduates within the communications and PR field, with at least 1-3 years of publishing experience.

I had none.

So here’s what I did:

#1. I made a case for what I could offer them, and gave it my all… in my cover letter.

I had to strategize. I knew that a big part of getting my foot in the door relied on my cover letter. So I started to research about cover letters, heading to the bookstore for samples of great resumes and cover letters, as well as doing my research online. I aimed to write a letter that conveyed my passion for writing, and research. I also tried to allay their fears – I told them that if I didn’t know something, you’d bet that I would find the answer, and I wasn’t afraid to work hard at it.

#2. I wasn’t afraid to go above and beyond what a resume/CV looks like

In addition to the cover letter that I tailored for the magazine, I also researched about health and wellness – two topics that I was really into at the time. I asked myself – why in heck would these people hire me just by looking at my letter? I had an AHA moment – I wouldn’t just send a letter and a resume (which was looking pretty empty at this point) I would send them a mock-up of an article, in which I wrote about new age fitness, and – get this – I didn’t just send it in as a text document. Oh no. I made it all fancy – I laid out the article in Microsoft Word as a series of images and text, just like how it would appear in a magazine.

#3. I took a bit of a price cut. [scary, and optional]

The cover letter, resume and mock-up worked. I had an interview! And I was so excited too – it was a small, close-knit team and I was eager to show them my enthusiasm, and I was even more prepared to learn a whole lot from the experience. And what surprised me most of all was that I was hired on the spot – apparently they’ve never met someone who had enthusiasm bubbling out of their ears! They negotiated a slight salary adjustment because I had no experience – but they told me that it would be adjusted as I proved my capabilities within a few months.

In instances like mine, I knew that once I had my foot in the door, that slight salary cut would be nothing compared to the experience that I would gain. Plus, I knew that I could negotiate the industry rate (or higher) when I went to another magazine (which I did.) I lucked out because it turned out really well – I had an exciting career in publishing, and worked my way up to editor in the end (in a different magazine, with a fair bit of twists and turns along the way, but that’s a story for another time).

The biggest takeaway from my experience that you can apply to your own job search is this:

#4. Don’t be afraid to take risks in pursuit of what you want.

Perhaps you don’t know what you want yet. Maybe you don’t know if you’re happier pursuing writing or illustrating; or even both at the same time. Do one at a time, and see how you feel about it. Most of the time, even if we don’t know what we want, we are sure of what we don’t want, and that in itself is a good stepping stone to find what fits.

It’s okay to not have things work out right from the start. And that’s where the fun is – trying to figure out your career, and in the process, figuring out what you really want to do.


What about you? What tips and advice do you have to offer Alicia? Tell us your story – we’d love to hear it!


Got a question? Nothing’s too crazy, too serious or off limits – just send it in through our contact form and I’ll do my best to answer your most burning questions!

Q+A: 5 tips for a stress-free social media experience

Hi Amy,

I am a recent illustration graduate from the UK. I’m already using Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about my work, but I’m not quite seeing the results that I am hoping for. And I have to say that I’m feeling really stressed at seeing other people’s pages and tweets – they make me feel pressured, almost as if it’s one big game of brown-nosing, and I’m not good at it, and I’m not sure if I can do it much longer. What should I do?
~ Qibby

Dear Qibby,

Your question prompted me to do a bit of research about introverts, and according to the Urban Dictionary, an introvert is defined as “a person who is energized by spending time alone. Often found in their homes, libraries, quiet parks that not many people know about, or other secluded places, introverts like to think and be alone.” [read more!] And what do you know? Although I’m an extrovert by nature, however I’m a social media introvert (I coined the term myself, ha!)

The thing is this: with social media, it can get really overwhelming really quick. I’m not sure if this holds true for other people, but it holds true for me. For the first 10 minutes in, it can get pretty fun: “oh look, so-and-so just got a new book out, hurrah!”; “you mean I can’t do that for a client, because it’s considered plagiarism? Bummer.” But leave me on for more than 15 minutes and I melt into a puddle of confusion and beleaguered with self-doubt that you’d have to scoop me off the floor in a cup. Give me a quiet space to work on my projects or put me in a room with people I don’t know, and I’ll work it just fine (with a few new friendships made along the way) – but social media? Uh-uh.

So instead of hiding away, for me, I think of it this way: it helps to think of social media as a way of connecting with others, and not merely brown-nosing! Think of how you’d usually connect with other people face-to-face. Taking it online is almost the same thing, where there are rules and etiquette to follow. I’d advise you not to think of what your friends or acquaintances are doing as “brown-nosing” it’s just a way that they’re connecting with others. The issue if how. Perhaps it’s the way they’re doing it that turns you off. But there are other ways that you can make yourself more comfortable with the idea of using social media – maybe my handy list of how to interact with others on social media will help you out:

TIP #1:
Don’t send tweets to other people where you’re clearly just talking about yourself and don’t care at all about the other person. You’ll just be ignored!

For example: “Hey @pikaland check out my portfolio – I think you’ll LOVE it!” Some people do this and wonder why they aren’t getting responses – and I’m here to tell you that there’s a reason why. A Twitter account isn’t a personal hotline to a client/blogger/editor at your disposal! Think of all the hair-tearing sessions where you wonder why you didn’t get that response from someone although you clearly tagged them on Twitter/Facebook/etc. Yup. If you didn’t know before, then I’m going to tell you now – CUT IT OUT. You’re better off sending a nice email instead. And make it personal. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.

TIP #2:
Be genuinely nice and helpful.

If you see someone on your list needing a bit of insight or help, jump at the chance to offer your time and expertise. People will remember you better and will thank you for taking the time to come to their aid.

TIP #3:

Don’t overdo it.

Space out time for yourself instead of hearing everyone else’s chatter online! We might trick ourselves into thinking that if we spend our time on social media then it’s time spent on “researching” or “keeping in touch” – but don’t lie to yourself, you’re going to feel sorry for yourself at the end, because I know what you’re really doing. You’re just sizing yourself up on competition and that’s not healthy at all!

From the article Age of Distraction: Why It’s Crucial for Students to Learn to Focus:

[quote] “If you have a big project, what you need to do every day is have a protected time so you can get work done,” Goleman said [Daniel Goleman is a psychologist and author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence and other books about social and emotional learning on KQED’s Forum program]. For his part, when he’s writing a book, Goleman goes to his studio where there is no email, no phone, nothing to distract him. He’ll work for several hours and then spend designated time responding to people afterwards. [/quote]

Hey it works for me, so it might just work for you!

TIP #4:

Separate your Twitter/Facebook friends into lists.

For example, you can filter your social media connections into media contacts, inspirational reads, friends, clients, etc. Doing so will help you keep track of different segments of your lists, especially those you feel are important to your growth as an artist, instead of just consuming everything all at once like a no-holds barred buffet bar. You’ll only get sick afterwards with no recollection of what you just consumed! Here’s help for Twitter, and here’s one for Facebook.

TIP #5:

Take it offline.

A lot of the connections I’ve made isn’t just online – they’re made offline as well. So go out and connect with other people from different fields. Start a new hobby (or get serious with a current one). The most important thing is that while the internet has made it easier to connect, it doesn’t automatically mean that it’s easy to make connections. You’ll need to spend some time to build relationships – and that applies to both offline and online.

And there you have it! If you follow these guidelines, you’ll slowly realize that social media isn’t the be all and end all for artists (especially if you’re like me, a social media introvert!) It’s just  a tool for you to reach out to your fans, friends and to help others understand you better. How you use it is up to you.

Good luck Qibby!


Have you ever felt overwhelmed by social media? If you have, what have you done to make it all easier for your sanity and productivity? If you have any tips for Qibby, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

{please note that Q’s are usually edited for clarity and conciseness, as the queries I get can get pretty long winded!}


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