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The Top 8 Reasons Why You’re Not Getting Hired (And How to Fix Them)

As an illustrator starting out, it can seem puzzling as to why some artists are getting tons of work yet you’re struggling just to book a single assignment. Below, are the top eight reasons why art director’s aren’t beating down your door and, also, how to overcome them:

Your work isn’t good enough

Your work just isn’t “there” yet. It might be too raw, too amateurish, or too unrefined. Whatever the case, it’s not good enough to book jobs at the current moment.

How to fix: Keep practicing and give yourself assignments that will push your skills and help you improve. Take additional art classes. There are a variety of continuing education classes, both in-person and online, that can be beneficial. Consider maybe even going to grad school if you want to invest in it.

Your work is inconsistent

Your work is all over the map. You’ve got too many styles and varying levels of quality that are scaring away art directors.

How to fix: Edit your portfolio. Limit it to just one style with only your very best work. Throw out all the rest. Then, flesh out your website with newer, better illustrations in the same style.

Your work isn’t marketable

There just isn’t a market for the kind of art you’re making. It’s either out of fashion, not current enough, doesn’t have enough mass appeal, or has some other quirk that makes it a “hard sell.”

How to fix: Look at the kind of illustration currently being created in the markets you’re interested in working and tweak your art to fit in. It could be something as simple as changing your subject matter to be more appealing or something as complicated as rethinking your whole style. An alternative is to create and establish your own markets for your work.

Your work is too generic

There’s nothing special about your art that sets it apart from anyone else’s. It does the job, but isn’t unique enough to make an art director hire you out of all the other thousands of illustrators vying for the gig.

How to fix: Develop a point of view. By injecting more of yourself into every piece you do, your work will take on its own unique “flavor”, becoming inherently yours.

You’re not promoting heavily enough

You’re not getting your work out there as heavily or as frequently as you need to. Therefore, art directors aren’t seeing it and thinking of you when an assignment comes up.

How to fix: Get your work out there with a big promotional push. Do three to four mailers a year of at least 1,000 contacts. Email art directors and refer them to your website. You have to play the game in order to win it.

You’re aiming too high

You’re shooting for the moon for gigs that only go to the most established or well-known illustrators when you’re not at that level yet. No one’s going to risk giving big assignments to complete unknowns.

How to fix: Start small. Do cheap work for your friends, family, and local businesses, newspapers, and blogs. Once you get some clients under your belt, aim for higher tier places. Keep building up until you get some decent clients with name brand recognition. Once reputable clients have vouched for you, similar work will be much easier to obtain.

You’re too difficult to contact

People try to hire you, but it’s impossible to find your information because it’s buried on your site somewhere or—just as bad—bounces back when someone emails you. Even worse, when people do email you about a job, it takes you days or weeks to reply.

How to fix: Make sure your contact info is front and center on your website and the email address works. When receiving offers, call or write back promptly—by the end of the day if possible.

You have a bad reputation

In the past you’ve been difficult to work with, blown deadlines, handed in inferior art, etc. You get the point—you’re a risk. And nobody wants to work with a risk.

How to fix: Whatever your issues are, get over them. Meet your deadlines, do your best work for every assignment, and be pleasant with your interactions. Even the worst reputations can be repaired if you work at it.

Summing up

These are the top 8 reasons you’re most likely not getting work. If you can solve all of them, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be getting tons of gigs!

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Neil Swaab is a freelance illustrator, art director, author, and educator based in Brooklyn, NY. He's an instructor at Parsons the New School for Design and the illustrator of the New York Times bestselling book Middle School: My Brother is a Big, Fat Liar by James Patterson and Lisa Papademetriou. His new authored and illustrated book, The Secrets to Ruling School: Class Election, comes out this September from Amulet Books.

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