Key Takeaways from Industry Night: 5 Things All Creative Professionals Need To Know

A person sits at a desk working on a laptop with moving images/artwork on the screen.

Last Thursday, I attended the School of Creative Industries’ Industry Night. The evening consisted of a speaker panel of 8 guests who currently work in Toronto as a creative professional (or professionally within the creative sector). The speakers included:

  • Neville Quinlan – Managing Director of Peermusic Canada
  • Simone Ruez Keane – Coordinator for the Business Affairs and Legal Team at Bell Media Inc.
  • Timothy Sullivan – Architect to the Curator of The Mysterious Package Company
  • Eric Birnberg – Corporate & Entertainment Laywer, Film & TV Production, Distribution, and Broadcasting
  • Michele Alosinac – Film Sector Development Officer, City of Toronto
  • Lauren Sally – Creative & Production Director of Buchanon Group
  • Bunmi Adeoye – Vice President of NKPR
  • Jillian Vieira – Fashion Editor at The Kit

Each speaker shared a little bit about their story, explained their role, summarized a typical day in their life, and provided some insightful tips to young professionals. While the obvious commonality between the professionals is that they contribute towards the creative sector, there appeared to be an underlying pattern in attitude and perspective that streamlined these individuals to reach success. As a creative, here are 5 key takeaways from Industry Night that you need to know:

Industry Night Poster1. Your Career is Not Linear

If you’re a planner, it can be easy to see life as a series of calculated steps. “If I attend university, I will have a degree and land my dream job.” Unfortunately, life is a little more complicated than that. As a student, you’ve probably been asked, “What do you plan on doing when you graduate?” more times than you can count – and if we all had a nickel every time our post-graduation ambitions were put into question, we’d all be able to pay off our tuition by the time we graduate. But the truth is: your life and career is not linear, and it’s totally okay not to know what comes next.

Keane talks about not knowing what she wanted to study in University. After a trip to New York, she admits she decided to pursue law after watching, “A lot of Law and Order episodes.” Coming to the realization that law was in fact not what she wanted to do, she interned at a variety of creative organizations. Eventually, she admits a phone call she was originally going to ignore (thinking it would be collectors) turned out to be an opportunity from an old colleague who had seen her resume.

“I went into the interview and I knew nothing about business affairs,” she admits, “but then they asked me if I had any legal background and I said, ‘Well actually… funny that you ask because it so happens that I do.’”

Keane’s story demonstrates a non-linear journey to where she is today. Your career is not linear; life does not have a direct route. You may not know where the road will take you, but unless you keep moving, you will never know what opportunities lie ahead.

2. Specialization is the Devil

“Specializing is the Devil,” Sullivan concluded. “You have to be multi-faceted and bring something additional to the table.”

The rest of the panel nodded in agreement.

In today’s creative landscape, being a Jack or Jill of all trades is immensely more desirable than specializing. “You can’t just be good at one thing,” Vieira points out, “In my job I write, I fact check, I attend shoots, I direct, I work with clients. Every day is different.”

Employers are looking for well-rounded, flexible individuals who are capable of taking on the work of various roles. What does this mean as a creative? Be open to expanding your skills and dabbling in areas that are unfamiliar. You never quite know when they might come in handy!

3. Network & Be Genuine to Everyone You Meet

As the saying goes, “It’s know what you know, it’s who you know.” Networking can be a daunting and foreign concept to many students hoping to jumpstart their career. Networking can feel rather superficial, but the panel emphasizes that being a kind and genuine person can take you further in your career than any other skill. Why? Because people want to work with real people. You never know who you will meet that has an opportunity you’ve been looking for. A conversation, a story, or an exchange is sometimes all it takes to bridge a connection between two people.

Alsinac shared a comedic story where she completed her degree in Political Science and History at McGill University, only to pursue animation at Sheridan College. She surprised everyone by telling the audience that she became pregnant midway, which lead to a chain of unexpected events. Her husband was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia, and Alsinac found herself scrambling to support her three children. She admitted her first major break into the film industry was through an old neighbour whom she delivered blueberry muffins to when he first moved into the neighbourhood. She jokingly explains:

“He asked me if I had any experience in production and I said yes. So I went in for an interview but he told me they already hired a producer. I told him, ‘Look I need a job and I am qualified.’ He said there was a director position open so I said, ‘I’ll take it!’ On the first day of set I remember thinking, ‘Please no one ask me what work I’ve done.’ Of course, the first person I meet goes, ‘So what work have you done in the past?’”

Being someone people can envision working with is important in the creative sector. A positive attitude is far more sought after than a skill that can be taught.

4. Put in Work

Work hard and play hard. Being a creative means working your ass off every single day. If you’re a creative, you know exactly what that feels like all too well. The industry is fast paced, and if you can’t keep up, you can fall behind quite easily.

Quinlan talks about going to shows and being “that person” who stands in the back waiting for performers to finish so he can talk to them. He talks about staying out til 4 and jetting off to New York by 9 to attend meetings with professionals — all the while, mitigating a nasty hangover. Part of being in the industry is loving the grind. Many of the speakers talk about staying on top of emails and being confident in their decisions. With time being an important factor, there is no time to waste.

The creative process is a a grind; from conception, to production, to post production, to distribution of any medium, it takes time, energy, and most importantly: dedication. Having that drive to push forward and continuously put yourself out there is just part of the creative hustle.

5. Prepare for Setbacks 

Similar to your career not being linear, you have to prepare for the unexpected. Setbacks are inevitable, but not the end all be all. A few of the speakers spoke about being underpaid, working odd end jobs to make ends meet, being fired, being unsure, and so on and so forth to get to where they are today. Being able to re-evaluate a situation, not dwelling on the hiccups, and moving forward is extremely important as a creative professional. You have to learn to accept rejection and criticism, and use that critique to build backbone to go after what you really want in life.

Sally, for example, moved to Nunavut, where she was able to host a global TV Travel Series and Morning Radio Show. She details spending Friday nights, “Visiting the local dump to see polar bears.” Ultimately, moving back to Toronto, Sally leveraged her career by making sacrifices. While moving Nunavut may have not been her number one choice, embarking a career in Creative Communication was.


Did you find these takeaway helpful? Which ones will you be apply in your own creative work? Tweet @RUStudentLife and @RyersonCreative to share your best creative tip.

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Jessica Huynh
Jessica Huynh is in her final year of Creative Industries, specializing in Storytelling in Media and Curatorial Practices.