Last week I attended a job interview in the hope of gaining more working hours in my current role. I have been to many, many job interviews in my short life, and as every seasoned interviewee knows, you can bet your last pound on the sorts of questions that will crop up. What about these two old chestnuts:
1. "Tell us a bit about yourself."
2. "What particular skills do you believe you can bring to the table?"
However nervous I am, however sleep-deprived, clammy handed and nauseous, I always have a little smile to myself when these questions are presented to me. I have been asked them so often before.
And my answer? Well I could tell them that I am a hard working, ambitious person. That I have experience in working both in the public and private sectors. That I enjoy working as part of a team, and using my extensive customer service experience. I may add that I used to work in the training industry, so I believe I am skilled in communicating effectively to a wide demographic of personalities from a variety of sectors. I may well broadly touch on the fact that I believe I am a creative person, a good problem solver and eager to learn. I can spew out everything I believe a potential employer wants to hear about my - wait for it - transferable skills (shudder) with the best of 'em.
I don't know about you, but I have never once sat in an office and told a suited interview panel that I like painting handmade buttons, am learning to crochet, am often found writing about crafts at midnight and that my perseverance can be demonstrated through the fact that I decorated the outside of my doll's house no less than five times before I finally hit on a brickwork effect that worked for me. When asked about myself I might certainly tell them about my being on the committee for a WI, that I write and promote a blog, that I run a book club and that I enjoy exploring the Peak District in my spare time, but my overwhelming adoration for all things craft? Not a whisper.
And it seems that a great many other crafters out there - hobby and side-business crafters who are not self-employed in their craft full time - feel the same way. We don't count our crafts among our core skills, heavily influencing the way we approach work and life in general. Your love of making your own greetings cards is something you might casually mention to a colleague several weeks after you've got the job, settled in and learned how to work the photocopier (a skill, incidentally, I have not yet cracked.) Your office is more likely to know how you prefer to take your coffee and that your cat suffers from irritable bowel syndrome long before they learn that you love nothing more than whipping up some bunting in front of Coronation Street.
Do you realise how many valuable skills you have gained through being a crafter? I sat down and came up with one of my beloved lists, and I hope my thoughts on this will inspire you to reconsider your own skills set, too.
I believe that the skills gained through crafting fall into two types:
- Maths - Measuring out pieces for a woodwork project, working out how much fabric you need to make that skirt, calculating volumes for candle-making, my maths muscles often get a workout in the planning stages of a craft project. And I hate maths.
- Resourcefulness - Crafters often have an expert eye for turning something old into something new, or for making something out of nothing. It's an important life skill, and helps you to appreciate what you have, save money, and makes you a pretty awesome problem solver.
- Making homewares and gifts - Us Brits in particular tend to spend a fortune on our personal castles each year, and if you tallied up what you spend on gifts over a twelve month period the total might leave you feeling less than generous. Being able to make gifts saves a tonne of money and means you can give unique, personal gifts, made with love and care. No one else in the world will own one. That's a special talent. Being able to spruce up your windows with homemade curtains is handy in these financially tricky times.
- Social media and IT - If you write about your crafts on a blog like me, or simply like communicating with other crafters online, you'll have skills and experience in social media. Companies pay good money for that knowledge, you know! Being able to get a message out there effectively and inspire a reaction from your audience isn't a skill to be sniffed at. Big brands invest thousands in perfecting their online voice every year. And I use IT skills I've gained through messing about on this blog every week in my day job.
- Photography - Perhaps more one for those who sell or promote their crafts in some way, but I never want to stop learning about photography and how I can improve. Great photos equals sales and a stronger readership for me. I want my photos to tell a story, and that sort of insightfulness isn't something everyone thinks about.
- If you can do one craft, what others can you do? Few crafters stick to just one craft, but have you thought about your (I'm going to use the phrase again, sorry)... transferable skills within your love of crafting? For example, if you can understand how flavours work together to make a special recipe, you can think about how plants work together to make a great kitchen garden. If you can paint, you can probably have a good bash at drawing too. Crocheters may find it easy to understand french knitting. My doll's house hobby has provided me with experience in modelling clay - which led to my setting up a handmade button business, woodwork, painting, sewing, soldering and electrics, upcycling jewellery, plaster moulding, designing, sanding and paying attention to the tiniest details, and I have had cause to use every single one of those in other crafts since. This isn't about being 'good' at crafts - it's about the skill of being willing to tackle something new and learn from it.
The other types of skills are...
- Self-belief and self-confidence - Call me sentimental, but I passionately believe that these are the most important skills you can ever gain from being a crafter, and one of the reasons I set up Creatives Unite. And yes, they absolutely are skills, requiring practise, development and investment just like any other.
- Selling yourself - Whether you're literally selling your handmade items or whether you're learning to talk about the fact that you're an amateur baker with pride and confidence at that next party, any hobby means you will find yourself telling others about it in some context at some point. And if you do make money from your crafts, it's something you've had to become good at! Well done if you have this skill - it's an uncomfortable one to learn.
- A sense of adventure - Being a crafter means embarking on quests into the unknown and often having no idea what the outcome will be. Some personalities can't cope with not knowing exactly what's going to happen next, so well done you if you can launch yourself into a new craft with all the wonder and enthusiasm of a child, learning as you go. Not everyone can, but if you do you'll find life in general a little easier to cope with, and loads more fun too! I love that quality in a human being.
- A desire to learn - As above. If you want to be a success at anything in life, from your career to your education, speaking Portuguese to dancing the Charleston, a desire to learn is pretty important. Being a crafter must mean you have this quality in bucket loads.
- Problem solving - From learning how to make something new to finding a way to complete a project when it all goes wrong (we've all been there), to fashioning a storage rack for your scarf collection out of wire, problem solving is second nature to crafty folk. Try mentioning that on your next team-building day.
- Team working and building a sense of community - If you've ever worked on a group craft project such as a charity granny square blanket or a bake sale, you'll know that there's no i in... well, team crafts. And the real-life and online crafting communities are a great for encouraging others and getting honest feedback on your work.
- Teaching - Some crafters teach workshops, and can consider themselves excellent teachers. But have you ever shown a friend how to knit, or your child how to dye eggs? You too are a teacher! It takes skill and patience to share your knowledge with someone new to your craft. Without teachers our crafts could not live to see a new generation of makers.
- De-stressing - Far too many people rush from one day to the next these days, and aren't very good at winding down. Many of us don't notice the effect this has on our health until it's too late. If you're able to wind down through craft, you have a valuable talent indeed. It probably means you can keep your head in a crisis, too.
- Creativity - Creative people are pretty special, and creativity can be used in every area of life. It's a gift I believe we all carry, but by being a crafter you are showing the world you already know how to use yours well.
I'm not suggesting you walk into your next interview and reel off the above skills. We all adapt our behaviour to the situation in which we find ourselves, and I don't think that the answer: "Why do I think I can do this job? Because I'm a whizz with a glue gun, that's why!" will score you your next job. I did use some of the above points to answer those typical interview questions in a more authentic and honest way, however, and am pleased to say it worked. But this blog post isn't about getting you your next job - I'm no careers advisor. Write down a list like the one above for yourself, because you'll be surprised at the skills you never knew you had. Knowledge is power, after all, and perhaps once you have acknowledged that you're a cracking teacher, calm in a crisis and capable of seeing answers where others see problems, you'll find yourself operating with more confidence and self-belief in all areas of your life. You'll be a better crafter, too.
So, what skills have you gained through crafting?
PS: You can read the first in the Creative Life series here.