Thursday, 30 May 2013

Creative Life Series: What Skills Have You Gained Through Crafting?

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


  1. Wow! Sooooo true! My crafting and blogging only came up a month in to my most recent job and the reaction was amazing i.e. brilliant, which I wasn't expecting. They were stunned that I had a blog and were really impressed by it but also surprised that I didn't mention it in the interview. I know now that I should next time. Be proud indeed! Good post Anna! :-) x

  2. I've interviewed many, many people over the years. As a potential employer I'd be very impressed with this! :) x

  3. I think I'll cut and paste this at the bottom of my c.v! Jane x

  4. Hilarious, so true. I'm head of the change portfolio for a major retail bank Monday - Friday, patchwork rarely pops into conversation. But I also find I hide it from people, not because I'm ashamed in anyway, but more that I want to keep the 2 worlds very separate.

    Depending on the job and the interviewer mentioning the crafting could be a real boost, but you would have to be careful, some people think we are all a little crazy!

  5. What a brilliant idea. I'm starting to think about possibly beginning to job hunt at the moment (can you tell I don't like job hunting?) and I'll definitely be mentioning that I can paint a chair in under an hour with my homemade chalk paint. Technically I haven't timed how long it takes me, and it's probably closer to three hours... but everyone lies in interviews, right?! :p xx

  6. great post!!! so true. I failed sewing in high school, so I love the fact that I now sew all the time! its amazing how you are much more prepared to learn and pick up new skills once they have relevance and meaning in your life!!!! this past year I've learnt a lot about the internet too, and am slowly learning that it doesn't have to be the big scary beast I thought it was...if you don't let it!!!!!

    mezz x

  7. A really interesting and thoughtful post Anna.

  8. Brilliant post. This has definitely made me think about some skills I didn't really consider myself having, particularly the maths one! x

  9. This is such a good post, very very true. I have before now sneaked 'crochet' onto a list of interests on job applications but the one and only time somebody asked about it they thought it said 'croquet'! That's a little different, hehe. But you are right, blogging and crafting does give us a whole lot of new skills, we should be proud to shout about them. I don't even tell work people about my blog, not quite sure why...!? Thanks for getting us all thinking...

  10. This is a really interesting post. Thank you. Congratulations on your success. Proof that crafting is amazing. (not that ot was in any doubt!) xxx

  11. This is a fabulous post. Made me laugh quite a bit, thanks! Without wanting to sound negative about myself...I never had the confidence and never thought I could ever have a creative side and outlet. Ive always watches on and been amazed, but the day I bough a childs sewing machine from the opshop...that all changed. Hell now im blogging, making gifts and teaching others...!!

  12. I never thought that you could view crafts in such an intellectual/professional way! Never ever have I considered talking about them in an interview! I remember at school how we were all programmed to respond with those robotic answers about our transferable skills! *cringe* Ive just handed in a personal development plan at uni, and I wish I could have read this a few weeks ago because it is truly inspiring :) thanks for sharing and good luck with extending your hours! Xx

  13. Wow I never actually sat down and thought about all the skills that we do actually learn as crafters. Good post!


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