Important skills to focus on or add / Keeping myself marketable
Hello! I'm a (fairly) recent college graduate on my first job. I love the job I have, working as the video guy in a company's marketing team, and one of the many reasons I love it is because those above me encourage me to learn new skills to incorporate into our work here.
With that said, I've heard the danger of having a job I enjoy so much is that I can get too cozy and fail to pick up new skills to keep myself marketable for the future. Especially when, from what I've observed, being a video guy in a company isn't really a tiered career path—there aren't positions to be promoted to, so the career path doesn't seem obvious. I prefer being staff over freelancing, just because of the security benefits and salary provide... and because being staff enables me to still do a small amount of freelance work on the side.
So I wanted to ask the folks here this:
What skills do you think would be most important for me to gain, considering the future of my just-beginning career? Do you think it more beneficial to continue to be a generalist (try to build skills in videography, editing, writing, etc. all at once) or to seek specialization in one or two, or to gain skills entirely outside of video (like graphic or web design, photography, programming... whatever). This could be specific to my case, or just speaking broadly, considering how you view this industry going in the next 5, 10, 20 years.
Thank you all for your help. The Cow (and especially this forum) have been very helpful to me going into this career.
We sound pretty similar. I took a generalist kind of job right out of college doing marketing videos within a company, and I like staff over freelance for the same reasons. I recently left that job for an editor position, which was the job I wanted and skillset I focused most on.
The things I've found that suffered the most in my time being a generalist in the corporate world aren't terribly specific. It's just different -- a different set of needs. Like, I never needed to know broadcast specs when I was working exclusively for the web. But I still had an understanding of them. So I think that's important: not closing yourself off from learning things that may not be relevant right this moment.
It is easy to settle for lower quality work when you aren't surrounded by video people who will call you out. Office manager dazzled by your templatey mograph? Great, early lunch! Do that for 2 years and you'll be WAY behind everyone else. A thing I did when nobody else was pushing me was to try to do better was attempt one new concept every time I opened After Effects. It's a small gesture, but it made a huge difference.
Do you see yourself in a job like this indefinitely, at any company? Are you in a market where most of the jobs are a one-man kind of a thing? Then just keep adding useful skills that make your job easier and your work better. If you're like me and you really wanted to get out of that and into JUST post, work on those skills most.
If you stay updated on changes and continually learn more about the technical and the creative (and push yourself out of your comfort zone in your freelance work), I think you'll be fine. When you stop spending any time in a given week learning something new or trying to get better, that's when you should be concerned.
I know this is probably a difficult question to answer, but where do you want to be in 10 years? Or, possibly a bit easier question, what would be your dream job/position/project? Whatever your dream job is find other people that have done it (or something similar), reverse engineer their success and then start making short, medium and long term goals for yourself to follow your dream. Being young is the best time to take risks, fail then pick yourself up again. Once you get married, have kids, a house, start a college fund, etc., that severely limits your flexibility. I know many people (many successful people) that would like to shift gears in there career but they can't (or it's much, much harder) because they have a family (or even just a life style) they need to support.
Like Kylee said, on a staff gig it can be very easy to get lax and/or only really good at the specific tasks you do at the day job which can making branching out to do other things much harder (especially in this field where networking is so important and being staff can be very insular). I've spent many years as both freelance and staff and ultimately I prefer being freelance. The times I was staff I either got burned out from doing the same things over and over and I got 'trapped' because get a promotion would require someone above me leaving and thus opening up a slot.
Whether to stay generalist or not really depends on what you want to do. Not to sound like Captain Obvious, but if you want to stay in jobs that need generalists focus on being a generalist but if you want to get jobs that require specialist you'll need to start specializing. A good middle ground, IMO, is aiming to be 'T-shaped'. By that I mean have one or two skills that you are very good at (the vertical part of the 'T') and then a number of other skills that you are decent at (the horizontal part of the 'T').
If you want to emphasize higher wages, specialization is the key, finding the unclaimed niche and becoming a rockstar at that niche. If you want job security, a generalist can find work doing more things.
A Producer position implies and requires that one know at least a little about everybody else's specialty. It combines a lot of management skill sets with technical know-how and creativity. You are making deals with people and communicating ideas TO people, and you can charge higher for those functions. While you don't see a conventional promotion path from your video job, at your early stage, really, Producer is a position that can laterally hop over into sales, or into management, without too much difficulty. All you need to do is show the person doing the hiring how your skills transfer to what they know about the job.
But will it ever be as FUN as working in TV? Only you can know.
If it was me, I would keep being a generalist, while trying new things to see if had an aptitude or fondness for something in particular. Even then, "owning" the market in a certain niche is useless to you, unless you know how t exploit that niche for your own business... and as long as the niche isn't so obscure as to easily fade away or be obsoleted by technology overnight. The more complex and demanding the niche skill is, the less likely there is to be someone equally good at doing it AND simultaneously SHOOTING it.
Thank you all so much for the valuable advice. I'm at an odd (although, I assume not too uncommon..) beginning point in my career where I'm not sure exactly what the one or two things I enjoy doing most are—but hopefully as my career progresses I can figure that out. I don't want to end up in a position where I am a generalist who is just mediocre in many things... so I greatly appreciate all the advice given, such as continuing to learn things that are not immediately applicable to what I do (but might one day be), or finding the two or three things I really want to excel at and pursuing those.
Thanks again, everyone! Hooray for the Cow!