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After three and a half years as a freelance graphic designer, Monique Jenkins went corporate. She shares her perspective on the advantages and challenges of both.

Tell me what you were doing before you found this new job.

I did freelance graphic design work for about ten different companies. I also worked in human resources at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and went to school part time at Mesa College.

And now?

Well, I’m still in school, going for a second Bachelor’s in Fine Arts. My first is in advertising. But now I’m also a full-time art director at an advertising specialty agency. I handle all the graphics before they go into print. I prepare mock-ups for clients, oversee screen printing orders, and all kinds of other tasks and duties.

What kind of challenges are you faced with now that you didn’t have as a freelancer?

For one, I’m dealing with a much faster-paced environment than I’m accustomed to. And there’s a lot more structure. But I’d say the most challenging part is not being able to control the assignments I do. By that, I mean the choice and volume of assignments, or the time I have to do them. I have to handle whatever they throw my way. It can be as many as ten assignments in one day.

How about the advantages you have now?

Stability, of course. A regular paycheck that comes from one place. And I’m learning new skills and techniques about my craft. As a freelancer, I would have had to search for sources to learn the things that I’m picking up every day on the job now.

Do you think a particular kind of person is more suited for freelance work?

I think you have to be ambitious and driven to market yourself and your craft. You have to be fearless about approaching clients and selling yourself. You also have to work well on little sleep.

And what about in-house work? What kind of person is more suited for that?

In my line of work, you have to be able to think on your feet. It requires a different kind of fearlessness. You have to be outspoken with your ideas. That’s one of my challenges. I’m used to talking one-on-one with clients about my ideas for their graphics or whatnot. Now I have to sit in meetings with a whole roomful of people and just throw things out there. My mentor on the job told me I need to stop thinking about my ideas as good or bad and just share them. In-house, you’re working as part of a team, not a one-person operation. So you have to be comfortable with that.

What questions do you think a person should ask himself if he’s undecided about whether to take the freelance route or work in-house?

How do I work with people? Do I mind being told what to do? Do I need more or less structure? Can I work in a fast-paced environment, or do I need to go at my own pace? Do I have what it takes to sell myself for every single project? Am I attached to a particular way of doing things?

These are all questions you have to know about yourself before you make that kind of decision.

Do you have advice for someone who wants to try out the freelance lifestyle?

Be ready to market yourself as a company. Have a portfolio, and be ready to approach clients. Attend seminars and workshops to network and gain more clients. And personal branding with your website and business cards is also really important.

And how about for someone who wants to work in-house?

Research the companies you want to work for. Find out everything you can about their style, their numbers, their clients, how they do things. You need to take the time to get to know them not just so you can tell them how you’d benefit them, but also so you know they’re the right fit for you. Especially if you’ve been on your own for a long time. It’s important that you choose a company that offers you an opportunity to use your skills and to learn new ones that make sense to you and what you want for yourself.

For example, even though my job is more corporate than I’m accustomed to, I believe everything I’m learning will help sharpen my design skills. But for someone who doesn’t believe the corporate work will help them, they should find companies that fit their style or beliefs. Don’t just go for the paycheck alone. Your happiness will affect your performance.

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