Lipstick on a pig


Throughout our career we will be offered opportunities that are too good to be true. 

Opportunities that sound so good it feels like we’ve scored a date with Alicia Keys and an unlimited credit card — where we scream from the rooftops telling everyone how lucky we are.

"OMG! Alicia wants to go on date with me!!!"

These opportunities are packaged so well we are blinded by their shine and bewitched by what might be. They are delivered so well, we fail to see the warning signs and hear the sound of doom approaching.


Step by step.

Email by email.

These opportunities are delivered by organisations and individuals who prey on our vulnerabilities. Knowing full well that most of our industry is made of young, emerging talent seeking to pave a way forward towards running a sustainable business, building a career and in some cases, both.

Sometimes it's a job offer that sounds too good to be true other times it's a client that sounds like they're going to be staying around forever whilst they pay you for the work you do!

Ultimately it's amateurs, not professionals who take up these opportunities — and no matter how often I hear the one-dimensional excuse of it 'being for experience' — I'm sorry but I don't buy it because it's the professionals who truly lose out in the end and the experience that is gained rarely propels anyone forward.

In Australia, where I'm from, there is a saying — lipstick on a pig. It's a descriptor of something that has been dressed up to look good — but obviously isn't good at all.

Fiona* is a senior creative leader in our industry. This week she told me of her experience in applying for the role of ‘Creative Manager’ at a well known, and highly awarded creative agency in Sydney. A role which saw her managing a small team of designers and looking after the inner-workings of the studio. A mix of studio management, mentoring and project management.

She was approached directly whilst employed. The role sounded ideal — higher pay, surrounded by people she would learn from and a role which saw her managing a design studio. Something she loved to do.

The initial emails were flattering — preying to her need to move and level up in her career. Money talks.

In her third interview she was given the job description and told that her decision was due the following day. That night, reading her would-be job description at the dinner table with her partner, she slowly came to realise that the role of Creative Manager was more akin to something else. 

Her responsibilities spanned everything she assumed they would span, but also included:

  • Creative direction

  • Training designers

  • Running training programs

  • Presenting to clients

  • Nurturing and growing client business and,

  • New business development, with quarterly sales targets

The role of 'Creative Manager' was in fact a wolf in sheep's clothing. 
A guise to lure people into a role that was in fact ludicrous.

In the four weeks it took to dance around the interviews — no one mentioned to her the breadth of responsibilities she would have to undertake. 
The role was painted in one way, but in fact was a completely different colour when she looked closely at the job description.

A ploy to hire someone experienced at the lowest rate possible.

A lie.

I was recently approached by a consortium of non-profits who were 'funding an initiative' to solve the rise in mental health issues in our community.

A fucking great cause which peaked my interest and had me saying 'Yes' immediately.

As I asked for more detail and clarification, it turned out that the cultural institutions and non-profits who were behind the initiative were actually funding the prize for a design competition.

A design competition which was going to 'celebrate design' by having a number of design leaders, lead teams of unpaid volunteers over three months. All teams would be working to respond to the same brief — with the common goal of slowing the growing rates of mental health issues in our local community.

They would facilitate workshops, conduct research, prototype solutions and after three months of work — yes, work — they would 'pitch' their idea to the consortium.

The winning team would be paid a five-figure sum, not for their efforts, but to do even more work to complete and implement their solution.

I ask you — is this a joke that someone played on me?

Serious question.

Here are some warning signs:

1. There is a lack of detail in their initial approach. Usually they will ask you something enticing to get you to say yes. 

Saying Yes is OK. But make sure you follow up with lots of questions. Just because you said Yes, doesn't mean you can't change your mind later.

2. They'll keep your expectations of a role low to keep the salary low — and then they'll sweep in a long list of complex responsibilities.

Ask for the job description up front. Interview them. Tell them you're looking at other roles and want to compare requirements and responsibilities.

3. They'll cry poor because they're a non-profit business, telling you they don't have any money to spend on your or your services. But in fact, most of them hire a shit load of people who earn a salary that is higher than the one you're earning. 

Ask the person asking you if they're getting paid to do their job.

4. They want all the things up front ... and they keep all the things to themselves without paying you.

5. They won't talk about it publicly. They'll shy away from any public discussion about their opportunity offer and make it something personal between you and them. Don't buy this. Make it public. It's the only way it will stop.


I've had this video saved for years. I love it because it sums this whole issue up so nicely. Enjoy.

* Names have been changed.