Tips for the Unemployed Graphic Designers
Well, it has been quite a while since my last post. What gives? The answer is that since my last post, I’ve landed a new job. Does that mean I’m not posting anymore? Not at all! Between interviewing, Thanksgiving, starting the job and getting re-adjusted, I’ve simply been a tad bit busy.
I’ve spoken to many designers or people in general about the seemingly lack of jobs for us creative types out there. Many of you have expressed the same concerns that I have over the last few years or so – the opportunities for print designers seem to be few and far in between; people hiring don’t seem to know exactly what they really want or need; you interview but for whatever reason aren’t landing the job you think you’re fit for. My advice? Don’t sweat it. I know, when you’re unemployed and living on your savings or unemployment, that’s hard to do. I was unemployed from the first week of August of this year until the last week in November and now am back to work designing magazines as I’ve been doing for the past four years. Yes, a three-month unemployment period really isn’t all that bad but it’s taught me more than a few lessons that I thought I’d pass on to you all. If you’re an unemployed graphic designer or creative type in general, I believe you’ll find my insight helpful and useful. Our professions aren’t like others – where others may easily be able to neatly sum up their professions and experience in a resume, creative types need to actually show and demonstrate that they are creative. If you don’t do that in your outlook and resume and other material, you’re dead in the water and won’t be finding much in terms of employment. So here are a few tips to help you land a great job:
1. Breathe. The moment you’re facing being unemployed, your life seems to go from relaxed to super stressful and hectic. You think of all the bills you need to pay, you watch the news and fret over the continuous reports of how people are unemployed for not just weeks but for months if not years. Relax. Seriously, just breathe and take it all in. Take a day or two to get your thoughts together but immediately jump in on the job search. It may seem daunting but don’t put it off for days or weeks. Not more than 24 hours after being laid off, I was back on the job hunt.
2. Don’t think of yourself as unemployed. Do you remember that old saying, “You are what you eat?” Well, you also are what you think. If you accept and think of yourself as jobless, unemployed and whatever other negative adjectives associated with being out of a job, that’s exactly what you will be and will remain until you think otherwise. Yes, I knew I was without a job but I also knew I didn’t have the time or ability to accept being unemployed. I couldn’t live off of unemployment benefits for long; I needed and wanted to be able to support myself again and like most men, didn’t want to have to rely on others. I had down days when it felt like I’d never find that breakthrough and I had weeks when there really weren’t any good opportunities presenting themselves. I took days off of my job search to veg out and watch television, listen to music or just get out. I needed days to recoup and regenerate because searching for a new job is a full-time job within itself. There are days when I did nothing but search and look through job postings, follow-up, tweak the resume and send out the portfolio. So take a day off now and then but dedicate yourself to find a job by a certain date. Didn’t meet your goal? Push it back by another two weeks or so.
3. No one can help you but yourself. This goes against what most will tell you. They say that you have to network, that most jobs aren’t posted online, that there will be hundreds of people applying to the few jobs posted online. Guess what – they’re right. They are also wrong. Too often when you’re unemployed, you go on to think that you can’t do things on your own. That first week or two you’re really motivated then that motivation turns to doubt and dread as the weeks and months tick by. You think that the problem is “you” and and look to others to rescue you. Stop looking to others to find you a job. Even if they’re family, they don’t know you like you know yourself. They can’t fix your situation, describe your skills or help you find what’s going to make you happy. Only you can do that.
4. Get outside opinions. One of the most useful things I did during my unemployment period was to speak to a recruiting scout. The recruiter was able to help me put together my resume, give advice on how to spruce it up and clearly examine my qualifications and give me an idea of what I should be looking for in terms of employment and salary. You don’t even have to pay to get this done. There are many recruiting agencies out there for designers and creatives including The Select Group and some local agencies. Check out their website and they usually have job listings. Ask to speak to them about a job they are recruiting for and use that opportunity to have them look over your resume, portfolio and give you an idea of how to make yourself more presentable. Do this at the start of your job search – this will help you to know when to really pursue an opportunity or pass on one that’s not beneficial to you.
5. Be realistic. Fear turns into your biggest motivator when you’re unemployed and searching for a job. It will make you do some crazy things like spend money on services that promise to help you when they don’t or will have you thinking you need to go to school because you’re useless otherwise. Sit down and look at your situation, both financially and in terms of what you want out of your work. You don’t always need to go back to school full-time; look into taking an online course in something related to your field. You can’t always afford to move so don’t waste time looking at jobs in another state. Maybe you’ve just been laid off and you hated the job you’ve been doing … so why look for a job that’ll be so similar? Sit down and sketch out your situation and use that as a map for your job searching.
6. Work on your resume and portfolio. This is a given, which is why it comes so late in the list. Your resume and portfolio are probably outdated. Ideally you should constantly be updating it and keeping it fresh, even if you are happily employed and have no plans to look for a job anytime soon. That rarely happens, however. Before you go around submitting your resume to potential employers, spend a few days really working on what you have. Do you list your responsibilities on your resume? Then you need to re-write it when action verbs and instead of listing your responsibilities, describe in an exciting manner your biggest accomplishments in each job. Think of it as writing an action movie rather than a boring resume. You want people to stay interested and your resume to be short and to the point so that you’ll have somewhere to go during an interview. Oh, and are you a designer? Then figure out a way to make your resume, even in word format, look professional and clean but not like the standard resume. I’ll do a blog post about resume tips in the near future.
As for the portfolio, it should be clean and have elements of your website. Yes, you should have a website and web presence. A lot of the time an employer will ask for a link to your online portfolio. Your website should basically be an easy-to-use interactive version of your print portfolio. Have a lot of the same pieces that will be in your print version but toss in some new ones that will be exclusively online only. Why? Most will be reviewing your portfolio and work more so than your resume and credentials if you’re a designer or creative type. If you get an interview, you’ll want to be able to show everyone in the interview something unexpected and that they haven’t already seen online. It’s a nice, subtle thing that sets you apart and makes your presentations memorable. Oh, and limit your portfolio pieces to 9 or 10 pieces. Think of this as your greatest hits – not as “this is your life.”
7. Blog! This is a tip I haven’t heard much at all but one that I found was truly helpful in my job search. Even before being unemployed I was blogging. I like blogging because it gives you a way to network and reach out to new clients, designers and creative types in general from the comfort of your own home. When I was searching for a job, I used the blog as a means of distraction and way of reminding people that I was still around and relevant though I was holed up in my apartment most days searching for work. During, and after, interviews, one of the things that seemed to make a great impression was this blog and my tutorials, advice and things that went outside and beyond myself. Blogging, when done right, could help sell you and show your personality before you even walk into the room to interview. Show off your skills through writing tutorials and it can also prove that you’re indeed an expert in your field without leaving them wondering what you’re capable of.
These are just a few tips that I hope those looking for work will find helpful. Overall, take comfort in knowing that nothing last forever. Your job may have been cut or you have just graduated from college which proves that statement to be true. You also will find that though it’s hard to believe, being unemployed doesn’t last forever either.