How can I help my girlfriend find work?
August 25, 2008 12:38 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I just moved to Austin, Texas and she's looking for a job in graphic design. She needs advice, and I want to know how I can best help and support her in her job search.

Long story short: I just started my MS at the University of Texas at Austin. Both my girlfriend and I are new grads; me in engineering and her in graphic/3D design. She moved to Austin with me, and though we've only physically been here a couple of weeks she's been trying for more than a month to get a job down here. She's looking for a full-time or temp-to-hire position (rather than contract or freelance) and has done a couple of internships so she has actual work experience.

She started using our Austin address on her resume a couple of weeks before we moved and that seemed to help a little bit, but still no interviews. She's been primarily checking Craigslist and the local AIGA Job Board for openings, but there have also been a few other websites she's tried (Work in Texas, UT Job Board, etc). She's also applied with a couple of temp agencies, but they haven't gotten back to her yet.

Her resume and portfolio have been forwarded around by a couple contacts she has. These contacts have given her positive feedback on her portfolio, saying it's good and well rounded for a recent grad, but she hasn't heard anything back from anyone her materials were sent to.

Because she's been at this for a while and feels like she's exhausted her available connections, my girlfriend is starting to lose hope. She wants to know what else she can do to help her get a job, and I don't have an answer for her. Is it always this hard for graphic designers to find a job? What else can she do? How can I help, other than providing moral support?
posted by malthas to Work & Money (10 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I'd suggest the Gamasutra job listings if she's at all interested in the games industry - artists are usually in pretty high demand even in slump times.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:50 PM on August 25, 2008

I'd recommend the job listings at Austin Ad Fed. The library also has a list of all the local ad agencies in town (I think it's in the print edition of the Austin Business Journal). I remember when I first moved to Austin, I got the list and went to each companies website seeking job ops. I've found agencies in Austin seeking design more often only advertise on their website.

Although she's not looking for contract or freelance, that's how I think I was able to get a real gig in Austin. Once you get experience in Austin, it's easier to find a real gig than just having an Austin address. Many folks live elsewhere and use a friend's address on their resume.

From what I've seen it's very hard for designers to find permanent gigs in Austin, this town is full of creatives. If she's holding out for a real gig, with no experience working in Austin, I'd say 6 months or more till she finds something (she could get lucky, though, I've seen that happen too).
posted by pokeedog at 1:06 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is it always this hard for graphic designers to find a job?

It's hard for anyone to find a job right now, regardless of the field. In my [redacted] years In the job market, it's never been so rough.

What else can she do? How can I help, other than providing moral support?

Let her know it's not her -- it's the market. Remind her, often, that she's very talented and very employable, and that her talents and experience are NOT the reason she's not getting calls or interviews.

Mention casually to everyone you know or meet that she's looking, and tell them how great she is. Short of knocking on doors for her, this is all you can do to help her get out there.

Let her know that, in the meantime, while she's waiting, there's no shame at all in taking a short-term job just to make ends meet. Help her think of things she wouldn't hate doing. Barista? Clerk at BookPeople? Working in a retail store that gives her crazy discounts on stuff she likes? It's okay to do that for a bit. It doesn't mean you've failed at anything.

posted by mudpuppie at 1:33 PM on August 25, 2008

My girlfriend's been in the same boat recently, though not in Austin. She's found graphic design agencies in various print & online magazines. You'll often find agencies offering advice to young graduates. She's compiled a list of those, then checked out their websites. If there's some spark and life to them, she then emailed them with a nice, personal feeling cover letter, her CV, and a link to her website. Mention that you'd love to have a portfolio review even if they're not looking for anyone.

You most likely won't hear back from most of them, but even if you only get portfolio reviews, you'll get some valuable feedback and you'll meet someone face to face. It's not an easy industry to get into, but keep ploughing at it and you'll get somewhere.

Wish her good luck from me!
posted by Magnakai at 1:45 PM on August 25, 2008

Oh, and seconding Mudpuppie (sorry, should've previewed.)

The market really sucks right now. I know a couple of designers who've been at it about as long as I've been alive, and they're having real trouble getting freelance stuff.

Having said that, I imagine companies are more likely to hire juniors right now, as they don't have to pay them as much to do just as much, if not more work than a more experienced designer.
posted by Magnakai at 1:48 PM on August 25, 2008

Our company's currently looking for a web designer. Send me a me-mail with her resume if she's interested, and I'll see if our art director is willing to look it over.
posted by lychee at 2:26 PM on August 25, 2008

I imagine companies are more likely to hire juniors right now

This actually hurts most new graduates.

Traditionally, in downturning markets, companies are most likely to fill junior to mid-level roles with people who aren't sufficiently developed career-wise to demand big checks for small hours... but who have some professional experience in the workplace. There is a certain transition period between Design/Art on an academic level, and working as a professional Designer for hire or with an agency. Hiring managers, when given the choice, would rather hire someone who's already spent some time as a full-fledged professional -- it's a lower-risk hire to pick someone up who's already been exposed to some of the nuances of client-management, workplace attitude, and the array of intangible things that you learn when you leave school and start out on your own.

Your GF, as a new graduate, even one who had some internships, is an entry level candidate. She's at the very bottom rung of the Junior scale. Even the positive feedback she's gotten on her portfolio reflects this: "It's good and well rounded for a recent graduate." But it won't stand up against a portfolio put together by someone who's spent the last two years as a grunt at an agency. (yes, I looked it over)

Does your association with the University give you access to the campus career center? She needs to be looking for companies that are looking to hire recent grads, and that's one of the better places to find those companies.
posted by toxic at 3:00 PM on August 25, 2008

definitely when the economy goes south, design budgets are usually one of the first to go because people view design as the fluff. so yeah, it's going to be tough for her, and doubly so b/c she is a recent grad. i entered the industry in fall of 2001 (a month before 9/11) in pretty much the same economic situation. whereas most of the top graduates from my school were offered studio jobs in previous years, pretty much almost every designer i graduated with all looked at each other and said, uh, guess we'll be freelancing. so that is what i recommend your girlfriend do. there are talent recruitment agencies specifically geared toward designers (both locally owned and national ones with local offices) so have her go in and sign on with one of them. they don't charge the designer, they charge the client. some of them offer benefits as well, just as if she was working a full time job. so they will help her find freelance work, and possibly a f/t job as well if that is what she wants. she also just needs to network the hell out of everyone she knows.

and i am not joking: it's going to take anywhere upwards of three to six months to even get her foot in the door—no matter how spectacular your portfolio is—and at least a year to get established. when i graduated, i went to london and shopped it around (had fantastic contacts through my teachers who were friends with vince frost, jon barnbrook, etc) and every one of them said i had book that was better than the undergrad work coming out of britain and would hire me if the economic situation was different—but no one could offer me a job because no one was hiring.

it's the catch-22 of talent: no one wants to hire you unless you have experience, but you can't get experience unless you get hired—doesn't matter how talented you are. that's why networking is so important. i got a freelance job at a studio through some friends and worked there for several months—not the most interesting work. picked up other freelance work. it was very precarious for about a year. but then a little over a year after i'd graduated, i got some work from paul frank, and the creative director who was there then moved to burton snowboards and hired me for freelance there. and it really just took those two big-name clients for everyone else to all of a sudden become interested in hiring me. i spent the next five years freelancing very successfully with a loyal client base—and based on the strength of that body of work, just recently got hired into a full time senior level job, despite the crappy economy.

so. patience. and just a lot of legwork. good luck to her.
posted by violetk at 3:15 PM on August 25, 2008

Response by poster: The Gamasutra job listings restless_nomad linked to definitely gave her a confidence boost -- she is somewhat interested in game design, and knowing that people are hiring artists in this economic climate makes her feel better.

Other than that, thanks so much for the advice. I know that finding a job is going to continue to be hard for her, and knowing what to do and what to expect helps a lot. It makes it easier knowing that other people have been (and are in) the exact same position as her and made it out alright.

Again, thanks a lot.
posted by malthas at 3:32 PM on August 25, 2008

Here's some more job resources to check: Coroflot, How, Krop, Print

Do people really look for jobs on Craig's List? I can't imagine any good design firm posting on there. I figured it was more like people looking for a logo for $20. Most grad portfolios are lacking some projects based in reality. I started to type up what she needs but I'm a mostly print designer with an emphasis on corporate branding so that might not be what she's interviewing for. I didn't really want to create materials for corporate America when I got out of school but it became apparent very early on that it was a good way to get paid.

When I got out of school I had job offers from my senior show (it was a good economy and I am a good designer) but I still sent out resumes cold to all of the firms that I saw in magazines and awards who had style I liked. I know that my firm and all others that were at the top of the market did not advertise positions. We received tons of unsolicited resumes and kept them on file to go through when we needed to. This advice is specific to small high end design studios who are rooted in print with a little web on the side.

Tell he r good luck, presentation is important and keep working on something in the meantime.
posted by Bunglegirl at 7:09 PM on August 25, 2008

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