Graphic designer desperately needs a better job!
May 11, 2013 4:34 PM   Subscribe

Somebody I am very close to is a senior designer at a graphic design firm in Southern CA. She has been there many years. She is ridiculously overworked and underappreciated, and while she has achieved some authority in the company she has also hit the glass ceiling pretty hard and she is dealing with some covert but undeniable workplace sexism. She desperately wants to quit and work someplace else, but for a million special snowflakey reasons, it is very difficult to make that happen. Help?

She has no connections outside her current firm, she basically works from when she wakes up to when she goes to bed 7 days per week (so she really has no time for "networking") and she is so depressed and demoralized that she claims there's little point in looking for another job because she'd just face the same sexism and underappreciation at the next firm. (I disagree, and think her current firm is super fucked-up.) For various reasons she can't afford to earn less than she's earning now, and she can't risk her bosses finding out that she's looking elsewhere. She is not the freelancing type, and rejects that whole idea.


Is there any way she can find out more about the office culture at rival firms? How can she find out if a firm works people to death or is run by assholes, short of getting hired there and finding out the hard way? (Again, it would be extremely challenging for her to go out and network without causing problems at her current job.) Is there some sort of insider-y design message board or something? Some magazine or website that runs in-depth profiles of firms?

Online job ads aren't very helpful (I get the feeling that most firms don't recruit online) and research suggests that headhunters aren't very helpful either. Is there some viable headhunter service she should try - somebody who knows the field and can actually find her a better job?

I'm leaving a lot out, partly to protect her privacy and partly because this question is too long already. What it comes down to is, how the heck can she find a new graphic design job that doesn't make her totally miserable?
posted by Ursula Hitler to Work & Money (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Is there some sort of insider-y design message board or something?

Agency Spy does this. It's mostly New York and advertising based, but they might have LA agency news, I haven't checked.

Is she offline (print) or online design? If she does online/web work, firms definitely recruit online. She would need a profile, though. I think there's a way to make it private so her current firm couldn't find her but she could look for other firms and message their hr/recruiters.

There are a lot of other things that come to mind, but I feel like I need to know what kind of design she does, and what type of work her agency does overall so I'm not sending things off course.
posted by sweetkid at 4:44 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite] is a good site for this. is a good place to find jobs.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:02 PM on May 11, 2013

It's tricky to get into much detail, because, again, I have to be a little paranoid about protecting her privacy. I can say that she focuses on printed material and has done great work for a lot of well-known clients, but she has done very little online or interactive work.

Agency Spy looks like it could be very helpful indeed! I am forwarding it to her.

If anybody is wondering why I am doing all this work to find somebody else a job, well, A) I care deeply for her, and B) she is currently in a big stress spiral and really needs somebody to help pull her out of it.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:06 PM on May 11, 2013

Sorry, it sounds like you don't want to go into this, but has she tried insisting on improving her present employment? Sometimes management doesn't realize how overworked an employee is...she may not know what's possible until she make demands (hiring an assistant, more money, etc) or threatens to take another job offer.
If the sit was better would she prefer to leave anyway?
posted by artdrectr at 5:11 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

She's complained to them and tried to get changes made, but the situation has not improved. There are things she likes about her current job, but the situation there looks pretty hopeless long-term.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:23 PM on May 11, 2013

aiga los angeles has a good job board for designers, but i think she'd need to be a member to see the full listings. this would be a good org for her to join to network as well.

your friend sounds like she may be depressed. it is good of you to try to help her but really you can only lead her to opportunities. she is going to have to find the motivation to get out there and job hunt herself.
posted by wildflower at 5:25 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

HOW magazine has in-depth profiles of design firms from all over the world so i'm sure some are in LA. it looks like they also have a job board with national listings.

advertising and design firms tend to be stressful and fast-paced but certainly they are not all like your friend's firm. one bad experience doesn't mean they are all that way. she may want to look for a firm run by women if she is particularly concerned about sexism.
posted by wildflower at 5:35 PM on May 11, 2013

what changes? I'm sure the processes there are janky, but what she really needs is to hire a junior designer. if they say no to that, then skip town.
posted by rhizome at 7:54 PM on May 11, 2013

She needs a new job. Speaking as a designer in LA, here's what I'd do if I were in her position:

1. Take a 2 week vacation. Or more, if possible. Take as much as she possibly can. Tell your job it's a staycation or lie or whatever who cares. Spend 1-2 days resting, sleeping, relaxing, vegging out. Don't even think about design or jobs.
2. The moment those couple days are over, work a metric shit ton to get your new job. First, get the portfolio up to snuff - online, printed and leave-behind. Hopefully she has something already done that she just needs to update. Overall, keep things simple - this helps in terms of speed and efficiency. Also, you want the work to speak for itself anyway.
3. While working on portfolio, sign up for all the design/tech type job boards. Linkedin, coroflot, creativehotlist, krop, behance. She should be on all of them.
4. Email everyone she knows letting them know she's looking, excepting of course people at her firm. Set up coffees and drinks with as many people as possible. Even if they're not in the design world, they may know someone who knows someone. All of her contacts should know she's looking.
5. Depending on $$$ and time availability, sign up for a design class at UCLA Extension or Otis or Art Center. This helps with networking and it would also remind her that design and art making can be fun and not just grueling.
6. The whole time, think about what she's looking for in her next job. Maybe she wants to work on an in-house team, which is typically lower-key than agency work. Maybe she wants to work somewhere she could get more online work. Print designers are valuable, but she needs to have a broad range of skills, so knowing the online world would be useful.
7. For these two weeks, send out as many resumes and portfolio samples as possible, using postings on the above job boards. Tailor and craft each cover letter. Compile unique portfolio samples for each firm/company. Apply to jobs she doesn't seem right for.
8. Each day, do something totally awesome and indulgent at the end of the day. Watch a stupid movie. Have cake. Go on a long walk. Go to a bar or see friends. Doodle while watching reality tv.

By the time she's done these things, she'll have interviews lined up, especially if she's got the skills. Once she returns to work, she should:

1. Start setting boundaries. Say you can't work this weekend because of family obligations. And spend that weekend looking for another job.
2. Tell your job you have to come in late on X day because of an appointment. Be vague and don't give details. This is when you go to an interview.
3. You can't stay late on random day X because of personal reasons. Then just have a glass of wine and watch a movie.
4. Call in sick. Have a last-minute interview? Oh no, you got a migraine.

Good luck! She can do it. And the next place won't be sexist assholes, I can almost guarantee it.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 9:21 PM on May 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

I agree with what Uncle Glendinning said. As a designer in SF, I'll add that it's probably impossible to have "no connections outside her current firm". Every former colleague is a connection, and I can't believe nobody's left in the many years she's worked there.

As Uncle G said, she should take time off to work on her portfolio. I also think she should hone her story: what inspires her most and what she wants to pursue. It sucks to hear people complain, and it's awesome to hear people energized to do something new. They're the same in terms of intent, but the vibe couldn't be more different.

Once she can articulate what she wants to do, she should figure out who she wants to do it for. Could be another agency, in-house based on a content passion she's got... whatever. If she wallpapers the town with her resume, it has a good chance of getting back to her employer. (As some have said, that might be political capital and not a bad thing, but you mentioned she doesn't want people to know, so that's what I'm going with.) If she can target key companies and ask for their discretion, she has a better chance of staying hushed. And a better chance of getting a position she really wants with better signal-to-noise ratio during the hunt.

Lastly, make sure the work in her portfolio looks like the work she wants to continue doing. Even if she just shows a few awesome examples, it will attract more of the right people. I've seen designers have a tendency to see their portfolio as a "history of" documentation of their experience, but its effect is more "future of" than they realize. Even if some of the work she shows is unpaid, that's ok. Her portfolio will speak volumes.

Good luck!
posted by nadise at 11:37 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Uncle Glendinning has it. Your friend needs to take some time off as soon as possible to avoid an imminent burn-out, and take that time to figure out a plan that works for her for the future. I don't think staying much longer for the sake of loyalty, Stockholm Syndrome or for financial reasons is an option here; her mental health is more important than any short-term financial problems that may arise from a short period of unemployment. Seeing as she's a senior designer, it probably would be short, too. When you've worked somewhere for a long time, you sometimes forget that there are other many other opportunities out there until you're forced to look for them. Advertising agencies generally have a fairly high staff turnover, so there should be many opportunities out there for the taking.

The place I work for (a large multinational) does advertise the majority of open jobs on its website but prefers to recruit certain specialist roles (like creatives) either by word of mouth through employees or via headhunters and specialist recruitment agencies. They also receive spec CVs all the time and encourage people to send them in. So she should hit up any old colleagues who she liked and got along with on Facebook and LinkedIn to make some gentle enquiries about any roles that may be available where they work, or just to hint that she'd be interested in talking if anything came up in the near future. She should also at least talk to any recruitment agencies she can find to see if they can open any doors for her. Your mileage may vary, but that's how I got my current job. Failing that, I think she should spend some time sending her CV directly to the recruiters at rival agencies, just to put her hat in the ring. They should act with confidentiallity but, seeing as she seems desperate to leave her current job anyway, I don't personally see the harm in putting it out there and seeing what comes from it.

As for freelancing; well, it sounds like she says no for whichever reason, but I know a lot of people that said they never would who were then made redundant, started freelancing for financial reasons and wondered why they didn't do it years ago. Thinking about it, freelancing would also allow her to have a look at the inside culture of other agencies and possibly help her to decide which type of company she'd like to work for in the future and, at least in the UK, it's not uncommon for agencies to try to recruit freelancers they get along with as permanent employees. I know it doesn't work for everybody and your friend seems to have convinced herself that it's not for her, but it's always an option in a pinch.

Good luck to your friend, and I'd be interested in hearing how it turned out for her in the future. Feel free to PM me if you think I can help out in private.
posted by peteyjlawson at 5:16 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks very much for the advice, folks. I think there are some very sound suggestions, here. I'm forwarding this thread to her.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:20 PM on May 12, 2013

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