Out of Work for a Year – Don't Know How to Move Forward
January 6, 2015 7:21 AM   Subscribe

I've been unemployed for a year and, as things get more desperate financially, I'm realizing that I need basic help in steps to take to move forward.

I had fallen upwards into a decent career as an Art Director at a medium-sized publishing company in NYC, designing book covers and some interiors. (Toward the end I started doing some web social media work.) Then they restructured and sent my job overseas. Since then I have done freelance design work and applied to a list of jobs, attempted to mine my contacts for help and gotten exactly two interviews and no permanent work. (A decent amount of freelance, but nothing near what I need to pay the mortgage and help support my family.)

In the past I've always been lucky to have someone I worked with recommend me for a new, better job. Or I've put the word out and been lucky and gotten something right away.

So, I do not know how to move forward from here. Should I see a career counselor? What skills should I pursue? (I am primarily a cover/interior designer and don't have HTML/CSS skills enough to qualify for those positions, but am not sure that's where I'd want to go.)

I'm overwhelmed and not dealing with this well. Any suggestions, pointers, Cher slaps-to-the-face welcome.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (18 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Have you spoken with recruiters? Every job I have ever gotten has been, either directly or indirectly, through contacts made at a recruiting agency.
posted by something something at 7:23 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would make a list of the companies you know of who do what you did and start searching through their job listings on their websites. Also set up some searches on job boards (Monster, which is increasingly worthless, but still is in use, and LinkedIn, which I've had some luck with) and start applying.
posted by xingcat at 7:24 AM on January 6, 2015

Also consider taking a lower paid out of orbit position. I worked as a window dresser for a year and did a lot of typing during quiet times, before finally getting a position back in my industry (which was suffering a dry spell, not being outsourced much).

You can work on HTML/CSS to put up a portfolio site, perhaps, to show off work you have done (the freelance jobs).

Recruiters do want to get you hired, and it sounds like talking to them is a step in the right direction to at least get you something similar or tangentially related to your skillset.

And don't beat yourself up too much. The "Great Recession" may officially be over but it sure doesn't seem to have reached as far as the chipper evening news would like us to believe. :( It's still tough out there.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 7:44 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's a tough situation; I know that grind all too well and frankly it can be hellish, disorienting, and depressing. But many people go through it and get out of it, and although it looks like you won't get an easy hand-up this time, that by no means leaves you out of options.

My suggestions are as follows:

1) Above all, make sure that you are holding up okay and able to stay engaged with the job-searching process even when it gets tough. As far as possible, job-searching needs to be your full-time job. However, this can be difficult the more time goes on and depression and anxiety are common. If you find you're having trouble keeping it up, consider getting support from a counsellor or doctor as well as your friends and family.

2) In hand with the above, take care of yourself! Eat right, exercise right, get outdoors every day, keep socialising, doing new things, and generally treating yourself well.

3) Assuming that's taken care of, getting professional career advice is pretty much always useful. Even if you don't hear anything that helps you specifically it puts you in the right mindset, and you never know when some seemingly-useless tip will come in handy. They can help you with the process of the job-search -- many parts of which can be opaque and counter-intuitive -- as well as offer more 'strategic' advice on other potential career paths. Who knows, this might be an opportunity to go in a better direction!

4) You can always train, and it sounds like closing some of the gaps in your skills will do a lot to help you get back in the same career groove. There are lots of free or cheap learning materials out there nowadays, especially for learning coding and similar technical skills.

5) As a baseline it's a good idea to try and have actively-maintained profiles on, say, half a dozen jobsearch sites and to try and apply for anywhere from 3+ jobs per weekday, depending on how involved the application process is. That sounds like a lot, but it's pretty much needed to balance out the number of applicants that most jobs get. Over time you will start to see which sites are more useful than others. Last time I checked, LinkedIn stood out as one of the more useful ones, especially if you have a decent network of contacts -- keep it maintained and you are less likely to miss out on network-based opportunities.

6) Keep revising your resume. I thought I had mine down pat but several revisions later I was still finding things I didn't realise were mistakes until I had more jobsearching experience.

7) Volunteering is a great way to ease yourself back into the workforce and can often lead directly or indirectly to a job -- it also helps maintain your skills and looks great on a CV.

8) There are many more tips, keep looking for them and trying them out! When things seems stagnant it's usually changing tack that helps fix the situation.

Keep on trucking, and best of luck.
posted by Drexen at 7:45 AM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Right, talk to some recruiters and get them working for you. They can tell you what skills you need to supplement. As for not knowing what you want to do, when you lay out your skills and experience with them, a good recruiter should be able to give you some ideas you hadn't thought of. You might be the perfect fit for a certain type of job and just don't know it.

On preview, I really like Buttons Bellbottom's idea too. Get any kind of job to get you out of the house and among people. It'll make you feel so much better and take some of the financial weight off and then you'll be able to think more clearly.
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:46 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

You might find that working with an agency like The Creative Group yields better leads.
posted by Hermione Granger at 8:00 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

One more piece of advice based on your words about needing basic help, and feeling overwhelmed. The one thing that really helped me above all in that situation was to have somebody understanding and non-judgemental (in my case, my sister) to basically 'shadow' me, meaning basically someone who would periodically ask me how things were going, what I had done etc, and who made it very clear that I could be honest with her even on those days where I ended up doing less than I should (or indeed, nothing at all).

That helped me to avoid feelings of hopeless doldrums, but without coming with a lot of attached stress or shame, which are like the Scylla and Charybdis of jobsearching.
posted by Drexen at 8:00 AM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

One thing I'd do is assess if your current skill set is needed. With traditional publishing circling the drain, and new forms of publishing up and coming you need to be honest about how marketable your skills and experience are.

So after doing that, you'll have to bring your skills up to date, that may mean learning new programs. Find out which are the most popular and do tutorials and check out You Tube.

Secondly, you may have to step back to move forward. You might have to take a lower-level job than you desire to get the experience in the new programs.

My Story: I was laid-off after an amazing sales career in Telecommunications. This was in 2008, when the economy had tanked. I was laid-off with 16,000 other Telecom folks. It would have been ridiculous for me to try and get another Telecom job. So I punted. I learned Salesforce.com in a job that paid me half of what I was used to making. Then I got good at it. Now I'm making close to what I made in 2008, and although it's been a bit unstable, the skill set is very in demand and I've got my new job lined up, oddly enough, back at the phone company.

So, I'd dumb down my resume, and get a job where I could learn the latest and greatest stuff in your field, and then blow them away with how quickly you get it, and how great you are in using it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:18 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

For a creative position I agree that you should definitely look at recruiters. Some are better than others, and you can definitely work with multiple recruiters at once. The Creative Group mentioned above is reputable, and Creative Circle is another.

Also take a good hard look at your resume and cover letter. I say this as someone who thought hers was good but was not getting hired. I finally bucked up and paid a couple hundred bucks to work with a consultant to improve them. Things picked up pretty quickly after that. MeMail me if you want a name.
posted by radioamy at 8:21 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

"fallen upwards into a decent career " Please drop this type of thinking. You were promoted into a position for which you had worked hard. I don't know if you're just trying to be cute on the Green, or if you really think that you didn't deserve that career--but please don't fall into the self-deprecation trap. You need to be your own best advocate and representative, and going forward in your job hunt and networking, I think it's a whole lot easier and more productive if you believe that your efforts and talents were rewarded and will be again. You deserve to succeed--keep that in mind. Good luck!
posted by Ideefixe at 8:36 AM on January 6, 2015 [11 favorites]

I was just going to jump in and say exactly what Ideefixe pointed out.

And their point is even more accurate in the Creative field. We come from everywhere—some fall into it and realize they're kind of good at it, some go to school for ages, some go to trade school, and some work hard and figure it out alone.

In Creative, it doesn't matter how you got to where you are. The only thing that matters is your work.

I know the "print vs. digital" divide is getting larger, and can be daunting. Hell, I'm marketed as "digital" and even I feel like I'm slipping, on a daily basis. It is overwhelming, but I guarantee that if you get started on learning new mediums you'll feel much better.

On that note, I highly recommend Hyper Island if you want a crash course in digital/UX/UI. I know you're low in finances, but they have a "master course" in February, right here in NYC!

And one more thing - you haven't mentioned if you've explored advertising art direction. Have you thought about print ads, and when you get there, digital? Many people aren't into the idea of advertising, so it's okay if you don't want to. But damn if it isn't stable, well-paid work with decent benefits.

Memail me if you want to chat more!
posted by functionequalsform at 10:14 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was in a similar situation. I found the book "2 Hour Job Search" extremely useful.

Please look into that.
posted by indianbadger1 at 12:24 PM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

I know that job hunting is hard. Try to apply for two jobs a day. Write an individual cover letter for each and consider also tailoring your resume a little for the positions for which you're applying.

If you do want to learn HTML and CSS, I recommend Udacity's intro course. You can access the course materials for free and work through them alone if you can't afford to pay for the subscription. They also offer a Front-End Web Development nanodegree for $200/month, where you'll actually get a certificate at the end. I started it and it was great, but I can't afford the $200+ (I pay in Australian dollars), so I dropped out after a month. If you're a complete beginner, I would recommend doing as much of the free content as you can (Intro to HTML and CSS) before enrolling, otherwise you'll be paying the subscription but not actually working on the paid content for a while. The nanodegree involves working on several projects which you can use as a portfolio to demonstrate your work.

Codecademy also offers a course on HTML and CSS, which is free.

Perhaps set aside a couple of hours each day to learn a bit of HTML and CSS. Maybe you'll use it for a job, maybe you won't. But it will help you focused on something other than the disappointment that job hunting can be.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 6:01 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding the recommendation to look into UX. If you know Adobe Illustrator that's already a huge coup.

Lynda.com has excellent classes in all kinds of tech and design stuff. Think: UX, content strategy, analytics, HTML, etc.

Memail me if you want to know more from a fellow New Yorker. I took a 1-day intro UX course at General Assembly and would be happy to send you my notes.

You can do this!
posted by jessca84 at 1:00 AM on January 7, 2015

Coming out of the anonymous shadow because, really, it's unnecessary.

Thanks, everyone for the positive thoughts and helpful comments. I've just finished a freshening up of my website portfolio, have reached out to The Creative Group, bought "2-Hour Job Search" and followed all of your links, looking into UX/UI.

Got any more ideas? Happy to hear them. Will update if/when positive things happen.
posted by papercake at 10:51 AM on January 8, 2015

Flip the funnel. Every help wanted ad describes a pain point the company needs a cure for. Identify that point and then craft your strategy around it. Your cover letter is a 20 second ad for your ability to be that cure. It should include 3-4 bullet point examples of how you completed similar work in the past and saved either time or money while doing so.
posted by IndigoSkye at 11:37 AM on January 11, 2015

Since writing this I've signed up with TCG and Creative Circle. Turns out someone here in town is reinventing himself as a recruiter so is helping me, as well. Also, I've gone to a "What is UX?" talk and the General Assembly info session for their UX design course. Not sure if I'm going to take their part-time or immersive course, but most likely one of them. Money is an issue, of course. As is child-care. But at least I feel like I'm moving forward. Thanks for the push.
posted by papercake at 6:35 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Final update, in case anyone is still following this.

I ended up taking the UXDI program at GA and LOVING it. Thank you everyone who suggested it and took the time to write me personal mail with information.

I finished the program and, within two months, found a job.

I've been working as an User Experience designer for a design studio in New Jersey for the past three months. My experience as an Art Director means that I'm expected to move quickly up the org chart to a management position. I'm very happy here, and know that without AskMe's help, might never have gotten here.

Thanks again.
posted by papercake at 8:05 AM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older Cross-country Road Trip in January   |   Where can I purchase a pattern to make this dragon... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.