Not getting Interviews - Design work from past FT job sucks. Advice?
November 28, 2017 3:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm in a major quandary: I'm a brand-print designer who has been working FT and freelanced for the last 15 years - then made the transition to web/UX about 5 years ago. I recently graduated from a MA Interactive (IX) program to improve on my interactive/design thinking and ux-architecture skills, so I'm job hunting again. Right now I seem to have an impressive resume having worked for some top-tier companies, brands - and get past the first stage HR application process. But the moment my portfolio gets to the Design Team/Hiring Mgrs, I get shot down because my past professional design work is very conservative, corporate - and unfortunately I think my more creative work is now old (or certainly past 5<yrs of age). Help! What do I do?

The problem is that my last place of work - is where I made the FT transition to my new web design field and their work, at least when I was there, wasn't considered innovative, creative or beautiful. About 1/3 to 1/2 of my UX web designs comprises of their work as that's the most relatable "FT UX Designer" position I fit in right now. When I asked a previous HR rep what he thought, he said, "Your *other* work is nice. You need to get more work experience and come back to us."

So I've since then tried to do some School, Freelance and Speculative web or digital design projects - more conceptual, abstract and use pretty art direction images for clients who I'd like to propose to - and have included those in my portfolio. The problem is that most of the FT companies I'm applying I JUST found out from other Recruiters don't really care about these either... they're not realistic, don't have as much regulations/brand standards or stakeholders to consider. And I'm sure budgets also are considered as well.

Therefore, I'm at a loss - I don't know what to do - and I have a huge portfolio review due tomorrow at another financial institution's creative dept. :( Any words of advice or experience? Thank you.
posted by sam3cat to Work & Money (3 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Hi! I'm sorry you're stuck in this. Hang in there.

I'm not totally clear about how you describe your work. Is it that your (old) graphic design work is nice, but your UX design work (of which you have 5 years experience) is corporate and conservative? And that your spec work is innovative and cool, but not realistic? (That's the way I'm reading it, anyway.)

Regardless, question: What level/role are you applying for? Because if you're applying for, say, Senior Designer or Associate Design Director, I agree with the hiring managers that spec work isn't enough, especially if the work is super "blue sky." (Ugh, sorry for that term.) I agree that you'd need more experience dealing with/designing for client needs before reaching a Senior/ADD level, depending on the company.

Unfortunately, the reality is that when you switch career tracks, you're kinda sorta starting over. And even though you have tons of (previous) experience on your resume, you (effectively) have 5 years experience. (Which I'm guessing puts you at about mid-level, depending on the company's structure.)

If you're going for mid-level, you could spin your "corporate/conservative" work into the reason you're looking for a new job. Here's what I think I'd do:

+ Get a knowledgable someone to really dig into your spec work, play the client/Design Director combo, and give very real-world, possibly brutal, feedback on it

+ Change your spec work accordingly

+ Go to your next interview with all of your work—"old and nice," "corporate and conservative," and updated spec

+ Tell them something like, "Yes, I know the UX work I have in my book is corporate and conservative—and that's why I'm looking for a new job. I want to be challenged, and learn from the best."

+ Walk them through your spec work and say something like, "This is the kind of stuff I want to be working on, and I would love to learn from your Design Director to learn how manage client reqs while still innovating."

+ Play up your experience and impressive resume—they'll be getting a great deal* on someone with "adult" experience, for a mid-level role. And you'll position yourself to get promoted more quickly than the average mid-level applicant—while getting experience doing more innovative client work.

If you go for a mid-level position, I would be happy (as a person who hires Creatives) to hear the above. But anyway, I'm making a lot of assumptions, and apologize if they're incorrect! Feel free to chime in with more specifics or memail me.

*A "great deal" on a human being sounds gross, but I can't figure out another quick way to put it. :-/
posted by functionequalsform at 7:34 AM on November 28, 2017 [6 favorites]

Wow! Yes, you understood my dilemma perfectly (sorry if it wasn't entirely clear) and I really appreciate ALL the thorough, detailed feedback you provided. There was also some clear signs that I didn't get being pigeon-holed in my own POV - that yes, you're right I am starting over, so basically all these positions I may have been going for are too advanced for me, or that I could still be possibly too Junior-level (considering I'm new to UX).

- I also didn't think about getting brutal feedback on my Spec work. That's interesting... and TBH, I don't even have all that many mentors in that field. I've always gotten feedback from my previous ADs or CDs, but not Sr. UX'ers. Ugh. Finding someone who will have time to critique that will be a job in itself!

- I like the suggestions you've made about what to say and will duly note all of that - and yes! I feel the same, I have all these years of brand/design under my belt which will be helpful for Art direction, design, etc. and could hope that's the main advantage over my age (cringe), skills or lack of experience.

Thank you so much!! I have to get cranking on a new PDF portfolio, but I may hit you up privately after this. Cheers! 🙏
posted by sam3cat at 7:52 AM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thank you so much @functionequalsform! Really appreciate your insight and suggested professional experience tips. I will definitely take them into account. I apologize for the lateness of this as I had to move twice during the last few months and have settled in another spot. Appreciate you and AskMetafilter!
posted by sam3cat at 3:04 PM on February 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

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