Why Can't He Find A Job?
November 13, 2006 9:21 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend's fresh out of college, and is having a really hard time finding work in his field (graphic design).

My boyfriend's fresh out of college. He's been having a really hard time finding work in his field (graphic design), although -- by all accounts -- he's incredibly talented. In the three or so months that he's been job-hunting, he's had one interview, this with a major Seattle staffing agency recruiter who professed to be very impressed with his portfolio. The guy said he'd definitely be able to find my boyfriend work, but my boyfriend never heard back from him after the initial interview, and the recruiter failed to answer any emails or voice mails.

We both suspect it's because he's short on actual work experience (save for some freelance design gigs for local politicians and a now-defunct commercial website, and some intermittent production assistant work for friends who used to host a television show). He's growing more and more depressed each day, and it's stressing us both out.

Any ideas on how an inexperienced but talented graphic artist can get his foot in the door of a company so that he might finally begin his career? He's got a great online portfolio and an excellent cover letter (if I do say so myself, since I wrote it!), but we think it's his resume holding him back.

I've suggested career fairs, other agencies, a ton of various job boards and even the career center at his alma mater. He focuses mainly on Craigslist, with glimpses here and there are CareerBuilder and one or two other sites. He seems hesitant to try something new, and I suspect that his confidence is waning so much that he's scared even to try. (I've even suggested getting a part-time retail job so that he can bring in some money and gain some legit work experience while he keeps looking for a job in his field, but he hates the idea.)

I'd be eternally grateful for some sound advice -- whether it be about finding a job, or coping with the stress of a job search.

Thanks so much!
posted by Teevee's Bella to Work & Money (24 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

Your suggestions are on the right track and really, he just needs to suck it up and try those tactics. Does he have any sort of relationship with the faculty at his alma mater? Maybe he can work some of those connections?
posted by stefnet at 9:54 PM on November 13, 2006

Here's the thing about designers: they love looking at other people's work (yes, even students).

If your boyfriend is truly talented, then this is all he needs to do: call up all the design agencies he wants to work at and ask if he can come in and show his portfolio. Go through design annuals and directories and find the names of art directors in Seattle. Cold call them.

Some will say they are too busy; some might say he can drop off a portfolio but not meet them; many will be more than happy to have him come in for a few minutes to see his work.

He'll often hear this: "You're really talented, but we're just not hiring now." But not to worry. He's got his foot in the door. He should create a memorable leave-behind. Nothing too elaborate or gimmicky, but something so that, if he's unfortunate enough to still be looking for work in a few months, he can call back and they'll remember him.

In the meantime, he can ask them if there's anyone else they know he should speak too. Designers know other designers, and I'm sure he'll get a few names to try next. This has the added bonus of your boyfriend now being able to call the next place and saying, "Mr. X from Super Design Agency gave me your name and recommended I call you."

Another foot in the door.

Just keep trying. Call places up and ask to come in for a portfolio review. The worst that can happen? They say no. But eventually it will lead to work -- if not fulltime, then the odd freelance project. The trick is to be persistent and not rely solely on job listings.

This method worked for me, and it's worked for so many of the people with whom I went to design school. It can be heartbreaking at times, but if he's talented, he'll be okay.
posted by Robot Johnny at 10:08 PM on November 13, 2006 [2 favorites]

I've been where you are. I'm not sure what you can do, other than be positive, and find someone who can listen to your own frustrations while still remaining sympathetic to your boyfriend.

As for your boyfriend, he really needs to move beyond craigslist or anywhere else he's just an anonymous face in the crowd. He absolutely should work school connections, and any other ins he has. He'll probably find people who themselves needed a little help getting their careers started, and are now happy to help someone else.

As for his online portfolio, (I think I found it via your blog). I think he'd do well to make potential clients & employers work less hard to get a view of his style and range.
posted by Good Brain at 10:10 PM on November 13, 2006

Three months and one interview?

Not. Trying. Hard. Enough.

Here's three Seattle area recruiters that do graphic design hiring for everyone from Amazon to Boeing to Microsoft. Call 'em all up and ask for help. I highly recommend Wasser.

posted by frogan at 10:13 PM on November 13, 2006

Did he join AIGA while he was a student? Because that's a nice network to have in the design industry. And when you're a student, it's a heck of a lot cheaper than what an associate/full membership costs

I would second Robot Johnny's suggestion. IANAGA, but I've regularly worked with graphic design people in my job (as a web producer). Seattle is an insular town, but if he's got a good portfolio that shows his potential, he'll latch on somewhere out here; it'll take time and legwork on his part, tho. He's got to get his name out here.
posted by dw at 10:17 PM on November 13, 2006

Having a decent web site (on a proper domain) that presents his work with clarity and style may help. Even if he's going for offline design work it'll show he's put in some thought and effort.
posted by malevolent at 10:18 PM on November 13, 2006

Not. Trying. Hard. Enough.

Yeah, that too.

It's a pain in the ass trying to get a job. Call, e-mail, apply, interview, rejected, lather, rinse, repeat. It sucks the life out of you. So, be supportive. But ride his ass, too. Make him do something every day to advance the search. Push him to take an hour or two every day to make contacts or build out his website.
posted by dw at 10:32 PM on November 13, 2006

Craigslist is not the only/best solution. I live in Seattle and when I was in search of a job it took me almost 3 months or so to find a decent job in web/graphic design on craigslist. Thankfully, I still had my clients from freelance. The job was fine but wasn't what I wanted and lasted about half a year.

Here's a few resources that might be better suited for what he's looking for.

authentic jobs
37 signals gig board

I also second everyone else in the thread.
posted by freudianslipper at 10:32 PM on November 13, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice, so far; I knew I could count on you guys. I'm going to show him this thread, so keep 'em coming!

Frogan, he met with Sakson & Taylor! They're the ones whose recruiter loved him, told him he was going to try and place him with Starbucks or Microsoft (the latter of which is where his dad happens to work as a technical writer), and then proceeded to fall off the face of the earth. My guy called and emailed him many times in subsequent weeks, and got nothing in return.

He also hooked up with Volt (originally as a game tester, which he passed for various reasons). A recruiter emailed him out of the blue regarding his portfolio and said she wanted to bring him in to interview about some design work, but then didn't respond to his reply email and didn't call him back. Needless to say, his experiences thus far have been disheartening.

freudianslipper, thanks for those links. I'll pass them on (and send him the thread, as I said)!

Good Brain, what do you suggest to make his online portfolio easier to navigate for potential employers?
posted by Teevee's Bella at 10:44 PM on November 13, 2006

Also, advice about post-college joblessness and depression: if he doesn't get something soon, he should just take a job somewhere, to keep himself from sitting around the house all day feeling like he can't get a job. Seriously. Even if it's working at an art supply store for a little while, or something like that. This will be much better for his mental health, and therefore his ability to continue the search for a job he really wants.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:57 PM on November 13, 2006

Good portfolio advice from HotWired/Adaptive Path/Google designer Jeffrey Veen.
posted by migurski at 10:59 PM on November 13, 2006

Now that I got around to looking at his portfolio site, and speaking as a web geek:

1. I would go with a more readable font size. And tasteful colors instead of drab greys.

2. I would consolidate his artist's statement into a single page and offer it as a link.

3. I would emphasize design more than words. He's not out to get an editing job, he's out to get a design job.

4. Lose the "construction" graphic. It's very 1998 and suggests an amateurish look.

5. On the whole, a portfolio site is supposed to demonstrate what an artist has done and is capable of. It's a sales job, really. I think he needs to focus on that.

That said, don't be lured into the idea that a "perfect" website will instantly bring a job. It helps, but it still comes down to what everyone one else has said -- call, write, work the network. A well-done website will help him get an interview, or help him in an interview when they whip out the laptop and ask for a URL.

On preview: Jeffrey Veen says it a lot better than I do, so listen to him.
posted by dw at 11:10 PM on November 13, 2006

Respect the audience's time and attention. Chances are they don't want a site like his (and so many other designers) portfolio site, they want something else, so he should make it easy for them to see the range of his capabilities. For example, don't show coy little thumbnail cutouts of a tiny part of the design samples when there is plenty of screen real estate left to show nice thumbnails that actually show something.
posted by Good Brain at 11:40 PM on November 13, 2006

Yayhooray can be a source of useful advice from other designers. Also not a bad networking tool.
posted by rongorongo at 2:44 AM on November 14, 2006

I hire designers. Here are the reasons I don't interview someone:

1. Their resume is in Word
2. Their portfolio has every piece they've ever done, rather than a selection of a few outstanding pieces
3. Their portfolio only has a few graphic design pieces but a ton of illustration or other art
4. They send me only a link to a website for their portfolio, which requires a whole lot of pain-in-the-butt navigating around

The most effective way to get an interview? Have a really polished package-- resume and cover letter and mini-portfolio (sent in the mail or dropped off) really nicely designed. We couldn't care less about academic credentials, honestly. It's all about the work. And remember, he shouldn't be trying to appeal to other designers, he should be trying to appeal to overworked and busy creative directors or other "suits." Spoon feed them!

Hope that helps.

Oh yes, and he should be freelancing in the meantime. And make him work on his website, it's really sort of lame, though his work is pretty good. (Sorry.)
posted by miss tea at 5:16 AM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Sorry, forgot something. By "portfolio" I don't mean a big folder full of matte-boards. You only get to show that off once you get in the door (and my earlier caveat applies). I mean 6-7 nice printed pieces, or printouts of website, or whatever, that you include with your resume & cover letter. Recently someone sent "mini" printouts in a mini envelope as part of her app, and I was impressed.
posted by miss tea at 5:20 AM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

The piece of advice I'll offer is that nearly everyone who isn't in a high demand job field has trouble finding a job fresh out of college (and often aren't prepared for this fact). Sometimes, taking a job outside the field, or a really low job in the field will help lead to something you'll truly enjoy doing. For me, it took 4 years working retail before I landed a job I love.
posted by drezdn at 6:53 AM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

I don't have design-specific advice but I can echo what frogan and dw said - finding work is hard, finding work when you're starting out is ten times harder. It IS depressing and stressful but at least you only have to look for your First Real Job once - it does get (somewhat) easier.

I also Nth the advice that he should take some work somewhere before long. Go work at Starbucks - it's a good social exercise, will put money in his pocket, keep structure in his life and they have a good health insurance deal to boot. It's an odd paradox that most people seem to get more done when they have less time to do it in.
posted by phearlez at 7:02 AM on November 14, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice on his site. Actually, it was really gorgeous up until recently when -- in his funk -- he got disgusted with it and stripped it, leaving only that bare-bones look. Its current state is basically its "limbo" state. He can never settle on a look that he's content with -- but I imagine that's important.

Miss Tea, I really appreciate your advice. I think he will, as well, since you're speaking from the perspective of someone to whom he'd want to appeal. (By the way, should his resume be on his site? Is that what you mean when you say that you don't hire people if their resumes are in Word?)

drezdn, that's what I keep telling him -- but maybe he'll listen to someone else... He seems to think that, because I love him, I'm only trying to make him feel better when, in reality, I'm always honest with him, like it or not.

Great advice, everyone. Thanks so much! As I said before, keep it coming. I'm not going to get a chance to give this to him until later. (I could just email it, but I'd rather present it as a tool... heh.)
posted by Teevee's Bella at 9:50 AM on November 14, 2006

Regarding the site:

One of the most useful things I ever read about Web design is this:

You'll get sick of your own layout long before others do.

That doesn't mean it's a bad layout—it just means you're not in the same frame of mind you were in when you made it. Does he still have the files from the old layout? Might be time to put them back up, with some selective pruning of portfolio items.

I have more advice, but I'm leaving for my own Web job, so I'll post more later this afternoon.
posted by limeonaire at 10:16 AM on November 14, 2006

He might spend some time in the trenches. Prepress or production artists get little respect but they make a decent wage and get concrete job skills that you can't buy or learn in school.
posted by lekvar at 12:22 PM on November 14, 2006

I've interviewed lots of junior creatives. I expect them to have nothing on their resume except some school, a weird hobby, whatever. The only time I look at the resume is for a senior position (where they'll be in front of clients) or if their work either sucks or is so amazing I want to figure out what school helped them create it. (No, I'm not in a hiring-level position at my current job.)

With designers and art directors, I'd expect the resume to be clean and well designed. Which likely means pdf, not Word. (Recruiters want Word so they can edit out your contact info.) Writers, I expect their resumes to have a dash of clever without trying too hard or an unexpected touch.

I'd expect a cohesive, clear theme – from business card to cover letter to resume to portfolio presentation to website. If someone doesn't get that, they don't get branding. Without that, as a writer who has to depend on designers to be smart, I'd think that he was a glorified font monkey rather than a strategic thinker who uses design to solve problems.

It's a tough industry to get hired in. In the meantime, he should make an attempt at freelance, work in production, whatever. The people I want to work with are intellectually restless and will keep moving, keep designing and creating no matter what's going on.
posted by Gucky at 3:51 PM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everyone. He's redoing his site, and applying to retail jobs in the meantime. Hopefully, he'll also get to work on putting together a decent hard-copy of his portfolio. At the moment, his funk seems to have broken a bit, but we'll see.
posted by Teevee's Bella at 9:38 PM on November 17, 2006

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