Finding a design job
June 12, 2007 2:46 PM   Subscribe

Trying to find a design job, but generally clueless as to how to proceed. Yes, even after reading this question.

For the record, I am also in Seattle. I have also signed up with the Creative Group and every staffing agency. It hasn't gotten me much work. I am a little older than the typical design graduate and have some work experience, but not a lot of "real" stuff in my portfolio.

So it sounds like I need to cold call people, which fills me with dread. How do I make it more bearable? Should I have a script, or at least talking points? Should I ask for the creative director/etc or just talk to whoever answers? Do I say I'm looking for work, I'm a freelancer, or that I'd just like to get feedback on my work (a la informational interview)?

How do I send my stuff in - a book/booklet, my website link (I know, needs work), or a pdf? Is that entirely up to each company?

Am I better of aiming for interactive design, even though my schooling was mainly for print design? It seems like better money/opportunities, but what do I know?

If I respond to a job ad, how long after contacting do I follow up?

If I need more portfolio pieces, should I rework my school stuff? I wouldn't mind doing some pro bono work for the right people, but I don't know how to find them.

Right now I need something that pays the bills more than the all-perfect dream job.
posted by O9scar to Work & Money (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Did you check out AIGA Seattle? They seem to be having a social on the 28th. Looks like a perfect networking event...
posted by lovejones at 2:57 PM on June 12, 2007

Response by poster: I am a member, but I have yet to tap in. I'll definitely be going to the next event.
posted by O9scar at 3:12 PM on June 12, 2007

Hmm... Where to start?

Basically, In this industry nothing is really certain. I work at a place in Chicago called Somersault. I came in as an intern and knew nothing, but ended up getting hired simply because I had enthusiasm for the work and got along well with everyone. That being said, I have seen quite a few resumes since then and there are points worth mentioning:

1. Target your portfolio for the job you are after. Don't fill your portfolio full of print if you want to work in motion graphics. One motion piece that you just made up is far more valuable than ALL your print work in this position. Making up jobs is perfectly fine, EVERYONE I know has done this. Think about it, you make up some fictional product (or a new campaign for a current product) and the boss man likes it. In his mind you've proven that when he gives you a REAL product to design around that you will be able to handle it. Win/win situation.

2. Delivery. Obviously if you are going for motion graphics the boss man will likely want to see something move, so a DVD would be a good candidate for delivery. Print requires nothing more than a nice portfolio and perhaps a pdf. It is nice to think up imaginitive methods of delivery (your URL on a bannana), but realistically it is the work that gets you the job, so keep it simple and creative. Remember, these guys have to watch lots of these things. I've seen some elaborate resumes and they're really kind of a pain to sit through. Get to the meat.

3. Calling. Call a few days after you mail or drop off your resume just to make sure the right person received it. Hold off calling again for roughly two weeks. Here in Chicago we'll let positions sit empty until we find the right person, so worrying about someone beating you to the punch is really not that likely.


1. Cold-Calling. Don't do it without a strategy. Ask yourself why you are calling this company for work. Does their website suck? Can you provide a better print design or campaign? Why do you want to work with THIS company and not some other? How is this job going to further your career? Before you call, do your homework. Find out as much as you can about the company and staff. Have something to offer them when you pick up that phone, otherwise you'll just sound like another designer making his 30th call for the day.

2. Sign up all over the place. Bid for jobs at e-lance, submit your site (you have a site right?) to online design portals, troll forums for design jobs, swap links with blogs, etc...

3. Don't sell yourself short-Bid competitively. You may think that undercutting the competition by a mile ensures you work, but all it will ensure is that you will end up making less than you would at McDonalds and establishing a precedent with each of those clients that will forever be a great deal.

Anyhow... I'm rambling. Hope some of this helps. Good luck.

posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 3:35 PM on June 12, 2007

Have you checked out Filter/Talent? They are a company located in downtown Seattle that connect people looking for contract or direct hire jobs with people looking for talent/designers.
You might also want to check out the School of Visual Concepts. They are in the northern part of downtown Seattle. They offer classes taught by professionals in the field for a lot of different people, from beginning to professional. You might benefit from the professional development courses in marketing yourself and freelancing.

My last suggestion is Craigslist. Seriously, offer your services pro bono and you will have people jumping at the bait. I'm still a student but I've done a lot of research (web searches, design studio visits) on this field and really the only way to be successful is to have a strong portfolio. In actually talking with the owners of design studios they said that a college degree is really more of a nice thing to have. Of course it will make you look better, but if you have a stellar portfolio, your background won't matter.
posted by pontouf at 3:41 PM on June 12, 2007

some practical suggestions for you. first off, decide what kind of design you want to do. and make that decision based on what you love best to do—not what you think is going to get you the most work or pay you the most. if you aren't enthused about the work, it may show and that will suck and reflect badly on you. plus, why would you want to attach your name to anything about which you are not enthused or of which you are not proud? then research the companies/studios/clients within that area for whom you'd like to work.

cold calling probably isn't helpful. cold emailing can be. but be sure you are emailing the right person, the person doing the hiring. you might have to call in to find out this information. write a nice cover letter that shows some personality, rather than what you might think as the "formal cover letter"—this is a creative industry after all. attach your resumé and several samples of your best work. actually snail-mailing something is even more impressive–but make sure you put together a nice, creative package, including your personal identity. having physical samples of your work on the art director's desk is definitely more memorable than a virtual email in his/her computer. always tailor the samples you send to the person/company to whome you are sending them to.

if you are trying to get work through a creative agency, you need to find a way to befriend your assigned recruiter and stand out; you need to make sure they think of you first and foremost when jobs come in. that might mean calling them every week, going into the agency—anything that ingratiates you without making you annoying. additionally, there are several creative job listing sites online, so research those for possibilities. follow my advice about emailing your resumé, samples/website.

if your website sucks, don't send someone a link to it. seriously, do not ever show anything of which you are not proud. if you do not have a strong book, don't put things in there that suck, or are just mediocre, just because you think you need to show quantity over quality.

i'm going to be blunt here now: i am an unabashed design snob. i think that in the past couple of decades, as the masses become more design savvy, becoming a designer has acquired a certain caché and "coolness." there is a glut of "designers" out there–people who think you can "learn" to be a designer without the prerequisite talent. that said, i also think there are different tiers of design proficiency needed (after all, everything is designed) and correspondingly, different levels of talent.

but essentially, like with anything else in life at which you would like to be successful, it will be easier to get where you want if you first figure out what it exactly that you want.
posted by violetk at 3:51 PM on June 12, 2007

Seriously, offer your services pro bono and you will have people jumping at the bait.


unless you are doing it for a non-profit or as a favor to a friend. please do not offer your services for free to whoever, and please do not ever work on spec. doing this cheapens the industry as a whole and reinforces the idea in the minds of ppl that design is not a premium service. it also in the long run, affects the fees you can charge as a contractor, or even the salary for which you can negotiate.

if you are a "designer" and have no compunctions giving out your services willy nilly or working on spec, i have absolutely no respect for you, and neither will any self-respecting designer.
posted by violetk at 3:56 PM on June 12, 2007

also, i can not stress enough the importance of networking and connections in this industry (or probably any other similarly insular industry). we'd like to think that talent and a strong book alone will break us into the industry but it's more along the lines of: connections will get you in, and talent and hard work will keep you in. usually in that order.

i had an incredibly strong graduation book (feedback from teachers, mentors, prospective employers and/or clients, and very well known designers), and it still took me six months to land my first client out of school–and that was through a connection. almost all of my subsequent clients thereafter have been the snowballing result of getting to put those clients' names on my resume.
posted by violetk at 4:04 PM on June 12, 2007

I only meant to suggest pro bono work as a way to beef up your portfolio. Since you don't have a lot of "real" stuff in there, it would be very worthwhile. To the above poster - It's not easy to ask people to pay you money when you don't have much to show them to prove that you deserve what you charge. If you do have friends that need design work done, then yeah, that is ideal. If you need to branch out though, Craigslist is a good way, and you can pick and choose which jobs to take on - you don't have to give out your services willy nilly.
posted by pontouf at 4:04 PM on June 12, 2007

pontouf, i disagree. if you show someone say five strong pieces, it should be enough to demonstrate your talent and your capabilities.

i've perused craigslist on the occasion. there seem to be a lot of listings asking for spec work or grossly underpaid hourly rates ($12/hr??). as the OP is entry-level, he should pick up a copy of the AGA Pricing & Ethical Handbook or check out the AIGA salary guide to check out the going industry rates.

low-balling clients just suck generally. every designer i know will tell you that usually the ones who pay the least are the ones who want the most from you.

then again, as i have said before, when you are starting out, it's very difficult to get anywhere without connections. not impossible, but very, very difficult.
posted by violetk at 4:35 PM on June 12, 2007

also, o9scar, half the job of a designer is selling your ideas whether that be to your art director or your client. start now and learn to sell yourself. whatever you put in your book, if you only have ten good projects, sell the shit out of it.
posted by violetk at 5:12 PM on June 12, 2007

Small trick I use: (I'm looking for a design job right now, too)

I have my portfolio as a pdf on a flash drive. When I interview at an agency or studio, I pull out the drive and ask for a computer. 90% of the time, there is no computer in the conference room, so we end up back in the art directors office. It's much more informal, you can scout the room for personal details and current work that you can then tailor your pitch to. Because it's a more informal setting, you'll get more interpersonal stuff, which is a good way to make a connection with the person you're interviewing with.
posted by Mcable at 8:20 PM on June 12, 2007

Wait, do you want a 9-5, or are you looking for freelance work?

I think it's best to have both an online portfolio and a physical one. But I'd avoid places where you can only "drop off" your physical portfolio. It's always 200 times better if you can talk to the people in person about your work. When emailing samples of your work, only send 2 or 3 pieces, so that you have enough to talk about when you actually get to meet them.

If you want to be hired by a design firm or whatever, my advice is to not call, but mail a specially designed item to the firm. (since you'll want to get the attention of design-centric people, most of whom I know would rather geek out on design than try to make time for a random phone call) Don't send your portfolio blindly, but create a custom piece that just gets them interested. Not something that shows you're desparate, but something that is important to you. Like maybe a political statement on a postcard, or a poster celebrating your favorite song or book. Something fresh and about YOU. Then, include a note about how you admire their work and would like to meet them & exchange portfolios. Make them want to get to know you. If you don't have tons of recent real-life work to show them, you just need to show them that you're great to work with, you're willing to learn, and you have passion.

If you have time, make some more self-initiated projects for your portfolio. I'd say yes to pro-bono ONLY if it's some kind of non-profit organization that you'd like to help out and that they agree to give you tons of creative freedom. But to get some more work for your portfolio asap, I'd say it's easiest to just create some projects for yourself, with imaginary clients whose goals you make up yourself. When approaching freelance job opportunities, the clients really care about how you solved the problem & you convincing them that you can solve theirs.

I'd say follow-up after responding to a job ad one week after.

and about the interactive jobs - I actually agree that it might be easier finding some quick jobs offering to make some simple websites for people. Make some sample websites to link people to!
posted by SoylentErin at 10:57 AM on June 13, 2007

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