Even with the recovery of the economy, many graphic designers and other creative professionals still find themselves struggling in the job market. Whether one is new to the industry or is in transition from a previous employer, the job market seems to be very difficult, despite greater need for designers than ever before.
While many are quick to say the cause is an oversaturated market, globalization, crowd-sourcing culture, or the growth of the freelance economy, the answers to this issue often tend to be simpler. There are many changes that technology and the way we use it have impacted the way creatives are hired. Many in-house designers don’t feel the need to market themselves or invest in developing a personal brand…. until they are in the unemployment line.
Social media and online presence are now a reality of the hiring practice in 2015, for better or for worse. But this doesn’t have to be a negative, it can be a tremendous opportunity.
Most Opportunities Go To People Within Their Own Network
We’ve all heard the old adage, “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” It has endured for a reason. I would argue that it is both who you know and what you know, as well as how you leverage those things.
Having great skills, and a strong portfolio and resume are still essential to your career as a graphic designer. However, knowing how to get those impressive marketing assets in front of the right people is also key. The days of simply mailing off your book, or walking in and filling out an application are gone. Even emailing off a portfolio and resume has been reduced to the equivalent cold calling.
Building a strong network of contacts, engaging with them and also attracting interest in your work, your knowledge and even yourself on a personal level, is vital getting opportunities today.
There are several ways to achieve this, such as attending industry events like the InDesign Conference or Photoshop Conference, where you can casually meet with peers in your industry as well as decision makers and industry experts. LinkedIn is one of the first places in social media that potential employers look at when qualifying candidates. Who you are connected to and to what extent does matter.
People are more likely to hire someone that they feel is well respected and well connected. Having those connections, recommendations and endorsements in addition to a strong profile conveying experience, help reduce anxiety and the sense of taking a risk on you.
Audit Your Resume and Your LinkedIn Profile
There are some things you should consider addressing in your resume when searching for a new job opportunity. First of all you should make sure that is current and up to date. Even if you are currently employed you should be updating your resume once or twice a year.
In terms of the content on your resume, eliminate outdated formats and things like an “Objective”. Today it is preferable to use a Summary rather than an Objective. Choose a format that highlights your strengths, if that is experience, lead with that, if not, then lead with something like your education or technical skills.
Your LinkedIn Profile is an important tool for employers when considering you as a prospective hire. They may even focus on this more than your resume. Try to ensure that you’ve completed your LinkedIn profile and that it is consistent with your resume.
A Personal Brand Can Improve Your Odds
Notoriety, authority, and influence were once much harder to come by in any profession. Today it is largely a matter of effort and the willingness to be visible and accessible. This can be a struggle for introverted creatives who would rather focus on their work. Quality work does trump everything else, however it doesn’t accomplish much if no one can find it and appreciate it.
In the same way designers help their clients and employers build a brand and differentiate themselves from their competitors, they have to apply this skill to themselves. As creatives we constantly champion the importance of brands making themselves visible, making their message clear and investing in their marketing. We need to take our own advice in this regard in order to improve our chances of success in a more competitive job market.
It can be reassuring to employer to see that you have been consistent in the way you approach your process and the results you’ve managed to yield for yourself. People don’t tend to hire a personal trainer that is overweight, do they?
Consider Working With a Recruiter
Working with a recruiting firm or staffing agency that specializes in helping creative professionals can be useful, particularly if it has been a while since you last competed in the job market. They can help you understand what employers are looking for and bring you up to speed on industry standards and best practices regarding resumes and portfolios, that may have changed since your last job hunt.
Recruiters can also ensure that you are applying only to positions that fit your skills personality or circumstances. You may feel that you need to consider every opportunity, however this usually is not the best course of action, for you or for the potential employer. Recruiters also have access to opportunities that may not be posted publicly for one reason or another.
More companies are becoming comfortable with letting creative professionals telecommute. This allows you access to opportunities not available in your local area, or may be more practical if you’re a creative with a disability. These positions are usually posted via job boards or through recruiters and staffing firms.
Working remotely is not necessarily the same thing as working as a freelancer. In many cases you will be a traditional employee and may even work scheduled hours and will be required to check in via web cam through Skype or some other communication platform. The benefits and salary structure of traditional employment also usually apply with some instances of you being compensated for your internet and cell phone data usage.
Landing these positions are more difficult as they require you to prove a high level of accountability and discipline, since you will not be physically accessible or visible on a regular basis.
A Portfolio is Still Your Strongest Tool, But…
Your body of work still is the most powerful marketing tool you have. However, the way in which portfolios need to be presented continues to evolve. A decade ago a designer could get away with not having an online portfolio or a professional website. Now it is very difficult to be taken seriously without one.
We also now live in a mobile-first world, so having an online portfolio that is also either mobile ready or responsive matters, since the first experience of your work could easily be through a Google search or a click through to your website from a smartphone.
It’s also important to have a portfolio that can be uploaded to a job board or emailed to an employer. Sometimes this could mean needing to upload a PDF file, in other cases you may need to upload individual JPEG files. Being prepared for these scenarios is vital.
While it is popular or trendy to present your work on a tablet or laptop today, don’t underestimate the value of a print presentation. Presenting your work in the proper media is important to keep in mind. If you are presenting print work, you should present it in print; if you are presenting digital work, then a digital device such as an iPad or a laptop is appropriate.
It is also important to keep a copy of your PDF portfolio on your smartphone so that if need be, you could email it instantly to a potential employer or someone who can pass it along for you. Often times, waiting will result in a missed opportunities. Consider also keeping some JPEG files in a folder on your smartphone, in case an elevator pitch opportunity arises and you don’t have cell reception to reach your online portfolio.
Some Final Things To Remember
- Position yourself for the best chance of success with a strong portfolio and resume
- In your resume, focus on highlighting accomplishments rather than job duties
- Audit your social media accounts and make sure they are employer friendly
- Pay close attention to your LinkedIn profile and optimize it to represent yourself well
- Make sure your portfolio is readily available and in the proper media