Job-Hunting Tips for Designers

With the close of the 2011–2012 school year, Judy Nylen, longtime director of Pratt Institute’s Career and Professional Development Office, offers her top design job-hunting tips to graduating art, design and architecture students, and reflects on what’s changed for job seekers. Nylen, who will retire this year, has worked at Pratt for 40 years.

Nylen’s advice is especially relevant to New York City graduates given a recent report published by the Center for an Urban Future, which posited that New York City graduates twice as many students in design and architecture as any other U.S. city at 4,278, compared to the city with the second most graduates, Los Angeles, at 1,769, according to 2010 figures. “It’s also always been pretty easy to find a job in New York City, especially for creative people, but you have to network and talk to people,” Nylen says. “New York is so concentrated and neighborhood-defined that it is fairly easy to discover a concentration of the kind of firms you want to work with and get in touch with them. Friendly, self-confident folks never have a hard time finding work. New York is one big opportunity, with the exception of certain fields.”

Nylen’s Top Job-Hunting Tips

The first two tips are easy when you are in New York City since few cities have such easy access to “industry neighborhoods” and participants in the creative economy.

    1. Network. Meet the people in your profession casually or with informational interviews.
    2. Research. Know the companies you want to work for, their projects and their mission.
    3. Know Yourself. Be able to explain what makes you unique. Use your creativity to paint a picture of who you are and what makes you special. Speak in both words and images.
    4. Know Your Work. Become comfortable talking about what makes it special. Be able to refer to a website or blog or a really creative Twitter feed. Show off visually.
    5. Target. Focus all your application materials on the position or company at hand. Make sure you make it easy to find out how qualified you are for the position, both on your résumé and in your cover letter, and do not send completely generic forms of either. Focus your work samples to match yourself visually to your target.
Get 8 Social Media Tips for New Design School Grads.

Nylen on What’s Changed for Job Seekers Over the Last 40 Years

“Job Seekers Have Increased Responsibility. In many ways, the process, with the advent of the computer and then the internet, has gotten a lot easier but has also shifted more responsibility to the job seeker,” Nylen says. “Before the internet of recent years, information about a target employer was much harder to research; now, there is no excuse to not know a great deal about who you are interviewing with, and if you haven’t done the research it will definitely count against you.”

Job Seekers Have it Easier.
It’s probably a little bit easier now because of the internet, LinkedIn, and all other social media now in existence and still to come, which can make possible a level of self-promotion that was difficult and expensive in the past.

Job Seekers Have Less Time to Make an Impact.
In the same last 15 years, companies have increased their “productivity.” That frequently means they are doing more work with less people. That, coupled by impatient habits fostered by being a digital native, means that students need to target and make it very obvious how they are a fit for a position rather than expecting today’s harried employers to read between the lines. Visual folks have a distinct advantage because they can say a great deal with images.

Today you are lucky if an employer reads your entire résumé unless you summarize the contents at the top. Résumés get maybe a three-second glance initially. If they don’t find what they are looking for in that space of time, you are in the ‘maybe’ or ‘no’ pile. Only a few years ago, that time was at least three minutes, not seconds. Again, the visual impact of design makes all materials more easily read and absorbed.

Loyalty is Not Always Rewarded.
Students and alumni should be collecting skills sets and move on when they have acquired all they can. When one stops learning on the job, it’s time to move. The more a lifelong creative learner you are, the more you can remain that expert or leader. Employers no longer really reward loyalty (note all the changes in benefits for example) so employees have to pay attention to their own careers and actively pursue appropriate advancement (this is different for everyone).

I would still say, however, if you were lucky enough to have MY job for 40 years, you would never have stopped learning unless this wasn’t part of your personal profile. My job has required the acquisition of new skill sets and information constantly for all that time

COMMENT