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Job Hunting Advice for Designers in our Digital Age

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 03/28/2017 | 6 Minute Read

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At first, a job-hunt can seem kind of exciting. After all, it means new opportunities and a change in your life that will (hopefully) signify your growth as a designer. But that excitement quickly becomes overwhelming once you see all of your options for job searching sites and consider just how easy it is for anyone with an internet connection to apply to your dream job. Gone are the days when employers had a tiny stack of applicants who saw a position posting in the newspaper—in our digital age, job-hunting has completely transformed. If you’re looking for ways to shine in the eyes of an employer, here are three things you should be doing to stand out.

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Use Digital to Your Advantage

You already know it, but it’s worth the reminder: anyone who scans through your resume is going to Google you, guaranteed. At a time when Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram were still gaining popularity, some folks didn’t really consider this until it was too late. Eventually people started to realize that, hey, maybe it’s not the best idea to post all those wild bachelorette party or keg stand pics on your social media. But besides making sure you don’t update with anything you wouldn’t want a potential employer or client to know about you, you can turn the tables and use digital elements to work in your favor.

“Today, in the digital era, you have the chance to be recognized on Instagram, Behance or The Dieline. You can become a self promoter by publishing and creating your own online presence through your media channels,” Tosh Hall, Global Executive Creative Director at Jones Knowles Ritchie, explained. And these opportunities to showcase your talents and connect on various platforms do matter to potential employers. “As an agency we are fairly modern in our recruitment methods,” he continued. “Just the other day our Director of Brand had an interview with someone that tweeted the company. Today you can use many different channels to reach out.”Hall added, “Resumes aren't relevant to me at all. I want to see work, motion or video content and expect to see a side of designers personalities.” So having an online portfolio allows those who are curious about your work to learn more about you and what you’ve done in the past. Consider including details on project pages that give them a better understanding of your process, the particular challenges you’ve faced with past assignments, and what solutions you can bring to the table. You can also rethink the traditional, boring resume and cover letter. A short video introduction, clickable links in your resume, or even a cover letter website—these can all help your application stand out.

And for social media? Use it for what it was intended: to be social. Since having a connection (even if it’s a few times removed) vouch for you, it can never hurt to let others know that you’re looking for work. If you’re in a situation where you have to keep it on the downlow, then take your portfolio a step further and share your work on your social networks. This makes you look even more professional and builds you up as an authority in the industry.

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Do the Work You Want to be Doing

While every assignment may not be your ideal design project, you can still pursue the work you’d really like to be doing by, well, doing it. If you’re hoping to design more local coffee shops, food brands, whiskey bottles, or any other type of industry or style, then you don’t have to wait until paid work comes along to make it a reality. A self-initiated project can enhance your portfolio and help get you noticed for that line of work.

PJ Engel wanted to explore more design styles and grow as a designer through working on more beer designs. Instead of hoping for the brief to fall into his lap, he took it upon himself to resurrect old breweries with new branding and packaging. He explained, “I was seeing design careers that were made from these type of projects. Jessica Hische, Lauren Hom, Andy J. Miller, Bob Ewing, Ryan Hamrick to name a few. If you look through their [Instagram] feed, you will see some hiccups or mistakes. But in the end, they are now doing what they love.”

Of course, balancing paid work with a passion project can be tricky. Engel’s advice? “You have to make time,” he advised. “For me it means less of my free time is spent on other things. I get up early and do it everyday. Also, having a love for design and obsession for a side project helps. My client work doesn't suffer because that still demands a certain block of time each day, which I don't mess with. If you want the end result bad enough you'll make it happen.”

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Remember to Make it Personal

It’s easy to forget that employers really, truly want to find the right person for the job. In fact, they want you to be the right person for the job. And sure, your work alone may convince them. However, when it’s thrown into the mix of the hundreds (thousands?) of other applicants that also submit resumes with the mere click of a mouse, you risk getting overlooked for a position that you might have actually been incredibly well-suited for. So to stand out in a digital world, you need to get personal.

Instead of sending out mass applications to every agency posting on Indeed, take a little time to get to know the ones you’d genuinely like to work for so you can craft up something impressive to send them. A thorough knowledge of past clients is good; a deep understanding of what drives their design work is better. “Everything from your resume to your cover letter should be customized for the role and the company in which you’re applying for and to show your creativity and personality,” explained Eunice Kim, Director, Culture & Talent at Kaleidoscope. “I love when the cover letter speaks to what we’re looking for and references our company, our past clients, specifics in the job posting, and proves that they’ve taken the time to do their research.”

Kim also advised job-seekers to strive to make a personal connection. Sending in a hard copy of your cover letter and resume, a note to the HR Director on LinkedIn, or connections with current employees—those can really boost your chances of getting your resume higher in the stack.

And don’t forget to close the deal. “Follow-up is so critical to closing any deal, especially a job interview,” Kim added. So send a thank you card—yes, really—or at least an email follow-up. “In this day and age, a handwritten note is unnecessary but it does get noticed; especially to high-level C-Suites and Executives.”

We get it: job-hunting is exhausting and save for the glimmer of excitement when you find something intriguing, it’s not the most fun thing you’ll do in a day. It entails a lot of effort that is not guaranteed to ever come to fruition, not to mention a hefty amount of rejection. But being in a creative industry means that you can, in fact, get a little creative with your job search and break some of those old rules—while also making quite an impression with small, more human touches.

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