Design Agency Job Hunting Tips

Design Agency Job Hunting Tips

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“It’s not a pink slip, it’s a blank page.”

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This is the tag line of ‘Lemonade‘, a short film that I saw earlier this year about 16 advertising professionals who lost their jobs after the 2008 recession and then ‘found their calling’. Although I didn’t technically get a pink slip, I certainly got a blank page after parting ways with my previous employer.

I was left with 2 weeks to find a new job before being booted back to Australia due to Visa restrictions. I considered my options very carefully and finally decided to stay in NYC as my time was not done here, plus I had a girlfriend here. I set my goal; I had to find a job within 2 weeks.

Below I’ve outlined what I did for the first two weeks and some job hunting tips I learned along the way.

First week without a job (July 13 – July 19)

  • Researched my Visa options so I could stay in the USA. Saw an immigration attorney.
  • Blogged, Tweeted and Facebooked about my situation and then replied to the hundreds of messages of support. HUGE, HUGE thank you! Seriously.
  • Wrote & designed my CV. Updated my LinkedIn profile.
  • Put together an up-to-date private portfolio. I unfortunately can’t show this publicly due to NDAs.
  • Researched agencies that I would like to work for.
  • Prowled job boards for open positions.
  • Seriously stressed out.

Second week without a job (July 19 – 23)

  • Wrote cover letters, emailed my CV & portfolio to specific agencies.
  • Continued researching, prowling job boards & agencies.
  • Worked on my personal freelance projects.
  • Attended 5 interviews for 3 separate companies.
  • Looked for a new apartment to move into with my girlfriend. (Coincidentally, my lease was also up the same time I lost my job.)

Although this doesn’t look like much when listed in dot points, anyone who has tried looking for a job, knows it is a full time job. Add that in with looking for a new apartment and needless to say, things got pretty hectic. Though this craziness was not necessarily a bad thing, as I seriously learned a lot during this time, stuff I didn’t know when I wrote these articles:

Anyway, these are some of the new things I’ve learned in the past few weeks…

Things I’ve Learned

Hot Air Balloons

Your job is never secure

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote an article comparing freelance life vs agency life and in it I stated that one of the benefits of agency life was the steady income, however, what I failed to mention was the false sense of security that you get by having that job. You can lose your job at any time. This time around I was lucky enough to have my freelance work & savings to fall back on, but yeah be prepared & have back up.

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Always keep your CV + portfolio up to date

I hadn’t updated my CV for a number of years which left me scrambling at the last minute to put everything together. I wish I had kept my CV and LinkedIn profile up-to-date as it would have saved me a few valuable days. Same goes with my private portfolio. I also need to listen to my own advice and refresh my public portfolio too.

Designers with digital-know-how are in more demand

Agencies receive hundreds of CV’s and portfolios a week. Many of them from extremely talented designers with beautiful, amazing portfolios. Although amazing, many of them lack knowledge in the areas of digital and interactive design. By this, I mean the knowledge of web design, mobile design and how people interactive with them using different platforms and technologies.

If you know to create custom websites from scratch, know how to work from wire frames, know the principles of user experience, can develop unique brand strategies and a have sound knowledge of existing & emerging web / mobile technologies, then you’re definitely going to be more employable than a designer with a pretty portfolio. Just ask any Creative Director.

Know what job position you are looking for

I had no idea what type of ‘graphic designer’ I was… seriously. ‘Graphic designer’ is such a vague term and agencies use a whole different vocabulary than what freelancers would be used to, and even then, there is no standard term for each position. Was I an interactive designer, a visual designer, a senior designer, a web designer, a creative director, a social media strategist? I soon found out that I was all of these things, it just depended on the agency.

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Do the research to find out what each job title means within each company and even if you don’t think you have all listed qualifications, still apply… just make sure it’s for the right position.

Contact agencies without open positions

Agencies who have job vacancies listed on their website literally get hundreds of applicants. This is time consuming for them to go through and more often than not, you won’t hear back from them for at least a few weeks, if at all. On a three week deadline this isn’t ideal. A lot of the places I got interviews & call backs were actually from places that weren’t advertising.

Jobs are plentiful but so are candidates.

There are many job boards out there, however there are also many candidates who apply for these jobs and like stated above, this makes the hiring process time consuming. Instead, I would recommend to find the agencies you would like to work for and then aim your target at them. It worked better for me anyway.

Contact HR Directors directly

Rather than applying to the career pages of agency websites I also found that if you contacted the Creative Recruiter / HR Director of agencies, they would be more likely to respond. Even more so if you knew someone in the company or knew a friend that knew someone in the company. Bridging that connection between 1st, 2nd or 3rd tier relationships is a huge help and the best way to do that is via looking up company profiles on LinkedIn or by asking your already established network.

Update: I also want to take this time to send a HUGE thank you out to the talented designer & developer Jerlyn Thomas for her continued efforts in supporting a fellow unemployed designer, even while on the search herself!

A Wonderful New Job + Apartment

The Wonder Factory

With all this said, I am pleased to announce that I did find a job after 2 weeks and am now employed at The Wonder Factory as a permanent freelance designer, which may lead to a full time position if everything works out. At TWF I am continuing to work with Fortune 100 brands, namely brands under Time Inc. (Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, etc.) Most of the work will be visual design, UX & strategy for the web, iPad and mobile platforms. Also, be sure to check out TWF’s wonderful office space, shown above.

On a similar note, I also just signed a lease for a new apartment in Midtown, NYC where I will be moving in with my girlfriend of 2 months. A crazy move, but why not?

A new chapter begins.

79 thoughts on “Design Agency Job Hunting Tips”

  1. Wow, I’m happy to hear that it all worked out well. You know, the thing that I really liked about your post was the fact that you weren’t afraid to admit your problem…it is DEFINITELY going too help someone else in a similar situation. Maybe not the exact steps, but the fact that you got through it by devising a plan and implementing the plan. My favourite thing to tell job hunters is that’ the amount of energy you put into finding a job WILL pay off and is sometimes directly proportionate to the type of job you will get’. Life works itself out in crazy ways. PS. Good Luck with the living situation.

  2. Way to go bruv, way to go!! I’m sure it has never crossed anybody’s mind the thought that there are graphic designers in Africa amidst all the poverty and chaos. Yet posts like yours inspire me greatly, as an African (Ghanaian), to keep pushing through all the nights spent in garages, couches of friends’ apartments and literally on the streets, with my Mac laptop strapped firmly on my back. In short, you inspired a homeless Graphic Designer like me. I’m grateful for your experience.

  3. Thanks for all the tips Jacob.

    This will be a great resource for me, since I have chosen to leave the freelance world.

  4. Jacob,

    Great post and congrats on your new position! I just wanted to leave you a quick note from how I came across your site and even though you found a position to let you know your tactics have worked well for you. I actually came across your blog in a number of ways – through postings, your online portfolio and LinkedIn. I was searching for candidates for a number of PR and design positions in the NYC area and your name kept popping up. I agree researching who you want to work for and targeting them specifically is something I advise candidates who are looking for positions. In addition applying direct to openings is advised but something most overlooked is your online profile.

    Best wishes on your continued success and I look forward to more posts from you!

  5. Jacob,

    Congrats on the new job. Glad to see it all worked out for you and you are able to stay here in the states.

    Thanks for the tips. They can come in very handy.


  6. Congrats on your new position, Jacob. As one who frequents graphic design blogs, I must say that I am hard pressed to find one that rivals your site. The information in this article is, as always, very good. I would, however, add that follow up is especially important as well. I’m glad that we get to keep you in the states and look forward to seeing your work in the media. Best wishes!

  7. Hey Jacob, many many congrats for your new job!
    Thanks a lot for sharing this critical information . I am a fresher with graduation degree and now looking for a job. After reading these points you have really motivated me.
    As you ALWAYS do!!
    Best luck for future…

  8. Jacob,

    I apologize for posting 2 comments in one day and hope you do not mind this post but you have a popular blog post and a number of people just contacted me regarding what openings we have available. Right now (8/4/10) I only have a freelance (leading to perm in 2011) visual design with wireframe experience and strong portfolio, preferably 5+ years in NY area. For other positions please feel free to send me a LinkedIn request in case we have something that meets your needs in the near future. My email address to connect is [email protected]

  9. I don’t know what it’s like for anyone else but when I was job hunting, I made a point of ringing design agencies at 10am on Tuesdays. Don’t ask me why but I figured people were over the ‘Monday’ lag and welcomed the enquiry more. That would be one of my tips for designers looking for a job. Don’t be afraid to pick up that phone and speak to Creative Directors in person before emailing over your portfolio – you will stick in their mind more.

    Good luck on the new job Jacob – keep up your fabulous blog!

  10. Leo,
    I’ve already received great feedback on Twitter & Facebook re the tips so glad it has helped. And you are right, the amount of effort you put in will pay off. Reminds me of one of my favourite quotes “You only get out, what you put in.” Thanks for the luck!

    Wonderful you might say! Good luck with your portfolio updates!

    Many do have it tougher than others so I commend you for sticking at it! Good luck & plan ahead!

    Not ‘hell’ but it was certainly stressful & a great learning experience. As for the private portfolio, this is a PDF file put together of work I have done for much bigger brands such as Disney. They don’t allow you to show the work in your public portfolio due to Non Disclosure Agreements, hence a private portfolio that can be shown to Creative Directors, etc.

    Glad to see that the name kept popping up… wonder how that works on LinkedIn? Maybe through the ‘People You Know’ section? And like you said, your online profile is also very important.

    Thanks for the heads up re the freelance job. I’ve also added you on LinkedIn. Thanks again.

    That’s great that you’re thinking down to that detail about times like that. I was just recently reading an entrepreneurial book and this guy only works on Tues, Wed & Thurs because of that same reason! Monday is lag time and Friday is party time.

    Oh, how could I forget! <3

    I think having a positive attitude to everything you do is a huge start to get off the ground. I'll be writing for a long time to come so stay a fan & thanks for the support!

  11. I’m glad everything worked out for you!

    I was in a similar situation earlier this year. I didn’t have the time restrictions of a visa expiring, but money was tight to begin with, so finding a job quickly was of the essence.

    The things I learned were very similar to what you learned:
    – Digital Designers are premium, but the ability to write code is priceless
    – Some local economies are booming, others aren’t. Location makes a huge difference.
    – Once you have a solid (not perfect) resumé and pdf portfolio send it to as many people as you can.
    – Your network, social and otherwise, is the most important thing you can rely on.
    – Don’t be afraid to apply to jobs you might not fit into 100%. They will surprise you.
    – Contact companies without open positions, but don’t waste too much time here. Ask to meet, not for an interview.
    – Be prepared to talk money.

    I was hired exactly 7 days from what I lost my previous job with an increase in salary.

    Not having a job was more of a job than having a job.


  12. Jacob:
    Glad you landed on your feet, and so quickly. And thanks for posting updates for us to follow; they are educational, inspiring, and just a good read. Congrats again, a pint will be raised in honor!

  13. I’m haapy for you and I think that there’s a guy who deserves to succeed is you for your creativity and for your work.

    Good luck with that change.

  14. I’ve been wondering how you’ve been doing – how fabulous to have scored a gig in such a short time. I was literally taking notes during this post above and will now spend tomorrow sorting out my private portfolio as well as my public one. An apartment in Midtown, NYC ?(ha ha, goodbye Brooklyn) Nice. Very, very nice.

    Best of luck with the new position, I’m sure it will work itself into something permanent.

  15. Those two weeks must have felt like hell. But it’s really amazing how you nailed a job in two weeks, which I think a really short period of time. Congrats!

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I, as an upcoming designer, have a lot to learn. Insights from a talented and experienced designer like you are motivating and handy. Up until now, a private portfolio isn’t somethig I knew about. Maybe you can share points on that one?

    Again, congrats! Best of luck to you and the rest of the chapter, man!

  16. Congats! Isn’t Wonder Factory the place with the secret bookcase entrance?
    I want to work there!
    Good luck with everything.

  17. Hey! Congratulations! You must have gone through really tough time, and I’m so glad you worked things out in a short term. Great effort paid off. 🙂
    Good luck with your new job!

  18. “Graphic designer’ is such a vague term”

    I’m 24 and been working for a small publishing company and this is exactly what I’ve come to notice. My schooling covered mostly print graphics, and touched on digital. Unfortunately thats hurting me now. I am noticing in my search for a job that each company has their own idea of what it believes a graphic designer entails.

    Thanks for this info, this is very helpful.

  19. Congrats Jacob!
    Glad to hear it is all worked out for you.
    A crazy move to cohabitate after two monhts? Maybe, but if you’re good together, why wait?! I’d do it, too!
    Good luck with everything!

  20. You are a very perseverant person. I like your attitude. It’s great that you have this type of positive approach. Hope you will write more. I am one of your most passionate readers. Thanks.

  21. Once again Jacob, you make me feel like I’m doing nothing with my life by getting a dream job two weeks after losing one. Just goes to show you that having friends in different areas really helps, good luck! When do we see a pic of the new lady?:) JK

  22. Glad that it worked out for you Jacob and sharing your experience with the rest of us. I think I speak for many of us when I say we were shocked about your departure from your previous company. As a former “visa employee” myself, I certainly can relate to your situation. But as the saying goes one man’s loss is another man’s gain. Good luck in the future and keep us updated on your work at the new place.

  23. Congrats, Jacob. I’ve been following your blog for about a year and you’re a true inspiration.

    My husband and I were living together after 2 months. Engaged at 4, and married after 8 months together. It’s been 11+ and we’re still madly in love.

    Hopefully my story will inspire you. 🙂

    Best of luck!

  24. Concerning the graphic designer areas, there is even a position at my company entitled “International Account Manager-Life Sciences.” It’s what normal people would call a Creative Director, if you read the description.

    I think a lot of companies give specialty names to positions to either A) make their place seem more special to work for, or B) to weed out the truly capable.

    Either way, congrats Jake! Been praying for you, buddy!

  25. Jacob, I’m so happy for you! CONGRATS!! I was wondering how things were going and was elated to find this entry in my google reader. Nice job. You are right on when you say job hunting is a full time position, it really is! I finally found a part time job and coming on that was even difficult. Thanks for posting this, I wish I read some of these articles 10 months ago when I was finishing school.

  26. Excellento! Perfecto!
    Come on Jack, I am talking about your new job not you, kidding huh.
    I wish you Good Luck with your new job and fun at new living place with your girlfriend 😛

  27. Congrats on finally finding your job and sharing this post. Nice tips to look out for as currently I am looking for freelance jobs myself too.

  28. Congratulations Jacob,
    to be honest I wasn’t worried about you finding a job in 2 weeks you are a good Designer and good Designers are always employable no matter what the economic climate is like.
    Great article by the way it just reminded me that I have to update my Linkedin profile and my private portfolio and keep it updated in the future. Once again Congratulations.

    Best Regards
    Roland Martial

  29. Congrats! I’m really happy for you!

    I’m so glad you have this blog, which I like to defer to; the topics have helped me in my own freelancing career. Although a small career it is, it allows me to do what I love and be a stay at home mom which is my 1st love in life. Keep up the great work…wishing you the best!

  30. Jacob, I’m happy to know that this is a new chapter for you, and that you didn’t give up!
    One thing I learned in my last job as an employer (Oct. 2009) is that it is better to “walk with my own legs”.

    Since I started to “seriously” freelance as a Plan A with no Plan B, I never learned so much as an employer as now, freelancing.

    About the digital knowledge, you’re compeltely right. Even in south america that’s a living true. Since November it was necessary to me to completely dip into digital world and development, to better understand this context.

    Now I’m designing websites from scratch, starting to get familiarized with other development resources and improving my network.

    Good luck with this new chapter! By the way, two months ago I released a temporally single page to show some works, feel free to visit it and if there’s anything that I could do to help you, like sharing some useful links about hands-on-coding, I’ll be at your disposal.

    It would be nice to add you to my LinkedIN network too:

    Thanks, best regards.

  31. Brilliant! Congratulations on your new job, new girlfriend, and new flat!
    These tips come really handy as I’m moving to the U.S. in a couple of weeks.

    Thanks for sharing

  32. Thank you all for your support & congratulations…

    Thank you Mike, both for your tips and support!

    The ability to write code is a definitely a bonus in smaller shops however I think in larger shops, they hire specialists for each job.

    I hadn’t even considered location, so that’s another very valid point!

    Congrats on finding your new job in just 7 days!

    Unit B,
    Cheers to that!

    Check out the other pics, quite an office I’ll say!

    You got it! And a room called ‘Hell’.

    Every job is certainly going involve different roles, I can’t imagine any two jobs being the same!

    Yeah, 2 months is pretty crazy but we have known each other for a long time~!

    Don’t feel that way, keep at it!

    We’ll see how our pattern goes, your story is great! Cheers!

    Wow, what a title. I’d hate to see that on a business card! Thanks for the prayers!

    Sorry, about the timing but I guess you can use it in the future. Congrats on your part time job!

    Great story and glad you went in the digital direction, it’s definitely on the boom. I’ve added you to LinkedIn. Thanks!

  33. Congratulations Jacob! I knew you would find something. 😀 You have given many unemployed designers some great tips. Fantastic post!

  34. Don’t forget to have a personality! In my job search I have sent out dozens and dozens of cover letters, emails, and resumes. It becomes pretty easy to sound like a robot when you are cold contacting potential employers.

    Don’t be afraid to share a little humor, passion, or personality in opening e-mails. If you get bored writing them just think about how bored the person reading them is going to be! I have gotten compliments in interviews when I contacted the person with an off the wall or even goofy e-mail.

  35. Awesome!!!! I like the style you have, You had a problem and you fight until the end but before you could get what you were looking for. And the best you just share it for others designers to get some learning.

    Congrats Jacob for the new job and good luck.

  36. Wow! Congrats Jacob! The Wonder Factory seems like a great place to work in! I saw it being recently featured on Travel and Living on ‘The Most Extraordinary/best workplaces’ or something like that. I’m so glad for you! Wish you all the best for your new beginnings! 🙂

  37. A truly inspiring and well written post. It must have been an utter nightmare to have that much pressure to find a job in that amount of time. Well done!

  38. Wow that’s intense. Glad to hear it worked out for you. If they booted you back to AUS, I’m sure you would have made your way back there in a few weeks anyway!

    Would love to catch up next time you have free time in SYD! Facebook?

  39. you have done great job in your post and i also want to say Do NOT rely on your resume. While it needs to be current and list all of your accomplishments, do not rely on it to land your job — it won’t! Companies don’t hire resumes they hire people that can help move the company forward. A resume will not get you a job!Thanks for share the nice tips.

  40. JC, I’ve always visited your site and blogs for valuable information. You have a positive attitude and you continuously are trying to help other artists with valuable information. I am currently in a similar situation in central New York and you have boosted my positivity on success of the almighty hunt! Thank you for a job well done and congratulations on the success.

  41. Jacob,

    Thank you so much for writing this! I recently received my blank page and decided it was the perfect opportunity for me to leave Providence and look for work and a new place in NYC. I’ve been a little overwhelmed by the to-do list, but your optimism and strategy renewed my energy. Congrats on the new gig and the new pad!

  42. Hey its nice that things worked out for you. I’m so jealous you work at the wonder factory, but like a good jealousy, nothing bad, lol. 😉

    No I don’t think you’re crazy for moving in with your gf, whatever works for you. It sounds like you really like NYC, I wish you the best.

  43. “I had no idea what type of ‘graphic designer’ I was… seriously.”

    Ha ha ha, I definitely felt that one when I moved to London. In Australia we wear many hats so it is strange to be asked to define a specialty within graphic or web design.

    Glad you decided to stay in NYC, it’s an amazing city for creative people!

  44. What a great post, and because you actually put these methods into practice to get your self a job, it makes the advice genuine and coupled with your journey and experience ever more real for the reader.

    Good Luck!

  45. i can totally relate to your situation. I’m an international student and also have the visa issue as well. So I need to find a job within a time limit. I just recently graduated from college from Seattle, but to fulfill my personal dream to experience living in NYC and also wanting to find a job here, I’ve decided to just pack up my things and moved here from the west coast. The job market has been rough, so far nothing has been coming back, but seeing your post, it’s been quite encouraging 😉 good to know that you found one in the end! best wishes to you!

  46. Hi Jacob,

    Having just read this:
    “I set my goal; I had to find a job within 2 weeks.”
    I’ve immediately written to you to say that this is exactly what I have to deal with. I haven’t even read the rest of the article as yet.

    Having moved to Australia with my family and we have no more than $500 between the 3 of us and I’m beating the streets banging my head against the Design egos here. It has been a heart breaking experience. Being self employed for 10 years, I haven’t even considered having to need a CV… Boy what a wake up call from hell I’m feeling…

    I look forward to reading the rest of your article now. Cheers

  47. Thanks, this has really inspired me. I’m not jobless, just tired of my existing role and eager to move on.

    Cheers again


  48. Hey! I found your article really useful. I have a job right now as a FT Freelance graphic designer. It’s a good job for now but not much growth and creative freedom :-/ How did you go about actually finding those design agencies that you wanted to apply for? And, what was the most effect form of getting in contact with them…phone, email, snail mail?


    • Rebecca,
      There are hundreds out there, you can find them from referrals, agency lists (see Google / Twitter) and so fourth. Referrals are the best way, recruiters and contacting them yourself. Gluck!

  49. It’s a great post and indeed inspiring. I’ve been looking for a new job for awhile now, didn’t get lucky. It’s a bit stressful and discouraging.. Reading your post gave me new insights.. Thanks again and congratulations on your job!

    • I have bought & tried residential & commercial courses. I have bought & sold residential and I am still going through my commercial course.It will finish in 3 weeks.

  50. This was awesome, and just what I needed to read.

    I have just finished college and am in a similar situation deadline wise. Finding the correct job, moving, and finding a new place are difficult things to juggle. This gave me a little more hope!

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