Career advice

Hi everyone,

A bit of background on my situation:

I was at my first employer for 4 years right out of college. It was a very small, and very young company. Everyone got along really well and I learned a lot in those 4 years, but eventually came to a time where I felt that I wasn’t learning anymore, and decided to move on to another company. I gave my letter of resignation on a Monday, giving 4 weeks of notice (double what was required) and the boss accepted in calmly and we had a good conversation about my future movements and new employer.

Fast forward to Thursday, the calm attitude has gone downhill and I’m being angrily kicked out the door because my new employer is a ‘competitor’. I maintained my composure and didn’t retaliate as I didn’t want to burn the bridge. I understand the annoyance of a designer going to a true competing firm, but in this case they have completely different capabilities, work in different industries and the only real similarity between the two is that they both make things from the same material; timber.

Question 1: How important are employer references to design firms? I have potentially lost my only true professional reference. This isn’t a huge problem, as I’m sure that I could patch up the relationship now that the dust has settled, but just-in-case I can’t, I’d like to know if this matters so I can work around it.

So heres the real dilemma:

Before applying, I did a huge amount of research on what they did, who they do work for, who works for them and how long those people had been there ( Thanks LinkedIn). Their website had a page dedicated to their product design capabilities, and I was shown some cool projects when I went in for my interview. Everything checked out as OK.

I’ve been at the new company for 6 months now. I really like the people, but it turns out that the ‘Industrial Design’ daily routine is 10 hours of 100% CAD monkeying and making technical drawings with 2 others in a windowless room. When I say CAD-monkey, I mean it. I’m happy to get into CAD and create production information for something I’ve helped design, but I spend most of my time rebuilding customers 2D drawings into 3D models exactly as they are so that the CNC machinery can read the files. We don’t get to change anything, unless a slight modification is needed to suit the factory better.

On the rare occasion that something needing designing does come through, it’s expected that it can be production ready in a matter of minutes and hours, when in reality it would need days and weeks to research and design properly. The designers don’t have direct communication with the client for the brief, and everything is presented to customers as engineering drawings, rather than as sketches or renders as I am used to, meaning that highly-detailed CAD development is needed very early on.

The result of this is that we have virtually no time to brainstorm and conceptualise solutions, and end up running with whatever we can get manufacture ready with production drawings in the timeframe. The customer ends up content because it was fast and cheap, even if the design isn’t that great.

At this stage I’m trying to push the value of innovating with ‘real’ design by way of creating our own products in-house, and to communicate to the owners that it takes more time than they allow for a decent solution to be researched and developed. So far they don’t seem at all interested in any suggestions. I’ve been wanting to wait it out for at least a year to see if I can change anything, but right now am feeling extremely unhappy and creatively crushed.

I feel that at the moment I have 2 choices:

a) Wait it out, and hope that I can influence the company. The upside being that I have a steady income and proof of employment. The downside being that I might still be stuck here with no progress in another year, having had minimal exposure to any industrial design work for most of my time here. I practise at home after work every day, but I can already feel some of my sketching/brainstorming skills slipping. Would this make me a risk to a future employer in the design world?

b) Leave now, after 6 months, and work on my own projects/freelance if I can until I can find a job with actual design involved. The upside being that my skillset will develop to a higher quality and make me more useful to a real design firm. The downside being that I lose my income (which I can handle) and may present as a risk to a future employer (my biggest concern given that I might not have a reference from my first job). Would a 6-9 month blip on my resume hurt me given my solid 4 years previous to that? Would I tell it like it is, or gloss over it and make up another reason for leaving?

Am I just being too expectant? I have a couple of real-world products from my first employer in my portfolio, but I feel that too much time at my new employer would seriously derail my career if I were to stay for too long given the lack product development beyond rapid 3d modelling.

I’d really appreciate some opinions here.



Sounds like a rough situation. A bit of a bait and switch. Have you had the conversation with your boss that what you were shown in the interview is not what the job is and that you are thinking of leaving? It might be worth a conversation to feel out the situation. If you are met with a lot of resistance you know you should probably prepare to go. Anything less than 2 years is really a cause for question on a resume, so if it is that bad, sweating it out till the 12 month mark won’t help a ton. you will just have to explain it as a bad fit. It ok, that happened, just be aware someone might ask about it so you have an answer ready that is professional but explains the situation.

On references, the reference doesn’t have to be your boss, it could be a co worker, or a manager in another group that you worked with. Having references certainly helps, but people understand that in some cases the immediate supervisor is not the best person to go to for that reference.