need advice getting pigeon holed

In light of Yo’s thoughts from the road blog I thought I would ask a question and that is what do you do when you find yourself in a rut or pigeon holed? Examples are when you are in corporate and want to go to consulting. Or you are in one aspect of ID and want to go to another.

With my personal experience I have found myself in corporate packaging and wanting to move on to consulting firm doing many different aspects of the business. The only problem with this is that I feel that I am lacking many of the key skills need for consulting. This scares me as I do not want to stay in corporate packaging my entire career. Examples of this are most of out packaging is paper so my plastics knowledge is rusty, we don’t use solidworks so that skill has almost gone away, and being in corporate most of our research is done by another group. I am not saying that I do not posses these skills I just do not feel that they are being built upon.

Do any of you have any suggestion on this? What is one to do when this happens? I do feel that there has to be other designers and maybe some new grads out there asking these same sort of questions.

I was all but certain that would be the situation I’d be in when I graduated. I knew with the area I’d be living in and my portfolio I had a pretty high chance of winding up in some kind of exhibit/point of purchase type job. I managed to luck out and get a full blown product development job, but I had to try and think of a backup plan so heres my suggestion:

If you see yourself falling behind in certain skills and they won’t let you use them at your job then find either some freelance work or personal projects to keep yourself fresh. If you want to learn Solidworks then think of something you’d have fun designing (maybe a car, cell phone, etc) and spend some of your spare time doing it. Or go back to projects you did in school and revisit them. Redo drawings, create new CAD models, brush up your presenation, etc. Then if you DO decide you want to jump ship then you can have additional portfolio pieces that not only show your technical skills, but also show you’re highly motivated (which is a good thing).

If you’re looking to switch jobs an employer isn’t going to ream you for not knowing the best wall thickness for an injection molded part, but if they see you can’t draw, don’t know CAD, and only have a portfolio of packaging and year old student work, they aren’t going to see enough work to justify you fitting into their business.

I am very curious about this issue as well. How much of the pigeonholing is due to a lack of foresight from the other side of the interviewing table? Is it that much of a stretch to trust that people are adaptable to new situations and demands?

I agree with josheyre. I am not say that we do not use CAD but being in the Packaging and POP field we typically do things differently. We use auto cad for mech we use 3DS Max for rendering and it can tend to get very graphic oriented. I do sketch quite often even when not need (at least those are the thoughts of the corporate cronies here sometimes). So I have the skills just not with the same programs and media that is used in consumer products.

I guess my question is hown do you get someone to beleive in you and teach you the knowledge you need when interviewing. Ex. Solidworks, Plastic Manufaturing (more than the basics), etc…

Good question, if you find out tell me too…

another idea is to try to organize your resume in such a way that it highlights your skills as opposed to your experiences. From what I hear its easier for the hiring manager to put together a picture of what you could be if you break your experiences down into individual skills.

good luck, I hear its a crappy time for all of us.

Solidworks is just a tool - and one that you could teach yourself (or refresh yourself) in a fairly short period of time. If you’re going in for a junior position I think most employers want to see that:

1: You’ve demonstrated you have some understanding of 3D (or any skillset) in that matter. Maybe the office uses Pro-E but you’re a whiz at Solidworks - it doesn’t take much to assume that you’d quickly be able to apply the concepts from one program to another.

When I got hired I had zero understanding of Alias and Pro E (the primary 3D tools we use). But I showed work done in Rhino and Maya and explained that even though I didn’t know Alias I felt confident in my ability to understand surface modelling.

2: You’ve put some extra leg work in to show that you’re motivated to learn and develop new skills, even if you don’t have them yet. This is where revisiting an old project or doing your own for-fun project comes in. When discussing those projects in an interview you can specifically point out that it was a project done to develop your product design skills. That wins a lot of points and says “I want to push myself and learn, and heres an example that shows I’m capable of doing that”.

Lots of people can say “I want to do something” but very few can say “I wanted to do something, so heres what I did”. It’s a lot easier for an employer to believe you when they can see what you’ve done, rather then what you say.

Plastics manufacturing stuff - thats really stuff you can learn on the job. Those are the kinds of things you learn about by talking to engineers, tooling vendors, etc. Trying to learn that outside of a job is impractical and unrealistic.

The biggest hurdle you’ll find is if you’re applying to a job that wants to fill an immediate position (IE a senior designer quit and they need someone to fill his shoes ASAP) then it becomes a problem. Those employers won’t want to give you the time to get settled in, get adjusted to new software, etc. But once you land a junior position in the field you want and get your foot in the door it’s much easier to move around.

Cliffnotes: Work hard and put in time off the books to improve skills and build portfolio pieces that you think will be needed to jump from one industry to another. After that it’s just a matter of finding a company that is the right fit for you and willing to give you time to learn whats necessary.

Thanks Cyberdemon your words are a lot of help. I do have some projects from school that I plan to revisit. I will post work when along the way.

I went through the exact same thing. Pretty much right out of school I went into softgoods and then 5 years just blew by. I decided to make a change because I saw that for someone that should be at a mid-senior level, I didn’t have your “typical” ID consultant type experiences and skillsets (modeling, presentation renderings, etc…) I saw that I was lacking and needed to play catchup and couldn’t really get what I needed where I was so I made a move and started my own “retraining”.
So I had to develop a portfolio showing skillsets but I didn’t really have a benchmark to measure myself against. So it was pretty much trial and error. Portfolio-interview to get feedback-redo portfolio and so on. I knew early interviews were going to be throwaways simply because I didn’t know what I needed to show. So I would go to get glimpses in studios, see what people told me was good or lacking, take the suggestions and learn what I needed to, apply, rinse, repeat.
The main thing I kept hearing was that they didn’t need a “softgoods guy”, etc…, that was my pigeon-hole. So in my portfolio, I scrapped all of my soft stuff and just focused on the new areas I wanted to get more experience in. I would just mention my soft experience at the interview but I made sure it wasn’t the focus. So for the areas I was trying to get more experience in, I was definitely junior level and pretty much had to start over again like I was fresh out of school albeit with more maturity and work qualities (from my actual experience). I had to accept the fact that in most consultanies eyes, I wasn’t at the level that I technically should’ve been with 5yrs experience already.
It was pretty much just the technical presentation skills since they were completely unnecessary with my previous experience, I went 5 years without doing a clean hand sketch and I photoshopped for about 1 week total.
So I played catchup and once I got my technical skills back up to par, I started getting more diverse offers and projects closer to my goals. But it definitely was an uphill battle trying to get acceptance in an area that wasn’t your specialty.

The key is to not focus on the hole you’re getting out of when presenting yourself, focus on where you want to be and make sure you get your skills and knowledgebase up to speed if you want to be seen at the same level (without having to start over as an automotive intern after 10 yrs of POP experience for example).

Good luck, and with all things, be persistent and don’t give up. In the end you’ll be on the same knowledgebase as your peers but with the additional POP expertise that others don’t have which can help you stand out.

If all else fails, get some buddies together and start your own firm. No one can pigeon hole you if you are the boss, just make sure you have experience or contacts in the fields you want to pursue as a group.

use zippy’s advice:

reinvent yourself.


Thanks for the reply. It sounds like you feel my pain. I have started revamping some of my school projects so i will post work when done.

here is the rub skin, employers are pretty risk adverse so they are going to hire you based on what they need and your experiance (you got lots of x, and they want x your stuck in x) however if you can swing it to do some other stuff on the side then do so. Many times your caught in a bind were your employer will frown on that, conflict of intrest etc so then you need to do the “probono dance”. That dance is doing stuff for free, in the public good/domain then slamming it on your resume and mentioning it in your next internal assessment. Its a game, a dance, and if you think you need to be creative in design it pales in compairsion to being creative in job land.

good advice.

i like to volunteer services for other projects with different departments. it helps break your routine and gives you new perspective. it will also help you with time management.

Guys thanks for the advice. I have started revisiting some of my school project and focusing on different aspects of the design process. Meaning that some of these are more research based, some are more focused on ideation, some on manufacturing and projects from my current work at my current job are focused more on branding, marketing, and conceptualization. I will post these sone for feed back but I think this approach will show many different skills and disciplines

:laughing: (jack nicklson voice) “YOU WANT THE TRUTH! YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!!” so beware mate’ we only sprekend de truth here about your “stuff” :laughing:


Trust me I know. Can’t wait to get your feedback.