Recent Grad In Need of Advice

Hi Everyone,

I’m sorry that this post is long– thank you in advance for taking the time to read it!

I graduated with an Industrial Design degree this past May and I’m feeling really stuck. I worked my ass off in school– I have a pretty solid portfolio (as far as I can tell), and have a ton of internship / work experience. I want to work in industrial design, but I can’t find a job for the life of me.

I’ve applied to what feels like a million jobs all over the country– most of these ‘applications’ have been cold call emails, because there really aren’t many postings for junior designers out there right now. I’m not picky about where I want to work– I just want to be an industrial designer. I’ve mostly not gotten any responses, and the responses that I have gotten are almost always people saying “sorry, your work is nice, but we just don’t have the budget to hire right now.” I’m careful about writing emails and cover letters that are thoughtful and genuine– I put a lot of time into the job search and job application process.

I’m currently freelancing for someone who can’t pay me much money and who is having me do more marketing / graphic design work. I’m starting to get worried that industrial design is dying off as a field, and that I’ll never be able to find a job in it. I want to be an industrial designer more than anything, but it’s starting to feel like pursuing ID is a waste of my time– what if I spend years of my life interning and desperately applying to jobs, only to end up having to switch to another field anyways?

I also have a bit of experience in UX, and I’ve been getting interviews with tech companies and UX firms without much of a problem. UX isn’t what I want to do with my career, but it’s starting to feel like I don’t have much of a choice. These companies are offering good money and stable, full time employment, and it feels irrational to turn those opportunities down in the pursuit of a seemingly ‘dying field’ where I might never be able to find employment anyways.

I feel really stressed and worried about this whole situation. I can’t decide what I should do. I want to be an industrial designer more than anything, but I just don’t know if it’s a practical or feasible dream anymore. I’m also a woman, which I feel like potentially makes things more difficult– I feel like a lot of male designers give preference to hiring male interns / junior designers who they see as a “younger version of them”.

If anyone has been in a similar situation and has any insight or advice to offer, I’d really appreciate it. Thanks in advance for your time and advice.

I totally understand how you feel. To give you some perspective, it took me 6 months to land my first full time job… in 1998. The field isn’t dying, you just need to be patient. Think of it like this, what are the chances of the perfect job opening up in the last 3 months? Companies have budgets, and workloads, and all kinds of things.

My advice, if you want to do ID, keep freelancing and working on your portfolio. Once you go down the UX path it is almost impossible to move back out of it. I know someone who did that and it took him years of busting his butt on night projects to prove that he wasn’t one of the many people who go to the UX side because they don’t have core skills to go into ID (a common perception in the ID world, and not totally unfounded).

In the 6 months that I was trying to get a job, I had 3 total crap freelance projects (of course they were crap, they were hiring a kid right out of school with no experience, with no other design staff, and they thought that was a good idea!). I almost took a job at Circuit City but quiet before my first shift (for those who don’t remember it was like Best Buy, but you had to wear a blazer). And I redid my portfolio 5 times in 6 months, completely. Finally it worked out and I started to get offers in November. So I graduated in May and started my first day of work January 3rd.

Hang in there, keep working hard, and post your portfolio. It is hard to give advice without seeing your work. There might be something in your portfolio the group here could help you with in terms of feedback and direction.

I can also absolutely sympathize with your situation and also fell into a hole after my graduation.
From what I have have gathered, this is quite normal.

I was in a similar situation to yours and Michael’s. I took 9 months out after graduation, moved into my parents empty summer house in the Winter in the middle of nowhere to save money.
There I just worked on the portfolio and my skillset and applied to anything that seemed remotely like a decent opportunity. Very similar to you.
After 9 months, it paid off and I landed an internship at one of the top ID agencies and that propelled my career.

This might be a controversial view point but the fact that you are female might very well work in your favor. Many design teams (ours included) are looking specifically for female Industrial Designer for diversity reasons.
I have also been told in interviews a few years back that if I were a woman, I could just start tomorrow and name my price.
So I actually don’t believe that your gender should be a disadvantage.
It might feel a bit funny to ask male designers for mentorship and make those connections but honestly, you might just have to get over that and just make sure the the relationship stays professional.
I haven’t found it strange when I was approached by female designers for advice and I am certain, neither would anybody I work with.

I’d second Micheal’s caution to enter a field you are not passionate about. Especially something like UX, where you do have to really immerse yourself in the job and the subject matter.

Start off by posting your portfolio here and start to get some advice. It’ll definitely help you to get some exposure and advice and to get out of your own head a little bit. My advice would be to keep going.
It does pay off to keep with it. I know it doesn’t seem that way when you are in the thick of it and you start to wonder if it will ever happen but it will, given commitment, tenacity and time.

It took me 17 months to get a “real” job out of school.

During that 17 months, I freelanced 15-20 projects ( some concept sketches here, foam mock-up model there) for a local 1-person ID firm. He paid me $15/hour. I worked restoring vintage cars. That was 40 hours/week at $8/hour. But I got to drive rich-guy cars. I worked landscaping jobs, it put me through college so I had the experience to do everything. That was self-employed and I charged about $25/hour. And finally I designed and fabricated studio furniture and sold it at shows, commissions and I was ripped-off by a very prominent gallery in NYC. Again, self-employed and I shot for $50/hour, although that was not possible through a gallery, reputable or not.

Near the end of that 17 months I was pretty much done looking for a “real” ID job and was ready to go all in on the furniture thing. I built my business plan, lined up a show schedule, was ready to interview several galleries and was going to market the hell out of myself for commissions. I really had given up on a “real” ID job. But I decided to send a resume/portfolio to a firm in Chicago because my S.O. lived there. As a matter of fact, I had interviewed with them 14/15 months prior, just right out of school. I added the work I had done in those months into the portfolio. The freelance ID, furniture and even the landscaping and car restoration. They had me in for an interview and I literally started work for them that day. At midnight, I drove the 4-hour round trip to back a bag to work the rest of the week, they had presentation due that Friday. What most impressed the boss was the additional work I did in those months when a didn’t have a “real” ID job. I applied skills needed for the “real” job in my other jobs.

Now I’m old and I mostly tell designers and engineers what to do. But occasionally I sneak into the shop and make my ideas real. :slight_smile:

While I spent ~8 years in ID before transitioning (back) to UX (with a bit of ID/Hardware) I agree focus with what you are passionate about.

Getting into ID is as much about who you know as what you know. You need to have a good portfolio, that is table stakes. So while you’re not working work on improving your portfolio every week. This will show that you are determined to get in the business and also that you are passionate about improving yourself and what you do, and that story sells itself very easily to an employer.

Second, make investments in yourself. The IDSA national conference is next week and it’s going to be full of designers and managers looking for talented people to hire. Beg borrow or steal to get yourself to that conference with a printed portfolio, a stack of resumes and business cards. Get yourself into the portfolio reviews and you will leave with at least one of the following:

-Honest feedback on how to improve your portfolio
-Contacts who may be looking for employees or interns now or in the near future
-Actual job interviews to line up

I know travel and expenses can be viewed as a luxury, but I’ve been the guy at those tables desperately looking for a qualified Jr. Designer, and the good ones will get scooped up quick. You can save costs if you still have your student ID, turn it into a road trip instead of flying, and stay at a cheap hotel or AirBNB.

Also don’t be afraid to ask your college professors for contacts that might be interested in a candidate like yourself. I landed my first job because of a contact I got from a professor and it turned into a great 9 year gig.

Good advice all around. 4 pretty seasoned people just dropped some good direction on you. Had you posted your portfolio any one of us could have recommended you for a position or even hired you. I highly recommend getting that portfolio link in here.

I’ve been hiring (and sometimes firing) designers for the past 11 years when I first became a director. I can tell you that it is always hard to hire people. On average it takes me 4-8 months of searching to find someone who is skilled, has the intellectual horsepower, and will mesh with the existing team. As Mike pointed out, definitely take advantage of the opportunities to network both in person and virtually.

It’s been a while, but I though I would chime in…:slight_smile:

I totally understand your struggles as well. It took me over 8 months in 2002 to find my first gig. And even that gig was a contracting position. There has been a lot of great advice up here that I will not repeat. I ended up doing over a year of short contract positions, before landing my first full time gig.

There are a few things that I always look for when hiring new talent, with seasoned and entry level.

First is do you have the fundamental skills? Can you sketch, think through a problem, convey an idea, etc… This sounds obvious, but what I am finding more and more is that a lot of new grads don’t understand the difference between drawing and sketching. I am happy to hire someone that may not have “hot” sketching skills because they can throw down an idea and build upon it. This is super important in our field.

Second, do you have a point of view. What makes you tick? What will you bring to my team? These are 3 questions I always ask in some way shape or form in an interview. Just because you are an entry level candidate you still should have a point of view on design, you ambitions, and why you want to work for my company. Whether that is you want to influence and change peoples lives, design shoes to enhance the athlete, or elevate a brand experience through structural packaging, these are beginnings of a point of view. Take the time to sit down, craft it, and live by it. It should be reflected in your portfolio and emails you are sending to employees.

Last and kind of related to the above, is why should you be hired. Just because you want to break into ID is not a reason for me to hire you. You have to look at the company/firm you are reaching out to, understand their needs and direct you communication to those needs. What is it that you have that they cannot live without? What is it that they are doing that is super interesting to you? Why do you want to work there?

As others have mentioned, put your work up and we can give you some feedback to help you get to where you want to be.

Hope this helps.