Case: 11357 (we’re now not even using people’s initials because it’s a widely-read blog and we don’t want to cause trouble for anyone… except problem clients) wrote, asking for advice because he switched careers later in life and now wants to break into design.
He’s having a hard time finding a position and doesn’t know what to do. I could give him advice that will dash his hopes and ruin his life… or help him. This isn’t such an easy dilemma. So, join us as we delve into another Design Dilemma, helping to answer your questions, queries and concerns about the murky world of design
Switching Careers: by Choice or by Necessity?
Case: 11357 writes:
Thanks for the offer to take on our dilemmas!
As background – the short version of my career history… I spent a number of years in Silicon Valley in many technical roles: Engineering Technician, Test Engineer, Manufacturing Engineering Technician. The thread that runs through these positions is problem solving. I was constantly asked to solve problems, be they mechanical, electronic, or process.
After a layoff, I obtained training in Graphic Design, and have managed a very small art department (created art, customer service, and also built all of the department’s network infrastructure), and I am skilled in all of the Adobe Creative Suite software.
Having never obtained a college degree earlier in life, I quit full time work, and completed a BS in Industrial Design in 2011. I surmised that this was a good area of study, where I could combine all of my previous experience, and with the education, and move into a product design role…
My dilemma is: “How do I market myself, and to whom?. I’m a “senior” level employee (lots of career experience), but a “junior” level designer. I’m too old to really be considered for an intern position, but don’t have the design industry experience for the senior roles that are advertised.
I’m incredibly frustrated at sending out resumes and work samples, and getting no result.
Any words of wisdom?? Your article’s subject matter seemed tailor made for me at this moment in time!
What a switch! Engineer to designer. There’s no reason at all that it’s odd but it’s a long distance between thought processes, ways to think and execute and an approval process engineers probably don’t face in their work. The man wants to be a designer, so I say give it a try so there’s no “woulda,” “coulda” or “shoulda” down the road.
Hello, Case: 11357!
You are not alone in your dilemma. Even those who have decades of design experience are finding that “young and cheap” has become the new hiring preference. Having age and less design experience is a bigger hurdle.
Another big problem is a proliferation of designers entering the market. When I started in the 1980s, it was a different story. One needed experience to get a job but couldn’t get experience without having professional experience. Those were the days teachers advised us to do free work for experience and published pieces.
I was laid off with other “over 40″ employees a couple of years ago and was never able to find a job offer that wasn’t insulting to my experience level. While I know many small studio owners that admire my work, they won’t even hire me for freelance work because they fear “I won’t be flexible” (they’ve actually told me that). Age-ism is a big problem in the design industry, as well as Hollywood.
I decided that freelance was the only avenue open to me but that the competition from young designers who had rock bottom rates… or worked for free, out-priced me from even my loyal clients, many of whom started demanding I work on speculation (do the work and if it’s received well, I get paid).
I see only a few choices for you:
- Explain that you are willing to take an internship to prove your talent and value and hope someone will give you a chance.
- Find your niche and freelance because no one else is working that niche.
- Explore other talents and desires and try to find work in those areas.
- Maybe it’s time to follow that non-design (if that be the case) dream?
I wish I could give you more encouraging news but the design industry has changed a lot over the past five to ten years. Finding an avenue for income-generation in the creative field takes some heavy soul searching for us older, ancient people, over the age of 39.
Case: 11357 answered quickly:
Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate your taking the time to respond.
I need to make a serious choice here very soon on what path I want to take – infused with a good dose of reality…
I started thinking about this case (great, now I’m sounding like a cheap movie detective), because I wasn’t really happy with my answer. Yes, I do care about my answers being correct, or a total pack of lies. Most people never know until it’s too late. At least in this case, I wanted to make a very hard transition easier for this person.
I thought about some of my peers, also gone from their corporate positions as creative directors in the top 50 iconic companies. Their leadership strength was something that was valuable to employers. Design had become secondary with most designers being a mere pair of hands that knows how to work the software while everything is designed by committee. Still, those untrustworthy designers need someone to wrangle them in. Who better than an experienced leader from a creative role.
I wrote another email at some point during the night, when I don’t sleep and watch infomercials with the sound off:
Hey, Case: 11357
I was thinking about your dilemma. Have you ever thought of a support role in a creative department? Your experience may suit you as a studio manager, head of creative services or something that will allow you entry into a design department and once you’ve gained a foothold, you will be able to do some designing as well.
When I was an art director at Golden Books Marketing, we had a creative manager who was there to hire freelancers, wrangle us and schedule projects. He also did some designing.
Look to your strengths and play to them. Maybe that will strike a chord within you. Just a thought.
I didn’t hear back from him after that, so I don’t know if he agreed with the suggestions.
What makes the perfect hire for a designer position? Is it a mix of print and web, or has digital design become the only viable option as a career?
The fates are sometimes cruel when it comes to working for a large corporation or even a struggling startup. We have to be flexible and ready as humans but, most of all, we have to understand the power of our own creativity.
While Case: 11357 is worried about finding a design position, he faces a harder challenge by shaving down his career and job options. Still, it’s important to remember that a sense of creativity has many, many applications.
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