When they first applied to courses years ago, no graduating design student could have predicted the way they’d be ending their university career in 2020.
And having nearly made it through the trials of their last year in education, students are now faced with another intimidating task: finding a job in an industry that, like many others, has been severely affected by the global coronavirus pandemic.
With studio doors largely still closed, many designers still furloughed, and less work on offer throughout the industry, the creative job market presents a challenge to those with limited experience. So how can the Class of 2020 navigate the job market in the age of the coronavirus, and how are things likely to change as the country begins to move forward?
Adapting to digital opportunities
In the initial stages of the pandemic, there were early signs that the creative job market was facing challenges, The Dots founder and CEO Pip Jamieson tells Design Week. The first thing to go, she says, were freelance jobs — “They dried up very quickly” — and what followed this was widespread furloughing and in some unfortunate cases, redundancies.
With all this in mind, it’s an undeniably bleak time to be searching for an entry level job, she admits. But Jamieson adds: “It’s not impossible”.
Having an overview of the creative sector in her role at The Dots, Jamieson explains that while some areas of design have had jobs dry up completely, others are providing a “steady stream” of employment opportunities. In particular, creative roles in tech have weathered the storm.
These jobs, she says, can largely be split into two categories: there are the jobs posted by tech companies themselves, concerning both tech-related and more traditionally creative design roles, and there are those posted by non-tech-based companies that require more technically-minded designers.
“There are more digital opportunities out there at the moment than anything else, so for UX designers for example, job searching could be considerably easier than for graphic designers,” Jamieson adds.
Learning and refining skills
Such a reality could be disheartening for many – graphic design has historically been one of the most popular paths for design students to follow. But rather than seeing graphic designers just being cast off, Jamieson says the influence of tech has fuelled a culture of “upskilling” among The Dots’ creative community.
“People seem to be using this time to refine and learn new skills, and tech skills are a big part of this, because people can see that’s where the jobs are right now” she says. So for graduates looking to get ahead of the pack, upskilling could be a valuable use of time if they have the means to do so.
And this is advice echoed by Lucy Painter, director of Studio Recruitment and author of the interior design recruitment guide In with the In(terior Design) Crowd. While the Class of 2020 will undoubtedly be versed in a number of different design programmes thanks to their degree, Painter says using this time to learn the basics of even one new piece of software or program looks good on a CV.
And right now in particular, designers can take advantage of the various free trials, waived fees and discounts on offer by companies because of the pandemic.
Replicating networking online
With more skills mastered, the next question is where to showcase them. While Instagram is the social network of choice for many young creatives, Painter says it’s important to think about other, more business-oriented platforms.
“It’s very easy to forget who you’re seeing when you’re scrolling on Instagram,” she says.
Because of this, websites like LinkedIn are useful, Painter explains. Such platforms provide more of a record for who you’ve been in contact with, while also allowing you to “create a presence online” with your CV, portfolio and contact details. In the age of lockdown and cancelled graduate shows, this is especially relevant.
“It’s really unfortunate that graduate shows aren’t happening in the same capacity as they have in years gone by – there’s a lot of networking that graduates are going to miss out on,” Painter says. “But one way to try and replicate that is to have your work on your LinkedIn profile, and connect with studios so they get a chance to see what you’re capable of.”
Beyond upskilling and networking both Painter and Jamieson say graduates would do well to ensure they’re using this time to work on projects they actually care about. These are often invaluable assets to a portfolio, as well as personally uplifting in their own right.
“Very often I see graduates coming to me with just projects they’ve done at university or internships,” says Painter. “While this is a good start, I encourage graduates to add their own projects into their portfolios – a new concept for a local restaurant or bar, for example, can be a really good use of your time and creativity.”
Meanwhile, Jamieson advocates for side hustles that come complete with “social heart” – not just to prove that you didn’t “spend all of lockdown watching Netflix”, but to champion what you “really care about”.
She explains: “It’s one thing to have a side project as a creative outlet, but so will many people.
“Where you stand out is in identifying a problem within your life or community and addressing it with design – that’s how you can convey what you’re passionate about.”
“It’s not you, it’s the pandemic”
With all this said, however, both Jamieson and Painter say that more than anything graduates need to be spending this time looking after their mental health. Job searching post-uni is stressful enough but doing so in the throes of a pandemic is, quite literally, unheard of for many.
For reasons of self-preservation then, Painter says it’s better for graduates to think of their career as a journey, rather than envisaging one dream job. By taking “each job as it comes”, young designers are more able to rationalise their work, she says, as part of a bigger whole.
“Each job is an opportunity to add something or refine something within your skillset,” she says. “It’s not so much about finding a perfect job as it is finding opportunities, and thereby building yourself as a designer.”
Of course, because of the pandemic, many graduates will not be able to get an imperfect job in design, let alone their dream role. To this, Jamieson emphasises the need for graduates to “give themselves a break”.
“I think it’s really important for people to just be gentler on themselves – this is a really unusual time and the reality is that there is less to go round and more competition, and students are graduating without having had a degree show or the chance to network properly,” she says.
“More than anything, graduates need to remember that this is temporary: it’s not you, it’s the pandemic.”