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General Discussion

A few job search questions can anyone help me?

My portfolio should be up early next month and I plan on applying to jobs over the summer, I have a few questions.

I live in rural America(population 8000 and the closest major city is 5 hours away). I have an associates degree in computer science and a spotty work history that consist mainly of minimum wage jobs(there is nothing in terms of design or development). I am 24 and have never held one of these jobs longer than 3 months. I have never had a real "grown up" job let alone a career. My portfolio is entirely self directed. How will this affect me?

How should I approach job boards? I know html, css and some javascript and jquery. I am also quite skilled with illustrator but a little shoddy on photoshop. What should I be looking for in terms of positions? Also is 5 pieces of work enough to start?

What are expectations in terms of workflow? It takes me 15-30min to get the html right in most cases and another few hours(3-4) for css at this point.

I forgot to add illustrator takes the longest by far for me. I am better than what I was but it's not uncommon for me to spend 5 hours designing basic things because I am not planning enough.

3 Answers

Mari Johannessen
Mari Johannessen
12,232 Points

Hi Rachel!

I think that a lot of companies now a days will look at what you can do and what you're passionate about more than actual experience. So if you have a portfolio filled with great work you've done yourself, then that's a great first step! Look into the companies you'd like to work for, and make websites/designs that you think they will like (and of course, make sure it's stuff you like to do as well!). Here is a great article about having little to no experience when applying to jobs: http://www.fastcompany.com/3046146/ask-the-experts/how-can-i-get-a-good-job-with-no-experience?utm_source=facebook And I also want to give you the link to a great article about creating a portfolio http://99u.com/articles/7127/6-steps-to-creating-a-knockout-online-portfolio. Don't lose hope in the whole process, the fact that you've taken the step to learn here at Treehouse shows that you're passionate and interested in what you do, so I'm sure you will land a great job! :-)

A.J. Kandy
A.J. Kandy
Courses Plus Student 12,422 Points

Hi Rachel!

First of all, congratulations on getting your portfolio together! Don't worry about not having a lot of experience at this point - focus on getting experience.

You can also downplay your past work history. Start fresh. We all had retail jobs, it's normal and expected.

While waiting for that first gig, work on side projects and experiments and add them to your portfolio (or at least a sideblog), whether it's graphical styling or to demonstrate an interesting solution to a design challenge like responsive layouts.

Maybe set yourself a goal like "doing a complete site in 5k of code" or seeing how many variations of a logo you can sketch on paper in 20 minutes. So in that sense, even a self-directed portfolio can show variety, growth, and flexibility, and even a small portfolio can show potential and talent.

Some employers just look for someone with CSS/PSD/XYZ chops to fill a slot in the agency roster for a project, but then never see past that. Those kinds of jobs won't help you gain experience.

Tools and skills can be learned (see: this website) but you can't teach curiosity or a problem-solving mindset. Demonstrating the latter means you'll probably be able to understand the high-level why as well as the how, and even with a slim portfolio, that makes the difference. And you'll go farther.

Regarding job boards or portfolio sites: I guess it depends on what kind of job you want to get. Do you want to be an illustrator/graphic designer, a web designer, or some sort of hybrid front-end designer (or do you care?) You may not have a lot of choice at first; lead with your strengths.

Five pieces is fine to start; you don't need to include everything you've ever done. I would say focus on your really polished pieces. As you create new ones, you can remove older / weaker work and replace it with newer / stronger pieces.

I know that when I first started out, most of my designs were copies of things I'd seen elsewhere, and there's nothing wrong with doing that as an exercise. Most of the early stuff anyone does is an exercise in style - we're stretching our boundaries.

Discovering a voice is really what will set a solo designer apart (if that's your goal), and that takes a LOT of work. You'll be throwing away a lot of work until you figure out what that is.

But you can also be a chameleon designer that vanishes into the voice of a brand and executes flawless work that fits a pre-established style guide. No shame in that either. I think you need to have a mix of both kinds of work to really learn your craft.

When hiring, I look for someone who understands that design solves problems for real people, under real constraints. Rather than a blue-sky spec redesign of some popular but ugly website, explain how you used design methods/thinking to achieve concrete goals for clients and end-users. Understanding the content you're designing for is key - I can't tell you how many designers I've worked with who never read the text...

Also, writing and presenting. Good designers are good communicators. If you can't talk or write about your work -- if you can't sell your work -- no one will buy it. Selling takes practice. Having the confidence to back up your work and tell a client why it's the right solution is hard, but necessary. It takes time.

This is also where social media is your friend. Post about your work; follow other designers; ask questions; research and write essays. You don't need to be in a big city for that, necessarily.

Towards that end - if you don't already have them, I would highly recommend Mike Monteiro's two books Design Is a Job and You're My Favorite Client. I wish I had had these books when I was starting out.

Regarding workflow; Every place is different. Obviously, the faster you can execute a design, the more time you have to spend on the stuff that surrounds it: Planning, research, interviews, meetings, collaborating, workshops, daydreaming etc. And anything that helps you produce a more informed design is valuable. This is also why billing by the hour for services doesn't necessarily make sense - you might take 5 minutes to do the work, but need 55 minutes to discover what work needs to be done.

You seemed to imply you were thinking of moving. There are more opportunities and higher salaries (but also, higher costs and competition) in bigger cities. I think any young designer will learn more and grow faster if they are surrounded by other designers and mentors, and any decently-sized city has more of them than a town of 8,000 will.

But it's perfectly possible to be a working designer there, too. There are many remote gigs these days, and as long as you have fast Internet you can Skype to anyone, anywhere.

Thanks! How would I go about downplaying my experience though?

I am thinking f moving but I am kind of stuck. Not a lot of companies want to hire a new person with no experience that lives outside of the area. What are some good sites for remote single-project contract type jobs?

Try to hire the good moving company according to http://relocationwiki.com/ , pack all you staff - then move to New York where you have to find a lot of interesting work with your lvl of knowledge in HTML and CSS.

Never back down! Everything will be fine!