Job search strategies for creatives: 2016

I quit my job.

I enjoyed the variety and challenges that populated my daily workload, but a part-time gig with limited advancement or professional development didn’t provide the permanence and teamwork that I need from a job. So, I’m off to my bright future. Or, my What I Want to Be When I Grow Up that never really came to fruition …until now.

Job Search Strategies for 2016 |

1. know who you are.

I didn’t start with a degree in graphic design; I started as a writer, and then I grew, adapted, and shifted among several somewhat-related creative roles, eventually using my adaptability and talent to become a freelance designer. But I was also a Photographer. Writer. Web designer. Identity designer.

What to call myself?

“Creative Consultant” is vague, but it seemed the best way to describe myself, given my wide variety of skills. Having strength in more than one skill set is not rare; overlapping skills are quite common. In fact, graphic designers are often expected to code. Or create video in addition to print and Web. “Design” means many things. 

Graphic designers create visual concepts, using computer software or by hand, to communicate ideas that inspire, inform, and captivate consumers. (from the Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Designers can often collaborate well with other designers in different areas. For instance, I speak Web. This simply means that, while I can’t code, I can talk usability to the Web developers and make sure that I am providing proper front-end tools that work well with their structure. 

In the chart below, I’m nestled quite nicely into five areas. Of course, photography and writing/editing don’t even appear on this chart, and I’m guessing that you probably don’t fit neatly in a box, either.

What is a graphic designer? Flow chart from blog
Image from “What is a Graphic Designer?” blog post, 2011,

So what, exactly, am I? I’m an identity designer and brand manager (the two are different, and I’ll write a post about that later). Sometimes I’d likely be called a visual designer, even though that is not a common job title:

A visual designer serves as a mid-point between the pure design abilities of a graphic designer, and the more user-focused interests of a user experience designer. (from UX, Visual, or Graphic: Which Type of Design is Right for You?, July 2014)

The topic of naming conventions for creatives could take paragraphs to explain, so I’ll leave the specific definitions to other blogs and move on.

2. know what you want to do.

My path, though a bit of a meandering one, has shown me that I much prefer the varied nature of being a designer who can also write, take (or source) photographs, and manage a brand. Career paths are the darling of job-search sites and education sites. Rasmussen College provides some insight on the career path of designers:

Few career paths are as customizable as graphic design. Nearly every aspect can be adjusted to fit your lifestyle and interests—from education and experience to specialty and work environment. (from Creating Your Graphic Design Career Path, June 2015,

Creating your graphic career path, from Rasmussen college
Rasmussen College discusses education (specifically, a graphic design degree), finding a job, and career advancement on their blog.

Now that I identified myself as a fairly adaptable and multi-skilled designer, it was time to start searching for a job. My updated resume in hand, neatly organized into bullet points and customizable to each position I wanted to pursue, I was ready to look around for something to match my ideal job.


All the listings and job portals will have you spending hours and hours (and sometimes ending up with a somewhat-burnt dinner when you get sucked into an online application form) in a partially-productive job search.

Too many job listings
This is usually how I feel when it’s 1 AM and I’ve lost the ability to focus on densely-worded job descriptions.

3. research and refine.

Too many listings. Too much effort for no interviews. It is frustrating out there for a job seeker! Truth is, companies simply don’t have time or resources to really look at every applicant individually, so the job search process has been largely automated, with complex algorithms filtering applicants who don’t match descriptions perfectly. So while I may be talented, my resume and cover letter can’t be as persuasive and charming as an in-person interview. Well, robots don’t care about charm. And before I can get to an in-person interview, I’ll be going through about three or four rounds of screening alongside other applicants for the same job.

Luckily, there are people who are better at job searching than you. In fact, it’s their job! (There’s something meta about people whose job is to help other people find jobs.) These people, who recruit, hire, and provide career counseling services for job seekers, are a wealth of information.

Many of these career counselors and hiring managers are online, sharing their insight and strategies. One article showed up in my LinkedIn feed recently: “Emerging Trends in Job Search for 2016/2017” (Hank Boyer), and it provides insight from a panel of career experts that has made me re-think my approach to finding a job.

Some insights learned through Boyer’s article:

According to metro D.C.-based career counselor Edythe Richards, “résumés and applications must be more meticulously tailored to specific openings, in order to be selected for an interview.” Based on the article I looked at my resume, and noticed that it didn’t necessarily match the format or preferred qualifications for jobs to which I was applying.

This point in particular from Alfred Poor, a Philadelphia-based career seminars leader, is somewhat distressing, because it points to job searches becoming even more complex and automated:

“Individuals apply for many more jobs than they used to in the days of paper resumes and cover letters, or going into the HR offices to fill out an application. The percentage of totally unqualified candidates will continue to grow, which will require even broader use of machine screening of job applicants before a human ever sees their information.”

He goes on to explain that the ease of applying to jobs online enables candidates to skip reading the job qualifications and description thoroughly, which means that many more people can apply for a job. This deluge of applications causes a more thorough, longer, targeted job application and hiring process, which pushes a lot of us qualified candidates out of the process. Unless we do more and more work.

And as Edythe Richards points out:

“this is extremely frustrating.
All this work for a ‘maybe’?

Thankfully, referrals still remain a primary source of hiring talent, according to Martin Kral, a Career Development Center Director. Whether it’s an inside (colleague) or outside (recruiter) referral, LinkedIn statistics point to referrals being the top two source of hires in the past two years. It really drives home the point that resources everywhere tell us: developing and maintaining a professional network is, as Kral says, a best practice in conducting an effective job search. 

Hank Boyer‘s article has a lot more information about job search trends, but I have already borrowed a few paragraphs So here is the link again: “Emerging Trends in Job Search for 2016/2017.” It is available on LinkedIn, and definitely a good read for anyone who is looking for a new job.

4. find a career counselor. they are helpful.

Remember the guidance counselor in high school? Or the faculty advisor from college? Once you are out of school you find yourself on your own, but it’s not necessarily the case. Career Counselors such as Edythe Richards, who meets clients at the Arlington Employment Center, provides resume and career counseling services to mid-career adults who are building or switching careers.

The resume and job search process is meant to get the interview.
The point of the resume and the job search process is to get the interview. The interview gets the job.

Edythe provided me with an overview of the job search process. She explained that job search success ultimately boils down to three core concepts:

Having a clear target.
“Many job seekers aren’t sure of what they’re looking for, or are targeting multiple industries and types of positions. Employers want concrete examples of what you can do for them; in today’s world, generic won’t cut it. An honest self-assessment, whether part of career counseling/coaching, or on your own, leads to greater clarity and confidence, which leads to a more efficient job search.”

Not relying on internet job boards and ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems).
“Networking is still the best way to find a job.  Think back through your own career:  how did you get your jobs? There are all sorts of ways to network; different strategies will work for different people. Keep in mind that networks aren’t built overnight.”

Networking is still the best way to find a job.
Networking is still the best way to find a job.

This whole networking thing struck me the most. When I quit my job two weeks ago, I remember telling someone that most of my positions were earned through referrals. When I decided to strike off on my own entrepreneurial path in 2003, I already had two clients who were friends of my coworkers. Most of my consulting clients had already known me through a prior contact, or who had been previous clients through my short-term contract assignments. And this month, my supervisor and mentor passed along my resume to one of her colleagues, which resulted in an “meet and greet” interview with a recruiter mere days later!

it’s not personal. really.

My research, and now the agency interview, reminded me that my resume needed to be specific for each and every job application. Since I have many skills, some of them would need to be de-emphasized, since my resume was too detailed. 

For a potential job placement, I needed to emphasize my writing, communication, and photography skills. Graphic design is still a strength, but for this particular organization, my knowledge and skills in those three areas would be the most important part of my resume.

Removing a few bullet points from what I had considered a thorough resume that had taken years to develop was hard, but worth it. After all, my resume is only meant to get the interview. (Which would happen tomorrow, were a blizzard not keeping most of us at home!) 

Interview or not, I plan to attend a workshop or two this spring, hoping to brush up on my job search skills some more.

Edythe is teaching a workshop on Thursday, April 14, 2016 from 6:00–8:00 PM at Northern Virginia Community College’s Alexandria campus. The class covers the “hidden job market,” online boards and the insidious and frustrating ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems) that have been haunting my job search. Personally, I am interested in learning about how recruiting and referrals work, which will also be taught in the workshop. It’s $65 well-spent, I think.

My search for job listings has actually changed a little since I originally started searching for a new job; now I’m paying attention to hiring agencies rather than just individual jobs. And I’m watching the various employment center calendars in my area for more workshops.

additional reading

Edythe RichardsMA, MBTI®MP, GCDF
Author, Counselor, and Instructor, Arlington Employment Center
(703) 228-1476

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Graphic Designers, on the Internet at (visited January 24, 2016).

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