(This is one of a series of questions I received on Instagram prior to Portfolio Review Night 6.) 

I've been jumping around internship jobs because I don't know if I can get anything after grad.

If you've done a couple of internships, that definitely means you can get hired after graduating. If you've done a couple of internships that means you have experience on your resume, you've made a bunch of connections, you maybe have a couple of job references - that gives you a big leg up when you're job hunting.

Even if you made some mistakes or did some less than great design, that's not that a big deal. Internships are for learning, so as long as you took your feedback in stride and you learned from that, that's fine.

I know a lot of people when they're starting out get stuck on if they're "good enough", which is something that can stick with you for many years. But if people have hired you for internships, that's proof in itself that your is “good enough”, and they want to work with you.

Internships aren't meant to be something people do for a long time. You really only need to do one, maybe two, to get the benefit of having that experience on your resume. Internships in design and advertising usually last three to six months and then you move on, presumably to paid work. If I saw somebody with more than two or three internships on their resume I would really wonder why they felt the need.

I understand that you’re applying to internships because you’re anxious that you won’t get a junior job. But the only way to know if you’ll succeed is by trying. So let's just look at the facts: people have wanted to work with you before, a couple of times from the sounds of it. It’s very unlikely they’re the only ones.

I graduated from my program 3 years ago in advertising and graphic design while also having a previous diploma in business management. I’ve been struggling to find employment in my field. I tried reaching out, networking while applying online, however haven't received any response nor offers. I need advice on any available programs or opportunities I can do that will hopefully lead me to work. I’m part of the RGD and did a mentorship program and managed to fix my resume and portfolio. I also attended your Portfolio Review Night for extra assistance however, so far it hasn’t lead to any offers.

Are there any places that help you find jobs within design and advertising? I tried using Creative Circle and they weren’t able to find a position available in my field. I’m using Acces Employment now but they weren’t able to find any jobs and didn’t have any opportunities in the field of creative.

Honestly I need help and I'm struggling to find any job opportunities for me as a junior graphic designer. I do have experience working as a graphic design intern for a startup. I’ve used LinkedIn and Indeed and other job sites; however, the majority of them didn’t respond back and I’ve been constantly applying and checking. I need help and advice on what my next step should be.

There's no one service or one person that can make job hunting really easy. Honestly, the whole process of job hunting is a slog. The internet can make it feel like job hunting should be easy, with sites like LinkedIn or Indeed displaying tons of job postings. But it’s not as in your control as it may seem.

I think the people that have the easiest time job hunting do these three things:

  1. Give yourself every opportunity to hear from the places you want to work, even when you’re not looking, so you know when they put out the call that they're hiring. Businesses don’t all use the same tools for hiring, so you can’t rely on an automated LinkedIn email to stay on top of things. Dig into the businesses that you want to work for. Check their websites for job listings, follow them on social, sign up for any newsletters. If you're a designer, this is exactly why I built the Toronto Design Directory.

  2. Widen your net by looking for more than just “Junior Graphic Designer” jobs. Titles like “designer” or “graphic designer”, or more specific roles like social media designer, visual designer, UX/UI designer, or web designer. Even “design officer” or “communications designer”, “marketing designer”, those jobs can right for you, just with different titles or more specific duties. A lot of people make narrow assumptions of what they’re qualified for and automatically count themselves out (especially women). See what else sounds close to what you're looking for; interviews are for figuring out how good the fit is for both sides.
  1. Networking. Many jobs are not posted online, and are filled by word of mouth and referrals. So, it's really, really important to have a good network that you maintain. That doesn’t mean meeting a person once, adding them on LinkedIn, and hoping they’ll reach out to you one day. If you’re job hunting, reach out to your contacts and say “I'm looking for a new job, if you could let me know if you hear of anything you think it might be a good fit for I’d appreciate it”.

    Good networking also means meeting a variety of people. You said in your letter that you've done some networking and attended some mentoring-style events like Portfolio Review Night. Widening your net in this area will help too. Don’t just talk to designers or go to portfolio-related events. Get to know people in other roles and even people in different industries. Attend talks, art shows, conferences, even parties. Anybody can be the contact that helps you next.

Finally, you said you used Creative Circle, which is a recruiting agency here in Toronto. I find recruiting agencies don't tend to hire juniors. External recruiting agencies usually get paid a percentage of the base salary of the role they're hiring for. Since juniors aren’t paid a lot, recruiters don't make a whole lot of money off of those roles. Businesses don’t often use recruiters to hire juniors either because those rules aren't hard to fill. They’re not specialized or require any particular experience, so you don't really need a recruiter to find the right candidate. If Creative Circle told you there's no junior roles, that doesn't surprise me. Recruiters just don’t tend to hire for junior positions.

You also mentioned using Access Employment to find jobs. I find services that are not industry-specific aren’t super useful either. I'm sure there's exceptions, but generally speaking if the people working at a company like that don't know the design and advertising fields very well themselves, it's unlikely they're gonna be able to connect you with those jobs or give you useful advice because they won’t be familiar with those industry norms or requirements.

Job hunting is really hard, it takes a long time. It usually takes months to find the right job, and unfortunately there's not a lot you can do about that. Part of it is just a numbers game: so many people apply to a given job that the odds are just not in your favour for being selected out of that pool. Sometimes it even comes down to good timing: companies aren’t always hiring when you’re looking, and that's not something anybody can control. You can take some of the pressure off yourself when you acknowledge these facts and that there’s nothing you can do about them.

Over the past 18 months, I've been looking for a job and despite making it through some initial screenings and early interview rounds, I've not been able to secure a role. I've gone to career fairs and portfolio reviews and tried my best to network (like getting in touch with hiring managers and creative directors). But after getting feedback on my work, all I hear is "your work seems great, but you don't have agency experience" or "your work is too polished for an entry-level position, but you don't have enough experience for mid-level" (tbh, I wasn't only applying for agency jobs). This has been really discouraging, and I’m at a point where I don't know what to do next. I kind of feel like giving up. What should I do?

I totally appreciate where you're at right now because I heard a lot of the same things when I was starting my career and it was confusing to me too. The whole catch-22 of "you need experience to get experience" is so frustrating especially when you're starting out.

The way agencies work isn't rocket science, but there are specific systems that are pretty consistent across most agencies and in a lot of creative and marketing departments for different kinds of businesses. I think what people are saying when they say "we want agency experience" even when they're hiring for a junior role, is that they want somebody who knows the system, who knows how agencies work, how “we” work. They want somebody who can do the creative work, knows how the creative process unfolds within an agency, and how to work with all the people involved.

Creative agencies generally have these three departments. There are other people in other roles at agencies, but this is the foundation of most agencies and a lot of other businesses that do creative as well:

  1. The creative department. That's you guys, the designers, art directors, copywriters, creative directors, and so on.
  2. The account services department. These are the people that liaise with the clients, that have those back and forths about process and manage the client relationships.
  3. The project managers. They write the timeline and keep everything running and everybody on track, sometimes they also work on the budget.

A lot of other creative departments that are client-side or in-house (like banks and retail companies and tech companies) are filled with people who have worked at agencies, and those people have brought the systems that they know from those agencies to these other internal departments, ‘cause the system works well there too.

So what someone's saying when you don't have agency experience is that they can't see that you've worked in a similar structure before. They can’t see from your resume or interview that you know how to collaborate with people in other roles in an agency, or have an understanding of what everybody does, or how the system works. This is likely a problem for them because they need their new hire to just come in and do the work without any training or managerial oversight.

The fact that if you have no agency experience and they're still interviewing you anyway, after seeing your resume with presumably no agencies on it, means that they like your work enough that they’re probably open to you having earned this experience elsewhere. So my advice to you is to talk in interviews about how you have worked with other people in the past. That can be classmates and teachers if you’re just out of school. Or if you've only had retail, food service jobs, or similar, talk about how you work with your colleagues. How you communicate with your boss, any external vendors, delivery, garbage takeout, whatever. Anybody that you've ever had to communicate information with and do some kind of collaborative work or task with professionally. That'll speak to how you can work with other people and that'll address the heart of their question about how much agency experience you have.