Together in the trenches: stay connected and support each other through this turbulent job market.

Nicole Mors is AIGA Portland’s Volunteer Director.

I have been in the creative industry for a minute, graduating from design school here in Portland, right into the Great Recession. I had zero experience, armed only with a degree in Graphic Design and a mountain of student loans. Those times were tough. I’m here to tell you friends, 2023 felt a hell of a lot worse. We’ve emerged from a global pandemic only to find ourselves, especially those in creative fields, grappling with unemployment and a saturated market.

I’ve never personally known so many people actively seeking employment. Conversations with friends and colleagues paint a dire picture: endless job applications with little to no response, being ghosted post-interviews, and enduring a job search process that’s soul crushingly long.

It’s easy for a person in the middle of job search right now to feel like it might be personal. That somehow you are doing something wrong, missing a memo, or maybe that imposter voice inside you, is telling you… you are not good enough.

The truth is, this market, this world… is changing. Things are weird and unprecedented.

We have to give ourselves some grace.

Whiplash, what is happening?!

It’s really hard to understand exactly what is going on today, partly because of how seemingly in-demand design jobs were just a minute ago. With an influx of investment capital, and a belief that profit surges during Covid-19 would be permanent, companies engaged in over-hiring. They were handing out design jobs like candy, with huge salaries and significant benefits. The job seeker had the power, and could count on solid interviews with multiple companies.

Here in Portland, local companies were not immune to this. Add to that the fact that local creatives now were open to remote jobs.

For every action, there is a reaction, and the bubble was bound to burst.

The Perfect Storm

As of writing this article, 1,179 tech companies have executed layoffs in 2023, impacting 261,847 employees. And that’s just tech. ( Those numbers make my stomach churn.

These folks are obviously employable and experienced, they just had jobs.

We also have a proliferation of bootcamps and similar training programs that have saturated the market with people new to the field looking for work. For better or worse, antiquated higher design education created a barrier to entry. Now, people can go online and have the flexibility to obtain training and education. The enrollment in bootcamps saw a 30.32% increase from 2019 to 2020 []

With layoffs of this magnitude it means the new people in our industry just got line-jumped by the experienced people who have been laid off. All of this means that people will have a harder, and longer time looking for work. It’s a perfect storm.

Looking Forward to 2024: Finding a Path Forward

While no one can claim to be certain of what the path forward is or what our vision should be, I find a lot of inspiration in my fellow creative friends and co-workers both past and present. I truly feel at this time, we need to stick together, lean on each other for a hand up, give each other advice, a referral, an introduction, so I reached out to a few friends for some practical advice:

Embrace the Robots (as a Tool)

It’s easy to feel like the robots are taking our jobs, (which is true-ish), however, everyone should be leveraging what new tools AI can offer. Consider them as a “forklift for your mind.” It’s about augmenting your capabilities, not replacing them. A friend and former co-worker, Nadiya Yeroshkina recently landed a gig as a Technical Program Manager at a startup. She used AI with success in her job search, using chatGPT to tailor her resume to specific job postings. She used AI to write specific keywords for each job she applied to. While this helped her scale her search, she also advised to make sure you are editing what AI gives you so that you, as the person comes through, and you can stand behind everything in your resume. You can’t just have it write your resume or make up experience, but you can have it create thousands of versions that can super power your job search.

Stay Flexible

Nadiya also applied for jobs tangential to her exact title. She applied for roles that were one step up in title, one step down and every variation of Technical Program Manager, the role she ultimately wanted. She applied from everything to Scrum Master, Kanban Coach, Technical Program Manager to Program Manager. Her advice, “Don’t focus on title and seniority, be flexible, be open minded”.

This market has reduced our ability to take the “perfect” job. It may have to be the best job for right now, and that is okay.

Connect with the Humans (we need each other)

I asked Kelsey New, (who’s literal job is connecting people to jobs at Mainz Brady Group), for some tips for Designers looking for work today and she had some great advice:

  • Connect with and talk to as many new people as you can, in your industry and beyond. Portland is a small town, and people here genuinely want to help one another. So get yourself to some in-person networking events or set up some informational conversations with people in your space who can listen to your story and keep you in mind.
  • Speaking of ‘your story’: Get really good at telling it. Who are you, what skills have you honed and now excel in, and what do hope to contribute to a future team? Figure out how to clearly tell the story of who you are, what you’re looking for, and what you bring to the table. This will help shape people’s impression and understanding of you in a concise way.
  • Keep your portfolio and/or work samples fresh, current, and accessible. Be prepared to share your work and be able to articulate your role and your process with anyone – from fellow designers, to product teams, and business stakeholders. Don’t wait until you have an interview to get your portfolio dialed.
  • Work with a local recruiting firm. The more people you have out in the market with your resume in mind, the better. Build a relationship with an agency recruiter that you trust and utilize their expertise to tailor your resume, and refine your job search process.
  • Set daily and weekly goals around your job search. For example, contact 20 people on LinkedIn to ask them for an informational conversation; send out 10 applications; go to 2 networking events; work on 1 new independent design project to add to your portfolio focused in the industry you want to be in. Track everything and hold yourself accountable to your goals.
  • Stay positive and take care of your mental health along the way. You are not alone – this is arguably the most difficult market for folks in recent years, and many people are experiencing the same challenges with their job hunt. It will get better and you will land your next great opportunity.

I think it’s okay to just collectively say 2023 sucked. It was hard, all the way to the end. It’s also okay to be unsure about 2024. My call to action to all of us is to stay connected, and support each other. We have been through tough times before, this too shall pass.

Your Friend,