You’ve been crushing it for the last few years of school, and now you’re looking ahead on how to start your professional career. The next few months may seem ominous or uncertain, and I want to tell you that the difficult challenges ahead are not a reflection on all your hard work. With the majority of the nation under shelter-at-home orders and consumer spending shifting, there are signs of a new economic recession all around us and that means the odds of securing a job after graduation are not looking good.
As someone who graduated during the 2008 recession, I have an idea of what you’re going through. The outcome of the 2008 recession was not only a high jobless rate among graduates, but also years of low income that followed. The scale and effect of what’s happening during the COVID-19 pandemic is yet to be known – and won’t be known for several years – but for you right now, there’s an imminent reality setting in: Your career prospects are looking bleak. But if history is any indicator, I encourage you to believe that this is only temporary.
Here are a few ideas from a 2008 Recession survivor to the Class of 2020 that I wish someone would have told me when I was about to graduate in the middle of a recession.
Spoiler warning: I’m not going to tell you to waste your time sending out a million resumes.
Illustration by Sita Fidler
Develop a Personal Project
Your portfolio is filled with great work, but a majority of that work is probably class projects. That’s ok! No one expects you to have “real world” designs in your portfolio; however, projects that are more personal to you are more interesting to future employers. While your class projects show off your ability to follow a brief and proficiency in the Adobe Suite, employers are also looking for your personality. Hiring managers will want to see how you solved for this challenging time creatively in your work. If you need inspiration on where to get started, try to connect with a mentor who can help provide a starting place and feedback.
Your Dream Job is Out There (it just might not be your first job)
Businesses at all levels are scrambling to react to the pandemic, and they’re going to make a lot of erratic decisions. With so many unemployed, businesses will have the opportunity to take advantage of a lot of overqualified workers willing to take entry level positions.
It’s ok to take a job that wasn’t the position you’ve been preparing your portfolio for, especially in these circumstances. It’s not a reflection on all your hard work. Even in better economic times, it’s common to work in non-design positions right out of school. Don’t be disheartened about your prospects. Take advantage of every professional growth opportunity and know that your success is shaped by your ability to keep going.
Stay in School (if you can afford to)
Take summer classes, another semester or volunteer for a year. Hiring is going to be on hold for a while. If you’re able, turn this time into an opportunity to take that class you could never fit in your schedule or add another minor or major to your degree. Continuing your education during an unknown time can give you more time to build your professional skills or refine your resume and hold out while the economy resets.
We are all going through this crisis together. Now is as important a time as any to stay connected with classmates, work together, plan together. If you’re planning to jump into the design field, there are many groups that have started distant socializing. At AIGA Portland, all our events have shifted online. The Design for Good team has a series of Zoom meetings every Thursday to help keep designers connected. AIGA Portland’s Annual Portfolio Review, THE MIX will be held online. While Design Portland moved their major festival to August, they’re promoting online events in the interim. Another great way to stay connected is on AIGA Portland’s Slack channel.
Some people around you will make you feel like your worth is tied to how many jobs you apply for, what your first job title is and how much money you make. In short, it’s not. Don’t listen to your parents or others in generations above you. The economic downturns before 2008 were very different from the scale we’re seeing now. Getting connected with your design community and peers who are going through the same thing as you may open opportunities to lift each other up.
Illustration by Sita Fidler
Lastly and most importantly, to survive and weather this storm: take care of yourself. Breathe, cry, get angry, find peace. Channel your energies and emotion into your creative practice. Set aside some time each day (or as frequent as you need) to make something that’s just for you. Don’t feel like everything you create needs to be a product for an unforgiving economy. Make sure to devote your energy to yourself first.
Max Radi is a 2018-2020 AIGA Portland board member and designer at HERENOW Creative. He is also a 2009 graduate of the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon where he studied publication and advertising design.
Illustrations by Sita Fidler. Sita Fidler is a designer and illustrator in Portland, OR.