Finding Design Jobs During a Recession

Recessions are difficult times for designers. Less money is spent by business meaning that design studios close. Fewer design firms are hiring and those that are have their pick of experienced designers. It is not easy for the recent design graduate who lacks commercial experience. What can they do?

Can the job seeker relocate? Being flexible about the city they live in will open more job opportunities. Some people cannot relocate and they become restricted in their choices because they are limited to the opportunities available locally. Some cities and regions might not have many design jobs. Design jobs are typically found more in larger centers.

Consider finding any job to help cover the bills in the meantime (e.g. retail). Some work experience at anything establishes a track record of punctuality, reliability, professionalism and trust. A job might also provide networking opportunities where design ability can be shown. A job with limited hours leaves excess capacity that can be used to continue looking for design jobs.

Network with business people. Use social connections to let people know that this designer is looking for work. This might lead to freelance opportunities (which count as commercial experience) which might lead onto job leads. Other designers might be able to help out with freelance jobs and job leads but typically this will be limited to the crumbs that fall from their tables – and those crumbs become less during recessions. Therefore, spend more time networking with the non-designer contacts. Go to social events and occasions. Talk to people. Find the bars where businesses have their Friday drinks.

Use the Internet to help find a design job, but do not rely exclusively on the net because it is a supplemental tool only. Build an online presence that includes a portfolio. Use social networking sites to find jobs and leverage your networks. The internet is also a good source of tutorials for designers to expand their skillsets.

Build both commercial experience and portfolio: Studio work equals paid freelance which is better than charity work which is better than school work which is equal to hobby work. Build the portfolio via whatever means possible. Each piece should build commercial experience and/or improve the designer’s skillset.

Consider asking for internships in design studios. Friends who are designers might be able to help with leads for internship placements. Internships are usually unpaid but can be a networking opportunity and a chance to gain some real experience. Even a few days or a day or two a week around another job can be helpful.

Do not wait until conditions are perfect. Procrastination allows opportunities to slip past. It is not necessary to have the perfect portfolio or the perfect CV. Often these things are only finalized in response to a job lead.


  1. A lot of very useful advise here; if you have tried all this and still don't have a job, you should probably find a new industry because these are fool-proof I've found.

    I also recommend going for the stuff that SOUNDS like you aren't able to do it. A lot of companies say "3+ years experience, must be able to do [this thing you don't know] and [this other thing you have no experience in] but it's just extras that can be worked around if they like you.

    Also, don't let them just forget about you. I applied for work that I wasn't quite qualified for, and was probably the first person to apply, so in the mean time while they waited for more applicants, they gave me some work to do, to test my skills. It gave me good experience, and the fact that I was so reliable and keen came across, so that even though I didn't get the job, they kept me on their books, and contacted me further down the line with more work. I was able to add them to my CV as a result.

  2. @Kyreena - you story is pretty much the text-book on how to do it. Good stuff and great suggestions.

  3. Highly recommend the internship approach. Having been in the industry for over 10 years now, we get the vibe from new graduates looking for a job that we should chase them. You'd really stand out if you offered to work for free for 2 weeks. It may not get you the job but you will get industry experience and potential employers would respect the effort.

    Also, don't tell a potential employer to give you a call if they want you. This shows contempt and disrespect. If you want the position, YOU should follow up. If you're not comfortable phoning just flick a reminder email to let them know you're available.

    If you're sending a CV you might like to ask for feedback on your work. It shows them that you know you're not top knotch yet and you're interested in their opinion. This also gets the conversation started, and shows you're open to direction - after all design is an iterative process.

    Most of all, come across as being open to learning. You have learned a lot during you're education years, but there is always so much more to learn. Good luck!

  4. Feel i should clarify that second paragraph - obviously ok for them to call you if they're interviewing you for the job. But if you're networking, ask for their business card. If you're finishing an intern, let them know you're available and follow up in 3-4 days. :)