Keep Your (Design) Job Right Now

It seems that the world’s economy is on a steady collapse, each day bringing new stories of companies closing shop, and another industry asking Congress for a bailout plan. Our industry is no different than any other. I’m sure that you all have a handful of friends that have lost jobs in the last 3 months.

Well, let’s take a look at a handful of things that we can all do to help protect our design jobs (these tips will nearly all work for non-designers, too, but a few things might need to be translated and interpreted for your own industry/career). There are tough decisions being made in conference rooms and owners’ offices all over the world right now, and your name might be inextricably on one of the cut lists. So, let’s assume, for the sake of this article, that you are on the chopping block, but you are in the gray area. You still have the possibility of affecting whether or not you get pink-slipped.

If you think this article is a bunch of bullshit, I want you to go do some job searches on Krop.com right now (also try Creative Hotlist, Authentic Jobs, and LinkedIn). If you come back with 15+ available positions in your field, location and experience level, maybe you can relax a little bit. If not, I’d get involved here because it could mean the difference between P.F. Chang’s and Cup O’ Noodles for you.

First seven “good employee” things that you can easily do to get your employers leaning towards keeping you (these apply to every single employee on Planet Earth, by the way…not just designers):

  • Devour tasks on your plate. Don’t let things assigned to you linger or sit uncompleted.
  • Show up on-time, or early, in fact. I don’t care what your boss says about being okay with you coming in sometime between 9-10am, when you show up at 8.45am consistently, everyone notices.
  • I don’t know whether I’d say stay late, but don’t be the douchebag packing up at 5.54pm everyday in anticipation of the 6pm bell. (I say this, and I leave work everyday at 4.30pm to go pick up my kids…but let’s just say I work more hours than you, so no shit-talking that point.)
  • Do your homework and come to brainstorm discussions prepared. If you’re the one delivering the ideas your clients are picking (or at least the ones your bosses are presenting each week), they’ll have a hard time justifying your dismissal.
  • Don’t take long lunches for a little while. Try to keep to the hour (or other time) allotted.
  • Try to minimize the amount of appointments you make during the day, when you can. If you can’t, ALWAYS ask for the first appt of the day, or the last, and then compensate on the other end (i.e., 8am appt, arrive @ work at 10.30am, work until 6.45pm instead of leaving at 6pm).
  • When your bosses are cruising the office, minimize your blog, feed readers, Twitter apps, and NSFW content. I know this seems simple, but you’d be amazed how often it happens.
  • Oh yeah, don’t EVER be caught working on a freelance client’s project at your 9-to-5. Nothing will get you scraped quicker.

These seven tips are pretty standard. Getting square with each and every one of them will maybe add 30 minutes to your day, maybe an hour. Isn’t that time worth not having to go brave that job market? I didn’t think so…let’s keep reading.

As a designer, chances are, your team has dwindled a little bit in the last few months. If you’re in a place that hasn’t suffered any firings, well, a big congratulations to you and your firm for surfing the waves when everyone else is battoning down the hatches to weather the hurricane. Yeah, a big congratulations, or…your company is next.

So, down to the more design-specific work habits and characteristics that will keep your neck clear of the hangman’s axe:

  • More than just finishing the tasks on your plate, be a production beast. Beat deadlines, advance work from the left side of your desk to the right as quickly as possible, not forsaking quality.
  • Win the creative battles. When you’re going up against other people in “comping” phases, or if you’re pitching clients or higher-ups, get your designs into development. The more work your company is producing of yours, rather than the designs of your peers, the more essential you become to the company’s current trajectory.
  • Make yourself wide-open to criticism and evaluation. This is not the time to be defensive with your art directors / creative directors / owners. Don’t get me wrong, don’t become a push-over, and don’t change who you are. Just be quicker to get back to task and ditch the arguing. It’ll go a long way. Remember, your bosses are quite stressed out trying to keep the company going, which in turn keeps your lights on, your cellphone paid, and your spouse/significant other happy.
  • Now is the time to head over to Lynda.com and do some learning. Pick up a new program or language. Try to see what skill set your company could benefit from the most, and go figure out how to add that to your toolbelt. All things being equal, if you’re the only designer who knows Flash as well…hmm, it becomes an easier decision.
  • And quite possibly the most obvious, but essential tip…ask your boss / supervisor straight up what you can do to help secure your job. More importantly, if you are given suggestions, make sure that you live up to the expectations you’ve just set. They will now expect to see you perform on what you discussed.

This is an economic earthquake, and there seem to be aftershocks steadily running amuck. Protect yourself from falling debree.

So in addition to protecting your current job, you should probably start to get some things in order just to be safe:

  • Get your resume cleaned up.
  • Beef up on your LinkedIn profile, and if you haven’t done so already, build up your network with all the peeps you’ve worked with and for (co-workers and clients). This is a BIG deal. I love getting LinkedIn links in job application emails. Shows that you have some business sense about you (or in the least, that you are not dead and have actually used the social web in the last 12 months). Solicit recommendations. A good way to get reco’s quickly, is to post up recommendations on the people you want a reco from.
  • Put together your portfolio, whether that’s in a book or not. Oh, yeah, it might be in a book, but it sure as “H” “E” “double hockey sticks” (my son’s way of saying “hell”) better be online as well. Look over at Behance, Carbonmade and Coroflot for starters if you don’t have something up yet.
  • Do some of those job searches I mentioned above, if you haven’t already. If for no other reason, it’s good for you to know what’s out there. If something does happen which you didn’t expect, you’ll be less scared (or more, depending on your results…lol, sorry) about getting a new job.
  • Start thinking about new revenue streams, preferably passive income sources (important note: your company will always be more supportive of your moonlighting if it doesn’t compete with their core services, and also of course, that it doesn’t interfere with your job):
    • selling WordPress themes
    • creating custom fonts
    • making icons / illustrations (ala YouWorkForThem)
  • Talk with your friends out in the workforce. Feel out your network to see if there are jobs waiting for you should you lose yours.
  • Don’t be too proud to file for unemployment if you lose your job, to help keep things going while you look for a new job. Do so by finding your state in this list.

Remember, at all times, you are not alone here. I mean that a couple of ways. First, we are here and most anyone whom you reach out to will grab extended hands and give advice when solicited. Secondly, there is a lot more supply than demand for designers right now…for all employees, in fact. So put your best foot forward, stand out from the crowd.

Make yourself indispensable, however you must.

30 thoughts on “Keep Your (Design) Job Right Now”

  1. Great, great post Greg. I have been going back and forth in my head the last few months on what I can do to make myself indispensable. I’ve been meaning to find the time and sit down to write a list like this but you did a great job of listing the “essentials” in securing your job. Several things that you have listed here have been at the top of my list especially the point about Lynda.com. With having this week off before Christmas and New Year’s, I am devoting the next few days to that website to get my learn on.

    I hope for everyone’s sake that things start to get better after the New Year. At the least if everyone (designers or not) can stay focused and keep working hard, it’s not going to hurt them.

  2. This is superb advice, even for someone like me. I’m one of those dreaded designers that has been tossed around in the vicious “Not enough experience, but can’t get experience, because I don’t have any experience” cycles. Since I am currently unemployed, I’m using these tough economic times to dramatically improve my online/print portfolio and to learn a new skill or two. I’m hoping that my persistence will pay off eventually.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to articulate your thoughts, Greg. As Chad said, this post is chalked full of great resources and common sense advice to help anyone better secure their position during this downturn.

    I’ve been extremely fortunate (or not) to have survived over 20 years in the advertising and design industry, working my way up and down the food chain. I only have a few notes to add 1. don’t think you are indispensable to your employer. No matter how talented, cooperative and multi-faceted you are, you can always be replaced. This is a humbling and necessary reality to grasp. 2. find different ways to use your creativity i.e. thru managing others, formulating strategy etc. 3. as you move to managing positions, if you do your job properly, your real goal is to work yourself out of your job. You should be creating & documenting processes for your reports to succeed. You should be looking for and training your replacement. This doesn’t make sense if you want to secure your job, but rest assured that there is tremendous freedom in doing your job with integrity whether your job is on the line or not.

  4. Who paid you to write this?

    What “boss” paid you to talk like your some robot?

    Everything your saying is great, spot on correct and nothing new to anyone, all of these items are as obvious as apple pie.

    I am sorry this sounds like some “boss” wrote this up without even thinking for a second who and what a designer is.

    But dude, your a designer, its who you are, I am sorry but we cannot turn our personalities into robots. Designers are a very fine balance between everything you mentioned above and then coming up with that look, that comp, that piece that just makes you sit back and want to print it out so you can look at it the entire way home from work that day.

    Come in early? No “artist” in their right mind is going to come in early. He/she should be up all night thinking about ideas, surfing for inspiration. Who will be that 9:12 am straddler who kinda looks cool walking in 10 min past the time when the boss gets pissed.

    Win creative battles? You cant just win em like by flipping a switch, I knew a CD that was amazing, this guy was hands down so talented, yet he tended to lose design directions. However he offered the client a solid direction and everyone else strived to beat him, he raised the bar and lost every time.

    Ask your boss straight up?? I would NOT do this. Anyone who came to me and asked me what they can do to secure their job is probably not doing a good one.

    Im sorry, your article is very nicely written, but the advice is not very useful and in many cases dangerous.

    You want to keep your design job?

    Then perform, be honest, make sure you team can count on you in crunch time, communicate clearly, come up with new ideas, listen to your producers, and always get better.

    Other than those things, your an artist, your a designer, you are a human being! Not some slave and we want you to be you!

    Yes we are in hard time, but unfortunately hard times tend to weed out the bad from the good and serve as a natural selection process in many industries.

  5. Hey Craig, here’s a bunch o advice that is great, spot on correct and nothing new to anyone, as obvious as apple pie: perform, be honest, make sure you team can count on you in crunch time, communicate clearly, come up with new ideas, listen to your producers, and always get better.

    Just to be more complete, I’d add always be yourself, never quit and live everyday as if it were the last.

    Come on, Craig. Oh, and to finish on a lighter note:

    “No “artist” in their right mind is going to come in early. He/she should be up all night thinking about ideas, surfing for inspiration. Who will be that 9:12 am straddler who kinda looks cool walking in 10 min past the time when the boss gets pissed.”

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    You made my day. YOU’RE very funny. (Notice the caps? Try to guess.)

  6. One of the big issues today is retaining talent, in order to keep a cohesive team together is to create an environment that will let those designers flourish. We need to really listen to what kind of environment our teams want to design and develop in and then taking into consideration a carefully formulated process, help to create at least some of what they are looking for.

    My biggest gripe with some of the major digital shops out there is that they are stifling and that is why we see the same site done again and again and again. We need to realize that the digital shop is actually a digital agency and requires a much more flexible schedule that lets that team execute and produce new ideas.

    Its a very fine balance but if done right its clicks and you will see how much more pleasurable the whole process becomes.

  7. Thanks for your comments, all. I appreciate the dialogue and hope that it continues to inform and discuss the issue.

    Specifically, Craig, I’m not trying to turn anyone into robots. In fact, I’m counting on the fact that everyone who reads this knows that they shouldn’t turn a blind eye to their creative side and become a brown-noser to save his/her job. I even made a point in the article to say that: “Don’t get me wrong, don’t become a push-over, and don’t change who you are.”

    There’s a big difference between becoming indispensable and being too self-important. Personally, I’m not looking to hire that guy who cares about how he looks strolling into the office 10 minutes late. I don’t care about entrances. I’m also equally as unaffected by what my designers are doing late at night.

    The designer or artiste you’re describing is an upper echelon talent, and hopefully he doesn’t get confused on his own self-worth, because times are tough right now.

    This article was meant for people who might not know all of these tips. There are a lot of first year employees out there right now absolutely shaking in their boots. I know, I have some on my team.

    And the one point you took the most exception to, about not talking to your boss: Craig, this is just flat out wrong. Please don’t let people think that they should have ESP and be able to read their boss’s or creative director’s minds. I’ve always encouraged this in my staff, and hope that my teams will forever feel comfortable enough with me to be able to approach this tough subject.

    I’ll leave you with this thought:
    If an amazing design comp falls unpicked in the client’s forest, did it ever happen?

  8. Totally understood. I am not in anyway suggesting the 10 minute stroll is “cool” but what I am referring to and those who know know this, is that self confident and ACCOUNTABLE designer who knows what he or she needs to do and gets it done.

    Sometimes our clocks are a bit different than other folks.

    I am completely in agreement that talent should always have open dialog with their bosses and CDs and everyone should always know where they stand at any given time, but to ask what I can do to keep my job is a bit strange when the work should stand on its own and professional behavior is a given.

    I guess your right, this was an article for those with less experience.

    To answer your final question: absolutely YES! what that direction did was help to define the project, help to keep the other directions competitive and allows your team to keep their creative muscles flexed on a consistent basis. Nothing should ever be for naught and a direction that is not chosen should be used as a clinic for why, how, etc… Look at the direction with the team and discuss what worked and what didnt and most of all from a business standpoint, MAYBE IT CAN BE USED FOR SOMETHING ELSE!! Never throw anything away.

    Great article, always love to discuss these types of topics.

    Would love to have you contribute a POV on iPro (http://iproblog.blogspot.com)

  9. Well, I actually completely agree with you about the design comp, the process, and what we can do in order to ensure that we all benefit. But I have to say that very simply, those that are getting their designs chosen over and over (and more regularly than their peers) are obviously more likely to slide off the firing line quicker.

    That doesn’t mean sacrifice creativity. Often what I have found it means is that designers lean too heavily on the art of what they’re doing, and focus too little on the main objectives. Design is not art, alone.

    The best designers are those who understand how not to skimp on the creativity while addressing major functional and feature requirements, user experience, and other essential objectives.

    I’ll definitely take a look at iPro and put in my two cents.

    Thanks, as always.

  10. READ THIS DESIGNERS

    This recession/depression sounds like a blessing to us all.. why not do the opposite of what greg recommends and get sacked?! Ok you may not be getting the same amount of income for a while but THINK OF THE BENEFITS!!

    – less health related injuries (maybe it will stop the brain tumour at 42)
    – more opportunity for exercise and taking care of your self
    – less time restraint anxiety
    – sleep in and work your own hours
    – & screw this corporate bullshit of making lies look desirably pretty

    UNITE TOGETHER , TURF OUT YOUR BOSS & START YOUR OWN COMPANY
    STOP SLAVERY & FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHTS!!!

  11. I think we are better off leaving our shitty design jobs with the pathetic pay we get, buy a metal detector and hunt for GOLD!

    Designers are the scum of the world and that’s why we get paid a shit wage.. don’t expect to live long in life if you want to stick with advertising.

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  13. a very interesting article, written from a different perspective. I have been in the position of trying to get a design job before the recession and it was not a nice experience, so i feel for anyone who is having to go through that now. I used to just design for print, but the number of jobs that wanted an all in one print and web designer was wake up call. You would not expect a plumber to do your electrics as well, but that seems to be the case in our industry. If anyone is the unfortunate position of being of work, my advice would be to try and keep upto date with trends as it is all to easy to get stuck in a rut and fall behind.

  14. This is superb advice, even for someone like me. I'm one of those dreaded designers that has been tossed around in the vicious “Not enough experience, but can't get experience, because I don't have any experience” cycles. Since I am currently unemployed, I'm using these tough economic times to dramatically improve my online/print portfolio and to learn a new skill or two. I'm hoping that my persistence will pay off eventually.

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