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Are you an older Designer? Read this.

Recently a good friend of mine lost his job after 15 years with his company as a Graphic Designer. He’s now 50 years old, with a family and mortgage and insurance to take care of, and is now finding himself scrambling to find a new job in an industry which has changed dramatically in the years during his employment. It’s only been 2 weeks and he’s already in panic mode. He feels lost in a world that has somehow moved past him where he thought he was safe and secure in the job he had. Now he doesn’t know what to do, and is unsure of his abilities to do what needs to be done.

It’s a scary thought – getting older, losing the security of your job, and now facing financial hardship. In our industry where being young is considered a value, and the young are more willing to work for less wages and benefits, re-inventing yourself when you’ve been a “worker bee” for too long is daunting and competition is fierce. Where do you even begin? Your portfolio is woefully out of date, you need to evaluate and re-write your resume – not to mention writing cover letters (*shudder*), you need an updated website, and even a new attitude where you need to somehow find your confidence and strength to go back into the jungle. You even need to buy new corporate clothing for potential interviews since the last time you bought one, wide lapels and shoulder pads were still in style. All this needs to be accomplished as quickly as possible (think days!) just so you could start applying for jobs where you feel you’re no longer even qualified for. I’m exhausted just at the thought of it.

What can we, as Graphic Designers/Art Directors/Creative Directors do to ease the transition if we find ourselves in the same situation? Today’s job market is surely a buyers market – there are more employees than there are jobs and employers are holding all the cards. They want young workers who are fast and trendy and willing to work for a lot less than the older professional needs just to survive. Too many employers demand mandatory longer work hours and high production levels, and give few, if any, benefits in return. Employees are expendable, replaceable, disposable and graphic design projects are a luxury that tight-budgeted businesses will cut first. So what do we do? We’re all going to age of course. We’re all going to lose track of what is trendy in style or technique while we’re busy keeping up with the status quo. How do we compete in a world where everything fast forwards at lightning speed while we stand there looking at it all in shock? As John Lennon sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been at your job for 6 months or 20 years. It doesn’t matter if you’re just one of the team or the Director of the whole department. You need to protect yourself and keep yourself relevant at all times because there is nothing secure left in this world. If the unthinkable happens and you’re facing the dreaded “Come in to my office, we need to have a talk” speech, at least you could do some things to keep you somewhat ahead of the curve.

Keep learning. Keep learning new trends, new techniques, new styles. Keep up to date with technical advancements in our industry, and update your software know-how. Check out design blogs and study them. Review sites like Pinterest, Behance and Instagram (to name a few) to study trends in design and style. Take courses at a local school if you feel you need them – there are also tons of videos online like youtube (free) or Lynda.com (subscription) to learn anything you want. Don’t stay stagnant, accept the changes that the industry goes through and try to keep up the best you can.

Weed out the bad. Make sure you make samples that go with what is contemporary in look and feel in today’s design world, and save them for your portfolio – whether in print or digital form. Get rid of anything that looks dated. You need to look at your work the way a hiring manager or client would. Be diligent in keeping your portfolio looking as sharp as it can be. 1 mediocre piece can make 10 good ones look mediocre too. Stick to the good and weed out the bad.

Social media. If you’re not on it, you’re basically invisible. You need more than one online presence to make yourself known to the masses so don’t just rely on your Facebook profile. Instagram photos of your work, start a gallery in Deviantart or Behance, create boards on Pinterest, update your Linkedin, use Twitter to talk about what interests you. These are just a few – there are so many outlets to make yourself known that there is no excuse not to use them. Be social and be present in the moment – comment and engage others in conversation (but avoid controversy unless you’re talking privately or unless you’re a social advocate, you don’t want your personal views affecting your job opportunities either). Employers will look for you in these arenas – if you’re not there, then the sad fact is you may not even stand a chance. That’s just the reality of it. So if you’re not using social media to your advantage now – it’s never too late to start. Pick a venue to start with and let your voice be heard and your visions be seen. Then branch out from there.

Practice, make, create. You need to work your creative talents like a muscle or expect atrophy. Do creative projects that pushes your boundaries and gets you out of your comfort mode. As they say – no pain, no gain. Think of yourself as a creative athlete and implement a work-out regiment for your talents. Consider it a part of your career and your business – it’s not an option, it’s not something you do for fun or to waste time when you’re bored. This is the time you take to improve your skills daily. This is your job, your career. Take it seriously and work it like you’re competing in the design olympics.

Work on that attitude. Yes, many of us artists have big attitude. But we are also painfully insecure, self-conscious and unsure of ourselves and our abilities, especially as we get older. Both sides of this coin are poison and not the right mental state when going back into the job market. Ego stands in the way, and so can our insecurities. Some of us are equally as afraid to succeed as we are to fail. We, as most creative people, are our own biggest obstacles to success. Learn to have confidence without cockiness, be firm without being aggressive, be a team player without being a door mat, be descriptive without being defensive. These aren’t things you’re going to learn in a day but you need to remind yourself constantly that your work has value, you have talent that money cannot define, and that if what we did was easy then literally everyone could do it and they wouldn’t need us at all. This doesn’t make us better than anyone else, it just makes us the trained professionals we are, and we deserve the same respect any other professional receives. But learning how to balance our attitudes to gracefully and successfully sell ourselves and our designs is an art form in and of itself that most of us never learn in school. Unfortunately, we all need to know how to do it well if we’re going to succeed without losing our minds in the process.

So before the time comes where you have to go back into the jungle, you can be working towards slowly improving your chances for an easier transition. In the meantime, you could always freelance 🙂

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