April 13, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
California Polyechnic State University
Montana State University - Bozeman
Maryland Institute College of Art
Art Academy of Cincinnati
Santa Ana College
University of Washington
Fairleigh Dickinson University
Kennesaw State University
Kenneth Macro Ph.D.: Seemingly, it hard to say at this juncture. Graphic Communication represents an over-encompassing and vast field of disciplines that are all attempting to determine their futures.
In the commercial printing sector there are jobs to be had. Many are on the production floors, yet some can be found in customer service, sales, and marketing. The packaging market experienced significant growth over the past year as more and more people order products online. I believe packaging to continue in a growth trend indicating an increase in job opportunities, both on the production floor and the CSR/sales suite. Label market has remained strong and will see some increase in job availability, again, on the production floor and sale/marketing and product development areas. Graphic Communication, at least from our perspective, also includes web development, user-interface design, user-experience design and human computer interaction (HCI). Although there was some decline in employment numbers at the beginning of the pandemic, opportunities have seemed to ramp-up quite significantly over the past several months.
Bottomline, the job opportunities were not as readily available for our graduates in 2020 and 2021 as they have been in years past, allowing them to choose between multiple offers. However, there are jobs available today and I am confident that--with some patience and persistence--jobs (and careers) can be had.
Kenneth Macro Ph.D.: Many of graduates are finding jobs in UX/UI design with companies based primarily within CA. However, they are finding them nationally as well. Such positions are well-paid with adequate benefits and provide opportunities for newly hired students to work remotely. Today, that is a highly coveted benefit.
Kenneth Macro Ph.D.: Today is about wanting to learn all that one can learn. Meaning, using an online learning platform like LinkedIn Learning or others to brush up on software applications or gain experience with a current programming language, or experimenting with web development or web design applications-or simply exploring newer office enterprise management packages-all can provide skills to a portfolio that extend one's employability. Companies want to know that their potential hires are resourceful, open to learning new ways in which to work, be productive, communicate in teams, and quickly prepare and adjust for change. This is applied to all people in every field that encompasses Graphic Communication.
Montana State University - Bozeman
Tracy Sullivan: If you know exactly what avenue of graphic design you want to pursue, then any additional coursework or related experience showcasing you understand what that role entails will help. As a hiring manager, what gets my attention most is someone with a solid portfolio...excellent type handling skills, attention to detail, a good mix of graphic styles, and of course creativity. During an interview, I want to see enthusiasm and a willingness to learn. On the job, I want to see software skills enhancing creativity, not impeding it.
Tracy Sullivan: A good job out of college is any opportunity that allows you to build your skill set in a way that propels you to the next opportunity. Whether it's focusing on one skill thoroughly or being exposed to a variety of project types or really delving into an industry you are passionate about, these all help you grow which adds to your ability to solve the next design project. The more experience you have the better you are at problem-solving and that's really what design is about.
Alexander McSwain: Versatility, like the job market post housing market crash a decade ago, companies are having to cut back their workforce due to a range of reasons. So, having someone with a range of skills is more appealing to companies while the "ship is being steadied". As a designer, knowing email and social media marketing, layout, web design, and more importantly motion graphics.
Alexander McSwain: Courses that help in today's market would be ones around: typography, animation, marketing, and web design. Knowing software like Canva, not just the Adobe framework, remembering that the software is just a tool of design, not what makes design.
Alexander McSwain: Any job out of college is a good job, but finding a job with opportunity for growth is key. That will depend on the individual and what their personal goals are. Any job that allows you to grow within the company or one that supports your personal aspirations within or outside the company is a good job. It is equally what you can bring to the company and what they can offer you as a company.
Brockett Horne: A big trend is that experienced designers and alumni are reaching out to help recent graduates with portfolio reviews, mentoring, referrals, AMA sessions, and so on. Some industries are flourishing in the pandemic but others are either struggling or planning to come out even stronger when it concludes. For design graduates, we see a few trends: short-term employment, such as fellowships or internships, the ability to work with agility across media and scope is even more important, emerging designers might be competing against those with more experience who are between positions, employers are inundated with applications so investment in a strong online presence is essential to stand out.
Brockett Horne: UI/UX expertise, motion graphics, and ability to self-teach new skills
Brockett Horne: "Word of mouth" openings such as newsletters, people posting openings on LinkedIn or university job boards are particularly fruitful now. Networking is an important skill, but sometimes harder for recent graduates. Know that time spent reaching out to professionals for informational interviews, portfolio feedback, or events, can help build an effective professional network.
Katherine Spitzhoff: The pandemic forced the graphic designers to find new ways to get work done. Many more people are now comfortable working completely online and remotely. Virtual meetings have become the norm. Recent graduates will find that one of the most enduring effects of this time will be a rethinking of what it means to be part of a team, and what our relationship to an office space is.
Eventually, designers will have a choice of returning to the office or staying home. The costs of commuting in both time and money, will be examined, as will the price of office space. As recent graphic design graduates will be accustomed to working remotely at an early stage in their careers, this flexibility will be part of their skill set. It will be a strength in moving forward in their careers.
Since the pandemic began, many colleges have had to move their classes online. Young designers who are graduating after spending a semester or two completing remote classes will be adept at learning through video lessons and online groups. Learning resources, such as video training libraries and courses offering micro-credentials have become important as sources of training for the design community. Life-long learning is required of a graphic designer to remain current. Recent graphic design graduates will be experienced in finding the online instruction they need for whatever skill they wish to strengthen.
Katherine Spitzhoff: Employers are looking for a broad set of skills. Young designers must be comfortable with producing assets for screen as well as files for print. They must have empathy for the experience of the user of the product they are designing. They must be able to think strategically to coordinate design with the business goals of an organization. They must think of how designs will translate through many different mediums. Newer areas of design such as instructional design or interactive infographics are seeking qualified individuals.
Young graduates should express that they are willing and able to learn new software and new skills on the job. Many companies require the basic skills of Adobe software but may also have proprietary software that is specialized for their area. Asking questions about the software might show the future employer that the candidate is ready to learn more.
A knowledge of coding is a strong plus when competing with other recent design graduates. Even if you are not filling the role of the person who builds the site, knowledge of coding will help you design so that the digital product will function correctly and be pleasant for the user.
Young design graduates must also be prepared to enter a professional community has become more inclusive and socially aware than it was in earlier decades. Many design projects are influenced by issues of environmental impact and social causes. It is advantageous to have portfolio pieces that show an awareness of the role that design plays in creating positive change.
Katherine Spitzhoff: Experience that shows great organization, communication skills and time management will be sought after by employers. Internships and real-life clients will show a commitment to becoming a professional and will create portfolio pieces that are valued.
Any experience that involves being part of a team and being able to take direction and handle responsibility should be expressed on the resume. Taking positions of leadership, even outside of design, are good for an employer to know about. A young person should not hesitate to list such things as being on the e-board of a club or organizing food drives.
Recent graduates are encouraged to join professional organizations such as AIGA or The Graphic Artists Guild. Showing membership on a resume and LinkedIn page helps to convey the serious intent of the person entering the design field. The resources of these organizations are excellent and there are networks to help with the transition to being a professional.
Art Academy of Cincinnati
Mark Thomas: I believe so. As with all professions, students graduating in the visual arts will work from home studios and offices, interface often with clients and the extended creative team remotely, not necessarily to reduce infection spread but for economic practicality and efficiency of time and space. The pandemic has in a way, compressed the world even more providing the use of electronic tools and platforms to connect effectively with people everywhere.
The ability to incorporate these tools into the creative tool box is now an expected skill. Whole industries within the economy that rely heavily on visual artists work have been decimated or radically changed by the pandemic-entertainment, restaurants, retail and travel. This will significantly change how these businesses advertise, brand or rebrand and determine marketing strategies. The new designers will need to adapt to all of these changes as they invent new methods for communicating, innovating and collaborating.
Mark Thomas: Technical skills will of course be important to know. Understanding how to use industry standard software, communication platforms, a range of electronic devices and even a perfunctory understanding of User Interface and coding. But more important, graduates need "experience learning" prior to graduation in the four "C" 21st century skills-communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. Students studying in the visual arts and design, performing and literary arts have been learning the four "Cs" for decades. More recently, business and government have recognized the power of these skills and the people who know them, which has empowered graduates of arts degrees with more flexibility and leverage in the "new" workplace.
Mark Thomas: Experience that demonstrates a person's ability to work with others, collaboration, empathy, a willingness and desire to improve our world and the people in it. So projects that are socially driven, volunteering or work that demonstrates empathy for others.
Overall the resume needs to show an established work ethic and ability to think creatively and critically.
Santa Ana College
Digital Media Arts Department
Jennifer McMillan: There will not be an enduring impact for those who choose to take a proactive approach to their current situation. Now, what can a student do to be more proactive? And I think there's a couple of really concrete things that they can do. Number one of the really simple but is often overlooked is to clean up your social media accounts. So this is not the time to have, like, you know, the drunk party picks on your social media. You don't want to have anything on there that's going to make you look like you're irresponsible or that someone should not put their trust or their faith in you when it comes to hiring you for a certain position.
So just go through their social media, clean out everything that doesn't make you look like a responsible person that you want to hire. So that's one thing. Another thing that is super important that a lot of students seem to overlook is preparing an online portfolio so they can easily send their samples of their work to potential clients or hiring managers. I think of portfolio should have, you know, five to maybe 10 solid pieces of work. So that way it's really, really easy for somebody to kind of take a look at your stuff and decide, yes, this person is a good fit. No, they're not a good fit. And the quicker that you can get yourself a portfolio, the more easier it is for you to kind of shop yourself around.
And then additionally, I think that creating a LinkedIn profile is really, really key, especially for those who are trying to find jobs within this current pandemic that we're living through. I get a lot of I get a lot of work, I should say, off of LinkedIn. And it's a great way for students to maybe apply for jobs, number one, for them to create content to showcase their skills to potential clients and hiring managers. But it's also good just to network with people. So a lot of times, you know, companies or managers, whatever, they may not have a current opportunity, but you can always reach out to someone and kind of say, hey, I'm interested, I'm a new graduate. Here's some work. You know, can I have an informational interview? Are you looking for interns? That kind of thing. So LinkedIn is really, really important. And it's something that a lot of students tend to overlook, especially creative students.
Jennifer McMillan: In my opinion, new graduate is going to need a combination of tenacity, creativity and humility. So they're going to need tenacity to go out there and keep searching for opportunities. So because we're living through a pandemic, there are a lot of people who are out of work. I know I'm a freelance designer, you know, outside of teaching, I do that, too.
And, you know, my freelance business has struggled quite a bit. So people are going to have to be really tenacious to go out there and keep looking for jobs and applying for jobs. Sometimes I apply for opportunities on LinkedIn and I have a pro account so I could look on there and see that there are so many people who are applying for jobs. I mean, you have hundreds of people applying for one position. So there are also a lot of people who are more seasoned and have more experience than new graduates, and they are in positions where they're trying to make ends meet.
So these people are applying for jobs that are below their pay rate and kind of like lesser jobs and what they're used to. So the impact on that for a current a new graduate is really, really tough because they're going to find themselves missing out on jobs that they may have been hired for originally. So I just say that they have to be tenacious to go out there and and just keep hope alive and keep applying to things. And eventually they'll find what they're looking for right after that.
I think that creativity is super important because we are living in a pandemic, opportunities may not be as plentiful as they once were, but that doesn't mean it's the end of the world for a young graduate. What they can do is get really creative when it comes to finding things to give them work experience, but also put a little bit of money in their pocket. Right. So a couple of things that I recommend to my students are, number one, they can ask their friends and family for anybody that needs design work.
You know, the beautiful thing about this pandemic is that there are so many people who are starting up, you know, quote unquote, side hustles. There are people that have businesses that kind of were put on hold, but because everybody is in such a financial pinch. Know people are looking to launch businesses or they're looking for ways to further promote their businesses that they currently have up and running. So that's a really good opportunity for people who are new in the market to get some experience, you know, get a little bit of income generated, but also start to build relationships with people that might be lasting, you know, down the road.
And I think these are great opportunities for young graduates, too, because a lot of these business owners or people who are starting from scratch, they may not have the biggest budgets in the world. So they may pay slightly less than, you know, what is average or standard within the industry. But it also gives the student a good opportunity to build relationships and again, start creating these portfolio pieces that they can then parlay into bigger jobs or more jobs in the future.
So getting creative is super important. Another point to the creativity is making rebuilding relationships with peers that will allow them to team up and go after jobs collectively as a group. So, you know, I always encourage my students to make friends with people who do something different than you. Right? So if I have graphic designers in my class, I always say, hey, who do you know? That's the illustrator. Who do you know? That's a great video editor.
Who do you know can shoot video? Who do you know that can build Web sites, you know, team up with people. And then, you know, collectively, you guys can go after small businesses and say, hey, you know, we can put a package together for you for X, Y, Z amount. And, you know, we can all, you know, eat and we can all start to build our portfolios together. So sometimes the collective power of creatives, you know, reaches a lot further than we could ever go individually.
So that's a super important thing as well.
Oh, and also I mentioned humility is really important. These are really tough times. And sometimes we have to be OK with humble beginnings. And I know that, you know, our first opportunity out of college may not always be our dream job. It may not always be the best. But I always recommend to students that, you know, if you take an opportunity that may not be the best one that you apply for, sometimes a lot of these jobs can be blessings in disguise.
And it's really important for you to go into that job with the end goal in mind. So if there's a certain skill that you need to learn, make sure you show up, you do a wonderful job, make sure you make yourself as indispensable as possible and make sure you get those skills that you really want to learn. Or if you get those projects under your belt, whatever it is you're looking for, make sure you have an end goal in mind so that you can use that opportunity to make you a better creative and that you can build additional opportunities for yourself in the future.
Jennifer McMillan: I've been on the hiring and applicant side of things, so my answer is a bit different than others in my field.
I don't know that a resume for a graphic designer has as much power as a portfolio. For example, if you interned at a major creative agency, but all you did was filing or something that wasn't super creative, I don't think that makes you a better candidate than someone with limited work experience but has a good portfolio.
Personally, I value a good portfolio over a prestigious name on a resume. Ultimately, it doesn't matter where you've worked. What really matters at the end of the day is what you can produce. For that reason, if I had to say what stands out most on a resume, I'd say that the actual work you created at the companies listed on your resume matters most.
Annabelle Gould: Communication skills, the ability to tell stories and deliver convincing messages to an audience that is fractured, skeptical and short on time and patience. This means good verbal skills as well as strong visual skills. The world is full of templates for visual design so it's easy for everything to look the same. Being able to distinguish yourself and your message while most of us are experiencing the world through a screen at home is important.
Annabelle Gould: A good time to deep dive into a specific skill that you might not have been able to explore otherwise (learning new technology, programming, a personal project, photography etc). Also consider writing, reflecting on design, consider how your own practice is impacted by the global issues such as climate change, the pandemic, remote working etc. Everyone is looking for chances to connect so reach out - form a Zoom reading group, a "designing" group, even take this opportunity to meet designers in other cultures (via Zoom or Teams of course). It's hard to think about living in another city or country right now but the lessons we learn from other cultures are invaluable.
Annabelle Gould: Just because you finished school doesn't mean the learning stops! Your first job won't be your only job, use every opportunity as chance to learn and grow. If you are still looking for a job, don't get too discouraged by the state of the economy or politics. Designers are needed in all areas of industry all around the world.
Woody Holliman: In graphic design, more internships will be online, and even some staff designer positions will be
Woody Holliman: In graphic design, they should be looking for freelance projects (even pro bono projects for a
worthy nonprofit organization). They should also become active in their local design community,
becoming a student member of AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) and helping to
organize online events/workshops. This is a terrific opportunity to work alongside more senior
designers and art directors and find professional mentors.
Woody Holliman: In graphic design, recent graduates will need to be patient since many design firms have
downsized during Covid times. Be persistent and keep your spirits up by taking on freelance
projects (even pro bono projects) and becoming active in your local chapter of AIGA.
Janet O'Neil: I believe the job market will open up more opportunities for working remotely and in freelancing. Fortunately, graphic design, web design, and illustration are conducive to a stay-at-home environment. Students can work on time management, online networking, freelancing (if they have not already started). They can build a strong web presence and portfolio and design products to sell on Shopify, Red Bubble, Society Six, Spoonflower, and other online stores. Stay positive, read blogs and magazines, and join communities that teach skills like Skillshare and LinkedIn. If they need portfolio projects and there are no clients in sight, they can design for charity, family, and friends.
The 100 Day Project is a great way to start developing personal projects to showcase progression on Instagram, Facebook, and other social media venues. Employers love to see how designers think, not just their final slick creations. To maintain emotional and physical well-being, designers can join Zoom, FB Messenger, or Facetime for virtual interaction. Eat healthy, exercise, get enough sleep, meditate or pray, and talk to people on the phone. I personally hike as much as I can, and it not only clears my head but also gives me the opportunity to think about projects I am working on.
Janet O'Neil: At Fairleigh Dickinson University, we feel strongly that our online learning program in graphic design will help students forge through this challenging time. I personally do not feel the best route is to take a gap year. Students can try and remain on target and work with their professors to complete projects and learn independently. A university degree is still one of the most dependable ways to enter the design and illustration industries. If a student does need to take a gap year due to finances or personal reasons, I would recommend keeping their Adobe Creative Cloud account active and work on portfolio pieces while learning new aspects of the software. They can develop further skills in Adobe Fresco and Procreate. Students could do a 30-day, 100-day, or 365-day illustration or design series of projects to keep them active.
Janet O'Neil: If students do not have web design skills yet, they can develop a Behance or Adobe portfolio site and keep updating it. Students can look for awards, contests, and online exhibitions to enter. They can join design groups and develop relationships with professors and other design students for networking and feedback. Designers should not always look for accolades but should be open to criticism and learning through their failures. They can keep current in design and illustration trends by reading books, magazines, and blogs and by sharing their work and knowledge. They might create some online videos on how to illustrate or design because teaching always helps the facilitator as much as the learner. Above all, look for ways to stay positive and be grateful for what they do have in life! One day, the pandemic will be history, and new doors will open up. In the words of my beloved mother, "This too shall pass."
Carole Maugé-Lewis: Graduates are entering a very uncertain and difficult time in the labor market relative to the coronavirus pandemic. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has provided new skills and experiences that could prove to be essential assets to employers as they too adapt to post-pandemic realities. Graduates may see and lead in developing more efficient and effective standardization of response measures for epidemic and pandemic events and in developing new engagement strategies for public and private sectors for national, regional, and local communities.
The pandemic and the related forced continuity of education in online-learning modalities may have robbed students of traditional interactions but equipped them with new experiences and new how-to tools of technology, as well as the ability to adapt, listen, and communicate in deeper, more meaningful ways. From the remote interactions with my students, they have become more innovative and engaging, more focused and organized, and appear to have benefitted from the synchronous-online, teaching-learning experiences in ways that are perhaps yet to be critically analyzed for a more standardized or universal implementation and application.
Carole Maugé-Lewis: Young graduates should be critically skilled with regard to the (quick) adaptability of effective digital media applications, communications in-the-know, and communication (content) packaging and dissemination - both for office dynamics and engagement publics (consumers, audiences, etc.). Graphic design students especially should be willing to become "citizen designers", using their skills to address social issues and to advance social change in helping to solve problems of the community or of society, in general, locally, nationally, or globally. Graduates should work on developing good oral communication, time management, digital literacy, and telecommuting skills. And, don't forget empathy.
Carole Maugé-Lewis: The resume is like the sales pitch, the first contact with potential employers. Very good communication and listening skills are a must, as are writing and presentation skills. Volunteer work should continue to be of interest to employers or prospective employers, particularly the job applicant's involvement with community organizations, certainly when applying for public sector and government leadership positions. There is also great value here for the private sector given the growing interest in "corporate citizenship" by small, medium, and large businesses. Resumes should demonstrate some level of curiosity in emerging technologies (UXD, IxD, AR, e.g.) and novel approaches to traditional methods.