Mad Skills, Sucky Economy

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An optimistic outlook makes all the difference

MANY OF YOU GRAPHIC DESIGNERS  HAVE RECENTLY GRADUATED, you wore the cap and gown and were praised and congratulated by friends and family on how much you’ve accomplished.  THEN the next day happens…..they don’t warn you that you probably won’t have employers knocking down your door to hire a risky newbie. You are now scratching your head. “I THOUGHT GRADUATION WAS THE START OF SOMETHING AWESOME, WHY AM I STILL WAITING TABLES?”  Maybe you’re babysitting, maybe you’re working at Kinko’s, (-and there’s no shame in that).  What I would say to this is be an opportunist…in a positive way :)

WHEN I GRADUATED in January 2009, I found myself in this exact situation.  I continued to wait tables for months after graduating in the same small, college town with very few opportunities. Although it seemed I was “stuck” I had a plan.  (-I can’t say it went exactly as I had imagined but nonetheless) I had applied to jobs here and there but employers had very little interest in hiring  A.) new college grad or B.) someone who still lived in a college town.  These events lead up to my impulsive decision to move to Charleston, South Carolina. I gave myself the cut off date of June 1st.

WHILE WORKING LIKE A DOG to save for the move, I took advantage of my surroundings and was given an opportunity to design a drink menu for my waitressing job.  AHA! a REAL world project that I can sink my teeth into! This had turned a mindless part-time job, into a real-world opportunity and experience. (I had no idea that I would later design for a restaurant group a year and a half later.)

AT THIS POINT I SWITCHED GEARS and put focus on finding a suitable living situation in Charleston. Since I knew NO ONE, (not a single soul) I figured that Craigslist would be the way to go. I saw a posting for a swanky (or TINY) downtown apartment and jumped at the opportunity.  I drove 7 hours to Charleston, met my new roommate and signed the lease all in the same day.  It was a scary process but I’m glad I did it.

I MADE THE MOVE ON SCHEDULE.  I arrived in downtown Charleston June 1st 2010. I was excited about the possibilities!  2 days later I got a job waiting tables and continued my job search.  There were a few dark times that Summer but I pressed on submitting applications, resumes and even had a few crappy interviews here and there.  I decided to hone my web design skills and seek out a deserving website redo candidate.  I found Charleston Flower Market’s site to really need some TLC. I had learned the basics of web design in college but needed to stumble through it on my own to have the concepts sink in.  The redesign was a thrilling process, the website was transformed into one of my favorite projects of all time.  Upon finishing several pages, I decided it was time to reveal the new website to the unknowing Flower Store gals.  They loved it!  Better yet, they were willing to pay…real money! -This was a HUGE boost for my spirits and I pressed on. That Summer I did another site for an architect, one for a friend, and one for my sister.  By the end of this process I had 5 websites to reference in my portfolio.  BY GOLLY I’M A WEB DESIGNER IN CHARLESTON, SC!  (-at least I appeared to be one)

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A fun web design project :)

ON AUGUST 8TH 2010 I GOT THE CALL from an advertising agency in Charleston to come in for an interview. To my surprise, not only did I get the in-house graphic design  job but they asked me to start immediately.  This was the beginning of my professional career.  After I grew tired of doing auto ads, I decided to start looking again.  I interviewed for a position to be a graphic designer for a group of restaurants in downtown Charleston (-SCORE!  I LIVE DOWNTOWN!) I proudly presented my menu design from my waitressing job in college.  It was a hit!  I got the job and have had a BLAST working for this crazy bunch.  My portfolio has increased to 3 times it’s original size.

ON FEBRUARY 1ST 2011 I started my design job at Charleston Hospitality Group.  My advice to all you designers is to take risks and make quality work.  Your talent will show and your drive will impress. Turn everything into a chance to perform and share your talents.  Network when possible and keep up that portfolio website!  If I could go back and redo things I would have been adding Charleston keywords to my portfolio website months before I actually moved.  If you are a forward thinking designer, you will take note of this and take my advice.  Having a solid web presence will help you immensly!  Employers are much less hesitant to hire a new grad that has not only real world projects under his or her belt but a solid web portfolio as well.  This shows that you have versatility. Take risks, make the move, take the plunge!  If you’re bold enough to take these kind of chances, odds are you will recognize and create opportunities once you reach your destination.    I hope my crazy journey serves as some kind of inspiration and hope for you new grads.  Keep up the good work, positive attitude and press on!

One thought on “Mad Skills, Sucky Economy

  1. Thanks Lisa! I’m about to be in the same situation you were a few years ago and I would love to live and work in Charleston. I’m really glad I came across this post proving that it is possible to succeed if you work hard. Best of luck in all your future endeavors.

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