Tees and Double-Yous

September 19, 2008 § 1 Comment

As I’ve mentioned in a prior post, I’ve been looking for work since graduating with a Masters Degree in Design. For the first, oh, 2 months, this was a lot of fun. But two days ago, I passed the 4 month mark.

Yeah. 4 months.

Before any of you go, “Just get a job, dude”—I wish it was that easy. But, it’s not. This is what I’ve learned:

I’m Mr. First Date. A great leadoff hitter, but terrible in the clean-up spot. A wonderful flirt, but a terrible lover. I’m quick, but not fast. I’m a friend… with no benefits. And it’s maddening as hell.

For potential employers, I assume my resume makes me intriguing: Carnegie Mellon grad degree, 3.5 years in strategy+consulting, some time in marketing, and a decent enough portfolio. So, people love to talk to me. I’ve had a lot of interviews. But that’s where it stops. Their interest is generally lost about 15 minutes in to the conversation when it becomes clear to them that I am not much of a “T-shaped” person, which is what design firms are looking for these days.

Basically, a T-shaped person has one pronounced, deep skill-set, but is well-rounded enough to interact with people from different disciplines. This arrangement seems to have the benefit that T-shaped people will always have one defined skill to lean on and allows the firm to keep job titles and functions nice and clean.

My problem is—is that I’m more of a lowercase w.

The w-shaped person has a variety of sorta deep skillsets, but not one outstanding trait. Or rather, the outstanding trait, as it were, is that I am a w.

“Surely not,” You say. “Reconsider your position, old chap, for you must just be being hard on yourself. Chip chip!”

“Au contraire,” I reply in another language. I have an undergrad degree in General Studies and have had more jobs in more industries than many will have in their entire lives, very few of which point me in any distinct direction outside of, “He’s certainly got the well-rounded part down…”

(Put it this way: I can make and deliver a pizza for you in 30 minutes or less, check out a movie for you while bussing your dinner plates, make your yard look like a baseball diamond while fixing your sink and building you a bookcase (from real wood!), caddy for you during your corporate tournament, organize your filing cabinet, cut extra sets of house keys, grade your daughter’s standardized tests, sell you a killer set of knives, help you strategize your latest multi-million dollar lawsuit against your neighbor who hoodwinked you into buying that “beachfront property” in Malaysia, all the while I help design your niece’s latest school presentation rife with information graphics before finishing up by drawing diagrams for Billy’s basketball game against Big State University. And would you like that in paper or plastic?)

So the things I’m good at (writing, strategy, storytelling), it seems every designer thinks they’re good at them. Or maybe it’s just that the strategizing and storytelling is the part of the job that every designer likes the most so they don’t want to give it up or hire you based just on that—whether or not they’re actually any good at them—while the rest of my portfolio, well, it doesn’t really speak to the latest, greatest, biggest, and most active current market for designers: Anything having to do with the web or electronic gadgets and gizmos.

Further frustrating this whole job search is that yesterday I was told by an industry “insider” that my portfolio was thin and that I needed to spend the next 3-4 months doing some pro bono work to beef it up, re-state certain parts of the portfolio, and create a few different resumes, among other suggestions. All of this for an entry level position making less money than when I went into grad school. Something’s not right here. It’s time to refocus. Or rather, focus.

If I’m not a T, then I’ll make good use of being a lowercase w, on my own if need be. Because it seems like I’m not looking in the right place for the skills I have.

It’s like that old story about the guy who loses his keys in front of his house. When he and his wife look around for his keys, he goes and searches under the street light, 25 feet away. She says to him, “Why are you searching over there?”

“Well,” he says. “There’s light over here.”

That’s me. I gotta quit doing that.


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