It’s great to be young and wild and free, but since I graduated, it’s been a very twisted, yet insightful, road to get to where I am now, which is kind of nowhere. And I know it’s gonna be ok.
This blog post is a plea to all you young designers and media folk, like myself, to listen to your elders, because they seriously know what they are talking about in this industry and they have experience to back it up. I think that even though this industry is constantly changing, those who have been in this business for a while are the ultimate chameleons. I know for myself, I grew up on social media, laptops and iPhones. Think about one of your professors, they may only be in their 40s, but they certainly had a different digital upbringing than you did! I feel that they are the ones to turn to for the best advice on how to adapt and get yourself out there when you haven’t learned to walk yet.
For those of you who may not know me, my name is Kelsey Trabue and I am a designer. Last May, I graduated with my master’s degree in Interactive Media from an amazing little school in North Carolina called Elon. Ever since then, I haven’t stopped learning. To this, I owe my uppers, bosses, art directors, professors, classmates and digital strategists genuine gratitude. Since graduating, I’ve had 3 different jobs (in the span of 9 months), where I’ve averaged spending about 3 months at each of those jobs. Each of these jobs has been a contract position. I’ve also done a serious array of freelance work.
Today, I had something happen to me that helped me realize that someday I will have the opportunity to be an “elder” or a “senior employee.” But until that moment comes, I’ll just try to keep educating myself. Today I was at my current job (soon to be old job, I’m moving on next week to God knows what), I got a phone call from a number in Palo Atlo, CA. It was a design recruiter from Groupon. I thought to myself, as the sometimes-arrogant person that I can be, “OMG, I’ve hit it big time!” My mind wandered to thoughts of a new apartment in Chicago, Groupon’s headquarters, riding the El Train to work and walking along Lake Michigan. However, my silly daydreams quickly came to screeching halt…
Here’s a little back story: A few days prior to this phone call, I was looking around for jobs in the Chicago area. I feel like I have been needing a change in my life and have always wanted to try the big city lifestyle. I had remembered that one of my classmates worked for Groupon, so I checked out their website. Turns out there were hiring some designers! So I quickly LinkedIn-messaged my friend and she was able to get my information out to the people who could get me a sweet job with this growing company. I thought for sure I would get an interview or get the chance to visit Chicago.
Now, getting back to the current story. This nice design recruiter called me and quickly, yet gently, flounced my fleeting dreams. At first, I was shocked that I was hearing from an actual person from Groupon. I was all ready to listen to what she called to tell me, but then said, “Well, we’re really not hiring any junior designers right now, we’re mostly looking for senior designers.” Until that point, I hadn’t fully considered myself as a junior designer. I felt like since having all of this diverse experience (I’ll save that for another blogpost, if you want to see now, check out my website or resume) and tons of freelance work that I would be a good fit for really any position that I applied for. Truth is, people want more experience.
I’m appreciative to this woman from Groupon for giving me a reality check. Though I don’t plan on giving up on my dreams, I’m not a dramatic person, I do plan on trying to become more patient. I’m also appreciative to her for helping me think back to all of the “Senior” people I have worked for the past year.
In each job, whether it was my internship with Pace Communications, my part-time and remote design work also with Pace, my interactive design work with my first big agency, AIMIA and my first corporate setting, Hylant, I’ve been blessed to have a lot of senior intelligence surround me. Today, I realized that all of the people I’ve worked with, have molded me into the designer I am today. I learned how to make actual interactive designs for an actual company (instead of just reading or hearing about it in class). I learned how to make nametags, Microsoft Office documents, banners, postcards, and RFPs for a corporate brand. I learned how to make my first infographic and continue to have a passion for data visualization. Obviously, I’ve learned more than this, but these are just a few examples.
While in school, I decided to go home for spring break. All year long, our professors and career counselors and class speakers would tell us grad students to go on “informational interviews.” They are basically job interviews with no job to actually apply for. I did one informational interview early in the year when I was eager, and I got an internship out of it, so that was cool J
But then, I didn’t go on any informational interviews for a while. The business of school and projects had become a plague over my life. I knew it wouldn’t be until spring break that I could breathe for a little bit. I decided to drown myself some more in stress because I knew that I was going home, and there might be job opps there. So, a week before I headed back to good old Ann Arbor, Michigan, I decided to take a chance on myself, a giant leap of faith, and get some informational interviews. I didn’t get just 1, I got 4! I was only home for 7 days, so a majority of my week was spent doing interviews. All I had to do was look up some companies in Ann Arbor, throw my line (an email) and see if any fish would catch. I guess you could say I caught 4. It wasn’t so bad!
The first two went well, but I knew there wasn’t as much opportunity with them, but it was a good experience to do them. By my third interview, I was much more comfortable and pretty pleased with the reaction to my business cards at that point. See below (it’s a selfie infographic and the card is foldable!).
I had the opportunity to make the acquaintance of my third informational venture and to this day, we still talk. I actually had a series of interviews with this company for a job. I was eager and thought that the job was so right for me that I decided that moving back to Michigan would be a good idea, since I thought I would be most likely be getting the job. The position was “Digital Marketing Specialist.” It was a lot of writing and marketing, whereas I definitely lacked a formal marketing background, though I knew I had a “knack” for it and my writing wasn’t all that fantastic. My professor told me that I needed to be a designer after discussing with him the position. Before graduating, I did not have very much confidence in my abilities as a designer, even though it was my favorite part of school. This is probably why I was applying for jobs and trying to convince myself that I would love those jobs, even though I knew in my heart of hearts that they weren’t the best fit for me. He was right. And now I urge young designer, student designers, whatever designer, to have confidence in your work. I feel like now that I’m more confident, I’ve had the chance to do a lot of different types of work and it’s been great!
Anyways… After graduating, I moved back to Michigan from the warm and lovely NC and already had a scheduled meeting the week of my return. My lovey acquaintance from the company and I met at the famous Zingerman’s Deli and had breakfast. She broke the news to me before I had the chance to bite into my eggs, that the need for my supposed “destined” position had changed and they had already hired someone else. It was a weird feeling of sadness, failure and humiliation. I was definitely humbled by this experience, however. She told me some good news though, that she was looking for some people to join a marketing committee and she thought I would be a good fit! They needed someone who could make infographics and I had shown her this one below so she was pretty excited to use my skills.
Though I did not end up getting that job, to this day she and I have met up and spoken regularly. I got a great working relationship out of it that has helped me with other connections and has shown me that my true passion lies in designing.
That summer, I got a part-time design job with my previous internship, then was blessed in August with a job that literally landed on my lap. If you haven’t used recruiting agencies before, they can definitely work sometimes. I went through The Creative Group and I highly recommend them! After working as an interactive designer through them for an agency called Aimia, it was pretty tough to make the 1.5 hour commute to and from there. So I found another job through Hylant, an insurance broker company with over 75 years of experience. It’s been great having the chance to learn how to work within a marketing team of a corporate brand. Now, I’m heading out on my own and taking on the world. We shall see what will come of it. But I definitely know I will take me with me all that I have learned from my peers and elders.
So, here’s some advice from a young person: listen and pay heed to the words of the wise. They’ve got the experience to back those words up and most are willing to teach you their ways. I’ve learned so much since being out of school and I’m excited for what’s to come!
Thank you, Groupon, for helping me realize that I’ve still got a ways to go and some more people to learn from!