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10 Minutes

The pain period of the graphic designer.

The first job I took as a graphic designer was a gift for a starting designer like me, but it was not really exciting. I didn’t get too much creative work at the start, and I just didn’t get along well with my superiors. They were really good at their roles and at doing business, and I learned a lot from watching them.

On the other hand, their creative leadership skills lacked any clear direction. It was all about trial and error, and anything I proposed was wrong and not ‘what they were thinking’. That combination made our relationship quite difficult.

After a six-month contract, I decided that this was not my place and that I wanted to leave. They wanted me to leave as well, so it was an easy decision, but I wasn’t very smart about it.

I didn’t look for jobs while I was working there, so I left the company having no other options, in a country I didn’t know and without enough savings.

I managed to save some money by moving to an ‘anti-squat’ house with a former colleague; really cheap rent but the house was really far from everything, and the neighbourhood wasn’t exactly friendly. So there I was, without much money, no job and living in a crappy apartment. I thought that was ok until I found another job, but what I didn’t know is that finding a job was not going to be as easy as the first time.
Six months went by and I got nothing – really, nothing. I tried everywhere, even the Yellow Pages, and went one-by-one to all possible companies. I got emails back, but none of them were interested in hiring, and each of those emails felt like rejections, making me feel less and less confident, draining the little motivation I had left.

My last two months were very stressful. I didn’t have money and I didn’t want to leave Amsterdam, so I applied for jobs as a waiter or bartender, in sales… anything. Unfortunately, as my resume was 100% oriented to design and I didn’t speak the native language, nothing worked.

During the last month of my survival, I was eating rice every day; the cheapest stuff I could find in the supermarket. I had already told my family that I was going to buy the tickets back to Spain to avoid going bankrupt. I was desperate and starting to feel like a failure. But somehow, I couldn’t give up.

One day, I finally found a small agency that was looking for a designer. That company’s work was so boring that I normally would never have applied, but I didn’t care – I had little choice.

But the job had hundreds of applicants. I was checking my email every minute, with the hope of getting any response; time was breathing down my neck.

I had actually started expecting to hear nothing at all, when I got an email from them a week later. I was so excited and scared at the same time, but the message only contained one line: “Thank you for your application, we are still processing them.” So disappointing.

It felt like back in the old days, before smartphones, when I would receive an SMS hoping it would be the person I was waiting to hear from, to realize it was just an information message from my operator.

Two agonizing weeks later, I got a phone call from the company saying that they would like to interview me. Finally, after so many months of scarcity, I got an interview! I prepared so much for that interview that I memorized every possible answer to any question they may ask. I also knew that I just needed to be relaxed and show that I had other options, and act as if I had an abundance of offers, even when the opposite was true.

It somewhat worked; I passed the first round and then they gave me a design exercise, which they also gave to five other candidates. During the exercise I thought, “ok: ALL or nothing.”

The assignment was to lay out some pictures and text. I ended up pitching them a new identity for the agency. I changed the name of the company to something shorter. I changed the way the logo was set and the domain name. I even worked on their message and general communication strategy. I changed the whole thing.
This might come off as insulting to some companies, but I thought: “If I want to stand out, I will have to make a big change and explain why. Then they will hate me or love me, but I won’t stay in between.”

They called me next day:

Her: Alex, thank you for your application! We liked all you did and why you did it. Although, to be honest and fair, we mostly work for banks and publishers. Not very creative. Someone like you won’t really enjoy it.
Me: Well you told me you want to change and improve your company right?
Her: Yes…
Me: Then I am the guy you are looking for, I am excited about helping your company grow, if we don’t try, we will never find out…
Her: Fair point, but are you sure?
Me: 100% sure, no doubt.
Her: Okay, thanks for your enthusiasm, you are one of the front-runners among the candidates. I will call you back soon.
Me: Perfect, I look forward to it.

She called me again the next day for a second interview. I experienced all kind of emotions at once. I was excited, nervous, uncertain, confident, hopeful… It was my last opportunity to restart my career and go back to life.

In the second interview, I met the other owner of the company: he was a nice guy, not a bossy or arrogant person; like everyone in that office, these were very nice people. They told me a bit of the role I would play, and I told them what I could bring to the table – a very simple interview. In closing they said: “Thanks for coming, we will let you know, we are still interviewing other people. Do you have any questions?” I thought about it for a minute, and finally said: “Oh yes, a really important question: is your coffee any good?”
– They all laughed.

I took my case-portfolio and I walked downstairs. I only had a couple of weeks left before I was supposed to return to Spain, so I was praying I’d get it. Then, as I was about to step out of the building, I heard a shout. “Alex!” I looked back, and it was the owner.

“Congratulations, the job is yours!”

Fuck yes!!! – I thought. I couldn’t even say a word, I was fighting tears of happiness and emotion, I just wanted to jump and celebrate!

I had survived the bottom point of my career so far, and I decided I was not going repeat the same experience again in my life.

The pain period is something most of us will suffer. It’s an agony but it is part of the process.

My only two cents is not news: keep trying, keep learning, keep improving your portfolio and DON”T give up. Keep applying and don’t demoralise yourself because of the constant rejections. The best ones got more times rejected than accepted, it’s just a number’s game.

Good luck with your job search and remember we all go through shit, just keep working hard until you get there.