6 Months in NYC - A graphic designer moving from a small town to NYC.
A graphic designer moving from a small town to NYC. Starting out and landing a job.
I moved to Brooklyn with my girlfriend six months ago. We moved here for many reasons, but the most compelling reason for me was to grow and evolve as a designer and creative. I was freelancing for two years before the move and knew my ultimate goal was to get a position at a design agency. I gave myself six months to do so, and I did it with only a few days to spare.
Months leading up the move, I search the internet for blog posts from other designers that moved from their small town and moved a big city. I desperately wanted to read someone else's story and their struggles and successes. Unfortunately, I never quite found one. So I’m deciding to write one myself in hopes that a fellow young designer that has the aspiration to move to a big city could gain some insight from my experiences.
First, some backstory. I graduated college in 2014 and had had a brief employment as a junior graphic designer for nearly a year. After that, I decided instead of finding another job I would go freelance. I was freelancing for two years in Lancaster, Pennsylvania before moving to NYC. When I wasn’t working on client work, I was working non-stop on personal projects and self-promotion. I would allocate my mornings for watching educational videos on Youtube or Skillshare and create work all through the evening. I didn’t have a desk or workspace at home so I would work out of coffee shops nearly every night. And no, I'm not big a coffee drinker.
I found my focus in identity design and creating custom typography. For the most part, that is what my portfolio consists of. When I first graduated college, I used to place every project I did in my portfolio until I received the advice to only show the work you want to do more often. My Instagram is full of side projects, but It’s rare that any of those projects make it into my curated portfolio. Be selective and display the work you enjoy doing.
I knew my portfolio would hold most of my credentials but a well-designed resume is still important to have. Your resume should be branded to you as a designer and should contain relevant information for whatever position you’re applying for. Also, have a cover letter template ready to go. It should be designed by you as well as your resume. DON’T use a template off Word or something. You will look irrelevant and lame. Having an active and updated Linkedin is also important. You could get recruiters that reach out to you for open positions and will help you find work.
I looked up design agencies leading up to the move, but I didn’t know how or what I could do to get me through their doors. I scrolled through their Instagram feeds and websites and knew plenty of other young designers were doing the same. So, I just kept my head down and tried to create work that might impress a potential employer enough to give me the opportunity to be interviewed.
We moved into our apartment in Brooklyn on December 30th. It was cold, and we didn’t have heat or hot water for a few weeks. That’s a whole different story. After a week of getting settled, the next step was to find work. I searched through job boards on AIGA, How Design, and Linkedin for hours combing through open positions. Anyone that was looking for a designer, I sent my application. I applied to a few in-house design positions, but I mainly applied to branding agencies and studios.
Every day I would look through new job listings and skim through the job descriptions and apply. That was one of my first mistakes, not understanding what skills and experience were actually needed for the job. I figured blinding applying for any job I found wasn’t an issue until two weeks into moving I got my first interview. I received the email to that they wanted to interview me and was told to come in the next day. That was exciting news until I realized I barely knew what job I applied for. I showed up to the interview, and It was a disaster. Oddly enough, I did get a second interview. That interview was also a disaster. I didn't hear from them again.
I got an interview about once every two weeks and one after the other I wasn’t offered a job or work. But with each failed interview, I learned a little more about myself as a person and as a designer. Spending so much time writing cover letters and fine tuning my selling pitch, I realized what aspect of myself I lacked professionally. For example, I was asked a few times if I had experience with writing content. At that time I wasn’t writing these posts on my site. So instead of continuing to say no, I started a blog so proved to myself and potential employers that I did, in fact, had experience writing content.
I started to get smarter about how I promoted myself and how I would find open positions. Instead of waiting for a listing to pop up, I started emailing design agencies directly. A lot of agencies have a “careers” pages or “open positions” section on their sites. If not, they would simply say that they are always looking for new talent and to feel free to reach out. And that's exactly what I did.
I would spend a lot of time searching for all the design agencies that I would love to be a part of. I narrowed that list down to maybe 5 and researched those agencies in depth. I would see who the founders were, what kind of work they do and their company culture. I would check out each employee and see what they were like and where they came from. And this is when my luck would start to change. I still wasn’t getting offered any jobs, but I was getting small freelance gigs, so that meant I was making some progress.
Tring to keep my chin up
I think the hardest part of the journey was dealing with the rejection over and over again. It seemed like nothing was going to come my way and when it did, it wouldn’t work out. I didn’t know what was going on. The anxiety was getting to me and I wouldn’t be able to sleep through the whole night. Every day got harder to find the energy to look for work and scrolling through job listings made me sick to my stomach.
The thing that kept me going was working on projects. Not paid projects. But personal projects. I don’t like spending times licking my wounds. Instead, I would wake up early and work on projects that got me excited. It made me feel like I was making progress and it kept me optimistic for the future. I had plenty of time on my hands so there wasn't any excuse to not be pushing out new content. Depression did slow me down but the support from my girlfriend and the satisfaction of creating something new kept my chin up above water.
I found one branding agency in particular that match my style and personality better than the others. I went through their website and eventually found out they were looking for freelancers. Not expecting much, I sent my resume and portfolio their way. A few days later I got an email back. After a series of scheduled and rescheduled meetings, I finally got an interview. And to my delight, a few weeks later I was brought on as an on-site freelancer.
This was four months into the move. Two months later I was offered a full-time position at that same agency. I couldn't be more stoked about it and relieved that I accomplished my goal. I was finally able to tell my parents that things are working out and to not worry about me. I got the job I wanted and was surrounded by talented people who are creating incredible work every day.
This was my experience moving to NYC and it wasn't easy. It was mentally and emotionally exhausting but totally worth it. If you're reading this and you have a goal to maybe move to a new place to pursue what you love, do it. You won't regret it.