The Roller Coaster of the Job Search

On Tuesday, I was flying high and feeling pretty grateful at the experiences I was having. And I still am. I followed up with the CEO of Yoo and he forwarded me on to the Head of Design, as promised. Still no word back from the Head of Design. Although, it has only been less than 24 hours. All you creative types out there – I need your assistance. What can I do to stand out from the crowd and get his attention? Is there something I could mail perhaps? Something creative and outside the box? I’m sure they get resumes and applicants all the time, particularly after the talk I listened to yesterday, but more on that later. I’d love some ideas on how to show them that I am the right person for their company. Here’s their website in case that helps spark any creative juices:

So yesterday, I attended the Clerkenwell Design Week. Apparently, Clerkenwell has more architecture firms per square metre than anywhere else in the UK. There are so many amazing resources and suppliers in the area. I was in design heaven wandering around.

I attended one talk that was geared towards recent graduates who are looking for work. I have one word to summarize the discussion – grim. I was actually laughing at the end at the shear lack of compassion that the panel of “experts” had towards these young people who are following their dreams. I found myself wanting to intervene and inspire them rather than knock them down a few notches. I understand that reality is what it is – economy, blah, blah, blah. So why not tell them how to stand out, how to differentiate themselves, how to target a niche area of the market, how to be creative, how to start their own practice? Anything is better than the hopelessness that most of them left with. I found myself being included in this group. The panel unanimously agreed that it was a bad time for graduates and a time of incredible competitiveness for a general lack of jobs. The recruiter from a big firm, Gensler, said that they had 800 applicants for 12 positions for graduates. By the way, don’t bother applying if you aren’t a new graduate. They will simply toss your resume if you have any experience.

I asked the question about the recruitment process through agencies, since there was one agency recruiter on the panel. I find it tricky to stand out when you’re applying for jobs and you don’t know what company you’re specifically targeting. How can you tailor your resume, cover letter and portfolio to such a generic job description? He said it didn’t matter for me. Since I’m Canadian and have no UK experience, they (meaning: agencies) won’t look at my resume anyways. Thanks! I had no idea that Interior Design is Rocket Science. I’m pretty sure I can get a handle on the whole imperial to metric conversion, and that I can start to get an idea of where to source from without too much inconvenience to an employer. In fact, what if my lack of pre-conceived ideas actually assists me in more creative solutions or finding different materials to work with? What if my experience in another country was seen as a benefit and not a hindrance? I’m up for the challenge and willing to go above and beyond.

In summary, I kind of wish I didn’t attend the session yesterday. Although, at least now I have more insight into the hiring process. I don’t want the advice to pigeon hole me and stop me from trying different tactics. Sometimes ignorance is bliss and a lack of knowledge pushes you to try things rather than just take one person’s word for the way things are. I won’t be stopped in my pursuit of my dream job!

About Our CDW - Clerkenwell Design Week



18 thoughts on “The Roller Coaster of the Job Search

  1. So you’re looking for some creative thinking ….. hmmm.

    My advice – immediately buy a copy, in paper fashion, of the book Blue Ocean Strategy, and read it this weekend.

    You are currently swimming in the “Red Ocean”, where there appears to be significant competition.

    In the “Blue Ocean”, you tap into an unseen, and much larger opportunity/market.

    A few questions.

    How many flats are there in London that are less than 800 square feet?

    Out of those how many people would love to have a more beautiful space?

    Out of those how many would gladly pay a designer if it was affordable? If they were not intimidated by the process?

    Much to my surprise and delight, you have shown exceptional skills and talent as a writer, and your passion is interior design.

    Go and find a small “ish”, but cool, gifted firm, with less than 10 people in it, and make a deal with them where you’ll work on the basis of no salary. Instead you will create a whole new revenue stream with them (collaboration) targeting a Blue Ocean of hundreds of thousands of people who own or rent flats that are smaller than 800 square feet, and be compensated as the business rolls in.

    Make sure you love the people you are going to work and collaborate with. Make sure they share your vision.

    Sell them on your abilities as a writer, business woman and interior designer, and as a visionary who sees a massive untapped market. Talk like and be an expert on both Blue Ocean Strategies and on the specific Blue Ocean of flats under 800 square feet.

    Make a plan to talk, in person, to 10 (minimum) firms next week.


    It’s about the end result for you and them, not about getting a job.



    • Wow! You really put a lot of thought into this. Great ideas! I’ll take a closer look when I get home. I’m out making more contacts! Any thoughts on how to reach out to the people at Yoo in an interesting way? That’s the place I would really love to work. XO Tara

      • Try reaching out to Yoo in person. Go to their office. Have I ever told you how I got my position as a stock broker? I basically stalked the manager for about 6 weeks. I would ask the office receptionist where Ed the manager was having lunch that day and I would “end up” at the same place and, ehem, sit next to his table and ehem strike up a conversation.
        Dale Carnegie stalked a prospective employer for I think 6 months and wrote the employer a letter a day saying why the employer should hire him. It worked and it works. And you have to be up for that.

  2. Idea #2

    Find 2 to 5 recent grads that you think are amazing and start your own firm. Make sure that your skills are all complimentary and different (writing/getting free press, sales, admin, project management etc).

    Create a vision, and use your Landmark training.

    Find 1 or 2 unemployed but amazing experienced designers to join you. This will help the new business by having some experience and will satisfy your desire to learn.

    Between the 4 to 8 of you, you’ll know anywhere from 400 to 1,500 people so start marketing your services for flats that are smaller than 800 square feet to them.

  3. I like what your dad has said about ideas. When we had the practicum student from the UK she always referred to the website for parenting type activities and advice. This would be a great site to add a design blog/article to. It covers all areas of the UK and targets young families (not necessarily families with tons of $$) especially mums who would probably love the advice of a full fledged designer. With your writing skills and a website already on the pulse of the UK, you could really fill a possible niche in the market or at least add to your resume your exposure to the community.
    I really admire your spirit Tara, to not let all the negative talk get you down. We just hired our last practicum student in a full time position. The last time I spoke to her (before she got the job) I could tell she was really down. She had applied everywhere with no results. She didn’t want to move from Victoria, but she didn’t know how she could continue to pay her rent. I really pushed that we give the student a try – how do you get experience if no one gives you a shot.
    I’m pretty sure that someone will see the potential in hiring someone from Canada who could bring a whole new perspective to their design team. You are a hard worker Tara, and extremely competent. Whoever hires you is going to be very lucky.

  4. I completely understand how frustrating the UK job market is. Not to diminish your trials, but imagine how tough it’s been for my former classmates in History of Art to find work! The UK got rocked by the economic downturn, so much more than Canada, and people are very hesitant to hire outside of the existing British graduate pool.

    In Vancouver, a little trick I found for pumping up my resume was putting my photo on it. I know, a simple thing, but it’s unique and puts a face to the name. People really responded to seeing my photo amongst a sea of plain resumes. Also, to customize your cover letter to the firm you’re applying to – look at the websites of the firms and incorporate some of their design and company language into your cover letter. Tell them what particularly it was about their firm that caught your attention and fueled your desire to work for them. Address the cover letter to the head designer themselves, even if they’re not the one hiring. Even – gasp! – go AROUND the agencies and mail your resume and cover letter directly to them! No harm in trying. Your dad’s advice was incredible too. Go out and make your own market. Keep writing blogs. Go to all the networking events you can. Be an intern (although it’s basically slave labour). As my grandmother says, work hard, work harder.

    • Thanks for the support Robin!! I’m definitely not scared off by hard work. And I will absolutely incorporate some of your ideas into my resume and cover letter. I’m never sure whether the picture is a good idea, but it’s worth a try!!

  5. Tara please write a letter to Sanaz, whose family in London already loves you and who are super connected, and ask for her help.

    • i’m wondering if high rolling design firms, or small design companies for that matter, welcome internships…
      i also encourage you to use your Canadian-ness and group together people who have yet to break in to the big leagues, form a type of multi-cultural design shop.
      you could also look for an apprentice-type of job, or like your dad said – find out where the top designer gets her hair done, ha!

      • Amazing! Thanks Caroline! I’m blown away by everyone’s suggestions. I suppose if I’m stalking anyone at a hair salon, I better get my hair under control again. 😉

  6. Hey Tara sorry to hear the doom and gloom of recruiters has got to you too, remember for the most part in this competitive market they are utterly constrained by the jobs they have on file and tend to offer insights which are in reality, sound bytes or a single client’s take?

    I like your dad’s ideas- I read the blue ocean/red ocean book and it is inspiring but the reality is you are in a red ocean and unless you start to discover some very left field ideas and qualities- such as interior design for house boats and a genuine niche (that is recognised and credible) you will be forever swimming with the sharks.

    London is like many places a lot about who you know, why not adapt the idea of starting up on your own and propose a collective approach, several friends I know (some well, some less so) could be interested- check out my FB but Gemma Burger is a self-employed stylist and personal trainer so meet with her and propose client sharing- if either of you get a gig through the other’s contact you get a referral fee….if it really works out you could form a more formal collective? The net result for you both is that you can offer a more holistic approach to a single client and a broader range of services?

    Also speak to charlotte ashton, she runs a property company and may have some kinder and more commercially-minded advice as well as some ‘ins’??

    PS see you at stonehenge!

    • Thanks Guy! It’s great to get the British perspective. And I will definitely look up those contacts you’ve mentioned. I’m going to have to get creative for sure, which is definitely not a bad thing.

      PS Looking forward to seeing you and Nicole next weekend. You must be getting excited!!

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