How I Landed My First Design Job

Today, I want to share with you my story of the first 3 months after I graduated and what it took to land my first design-related job after graduating college in 2011. 


May 13, 2011

College for Creative Studies, Detroit Michigan, Senior Show. Various companies send one or two designers to visit the school and recruit new talent. The best students got job offers on the spot and some have the luxury of choosing between a few. Not me. I did however, receive a phone call inviting me to an interview at an automotive interior parts manufacturer, not far from my home town. I declined the interview because the thought of it bored me. I wanted new experiences and adventure. I wanted to work in the bicycle industry. 

I moved back into my old bedroom at my parents’ house in Holland, Michigan. Determined not to return to my summer job, as a busboy at a local Italian restaurant, I told my parents that a summer job would interfere with my ability to get a job. It could take lots of time. I also have a guilty conscience, and knowing that I turned down a job interview and didn’t even tell my parents about it meant that I’d work extra hard to get the job I wanted. 


June 15, 2011

A month went by and I still didn’t have a job. I’d been using the wifi at local coffee shops for over 8 hours daily trying to gain employment. I’d sent hundreds of emails, become a professional stalker on LinkedIn and applied for over 40 job openings. 

My criteria went something like this: 

  • Do they have a cool website?
  • Do they make cool things?
  • Is it far from home?

Emails weren’t working, so I started making phone calls. Back then, getting on the phone with a designer or studio would give me sweaty-pits syndrome and make my mouth go dry. The pain of not having a job was worse though, so I forced myself to make the phone calls.

One of the companies I called was Felt Bicycles, in Irvine, CA. I asked for the Director of R&D. I was lucky enough to get him on the phone and it turned out that he also had an industrial design background and could think of a role I could possibly play at their company. He said he’d talk it over and get back to me if there was an opportunity.

I was excited, but used to rejection, so I kept myself from getting my hopes up.  


July 1, 2011

Two months in, I’d gotten rejections from so many companies, I felt like I was running out of options. My efforts began to decline and I started to spend less time each day at the coffee shop doing research and applying for jobs.

Then, I saw it! On a job search engine called Malakaye was an advertisement for Agenda Action Sports Industry Trade Show. I followed the link and my eyes lit up as I saw the attendees. Nearly 400 companies, many of which I admired from the skateboard, snowboard and surf industry would be present.

My heart sank: **Not Open To Public**


Like a child throwing his toys when he’s upset, I filled out an application as a vendor leaving the company name spot blank. I’m not sure why I bothered. I didn’t think it would work. I felt frustrated and out of options.


July 5, 2011

In my bedroom, my cell phone buzzed (always on vibrate). A young woman asked me some questions so she could complete and process my application for the Agenda Trade Show. At first I was confused, but then I remembered the application I submitted the prior week. Caught off guard, I was nearly speechless. When asked what company I was from, I apologized and explained my situation telling her that I just graduated college, was still looking for a job and wanted to attend the show to network. Desperate, I asked what she could do to help me.

I was put on hold for a few minutes. I either sounded pitiful or was lucky. She told me she could relate to my situation and that she put me on a guest list. I asked about the application fee (which was more than I could afford), and she waived it. She then told me with an audible smile, “Just promise me you’ll get a job.” After ending the call, I went downstairs to join my parents for dinner.

Excited with the news, mom asked where the trade show was. In a terrible moment of realization, I told them, “Huntington Beach, California. Can I borrow some money?"


July 20, 2011

Around 7 am, my brother dropped me off at the Gerald R. Ford International airport when I received an email from Felt Bicycles President asking me about my skills. I exchanged emails with him between flights and layovers and finished with asking if he’d be available for a meeting. I mentioned that I was free the next few days if he was interested. He was.

During my three day visit to Huntington Beach, I collected as many business cards as I could and enjoyed the trade show. Each evening, I went for a walk since I didn’t have a car. I loved everything I saw. The ocean, the energy, skate and surf culture, tan and fit bodies, palm trees and sunsets.

On the last day, I met with the President of Felt Bicycles and the Director of R&D where they discussed the possibility of me working as a liaison between the engineering and marketing departments. I was given a project and three weeks to get it done. If it went well, I’d have a job. 


August 3, 2011

I completed the project in 10 days and submitted it. I was too excited to wait for three weeks. One more phone call, and I was offered a job at Felt Bicycles in Irvine, California.


The Point of the Story

Job hunts can and almost certainly will be very difficult when you are picky. There will be times when you get frustrated and want to give up. There will be times when your efforts seem wasted on a long-shot opportunity. This is how I felt, but had I not registered for the trade show, I wouldn’t have made it to California for an in-person meeting. I was later told that showing up for an in-person meeting and making my first introduction by phone call were two things that made me stand out. That initiative I took showed that I wanted the job and was able to do what it took to make it happen. 

The next time you’re on the hunt for a new job, remember that a little bit of unconventional tactics can go a long way.