Those of us in our 20s to early 30s are very aware of the rampant unemployment rate among our age group. As such, many of us are very familiar with job posting sites like Craigslist.org, Monster.com, Krop.com and more. As a member of this age group, I spend my fair share of time on these sites looking for the next possible opportunity. What I find, though, is utter frustration at what employers are seeking in potential candidates.
I worked as a graphic designer and an art director for a small agency. After losing my job in August to a bad economy, I’ve been bouncing around from freelance job to freelance job.
I love what I do as a creative professional and wish to stay in my field of expertise. So, I look for graphic designer, web designer and art director posts. What I find, however, are misleading job postings by employers seeking what I call the “Mystical Unicorn.” I’m sure my advertising and marketing brethren on the account, strategy and media sides run into calls for this mythical creature as well.
What the heck is the Mystical Unicorn, you wonder?
Simply put, a job candidate that just doesn’t exist. This beautiful creature is something conjured up by an HR person with no knowledge of the position’s actual responsibilities or by some budget-entrenched hiring manager that is trying to fill multiple team roles with one candidate. In either case, both the employer and candidates are going to be disappointed with the entire hiring process.
If you follow the news at all, I’m sure you’ve seen a plethora of articles out there about how employers are claiming that the American workforce pool just isn’t up to par. It’s difficult to find actual qualified candidates, they claim.
Well, there’s a serious problem. With around 13 million unemployed Americans, how can this be? I might propose, my dear job creators, that you take a good look at what you’re seeking in a candidate. Allow me to dissect an actual job posting on Craigslist.org that I came across tonight.
We are seeking a skilled web designer to join our Marketing team who is passionate about making effective designs using the latest technology. The ideal candidate should have an in-depth understanding of both design aesthetics and technical skills, and should be a leader in strengthening company branding and generating sales leads.
DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
• Optimize existing websites according to data collected from A/B testing and web analytic tools.
• Improve SEO.
• Organize site infrastructures and help build new sites around upcoming products and offerings.
• Use technical and design aesthetics to deliver effective and engaging UI.
• Design event and exhibition graphics that reflect [our] brand and meet market needs.
• Design and create email templates and landing pages to increase sales leads and sales conversions.
• Design marketing collateral, online ads, and publication graphics for [our] products.
• Investigate and integrate new technologies, including social media, Web 2.0 widgets, and more.
• Be a valuable team member demonstrating creativity, flexibility, a can-do attitude, and roll-up-your-sleeves approach.
KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS, ABILITIES
Success in this role will depend greatly on:
• Expert skills in Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, with a strong portfolio.
• Ability to develop wireframes and site mockups to convert them into efficient and functional web pages.
• Strong HTML and CSS skills, with PHP and HTML5 a plus.
• Knowledge of usability, design principles, and marketing concepts.
• Solid understanding of cross-browser testing, code validation, responsible class naming, and graceful degradation.
• Excellent verbal/written communication skills and presentation skills.
• Great interpersonal and team skills.
• Strong organizational and project management skills.
Excellence, Quality, Unity, Innovation, Leadership, Accountability, Results. These are the qualities that we seek in everyone we hire.
EDUCATION AND EXPERIENCE
• Bachelors in Visual Communications, Graphic Design, Marketing or related field.
• 1-3 years of experience in related field.
• Eligibility to work in the US.
Good to have:
• Experience with Google Analytics or other similar web analytic tools.
• Flash and/or video editing.
• Experience in WordPress and/or other CMS.
While this employer says they are seeking a web designer, they are actually seeking a person who is an information architect, a UX/UI designer, an SEO specialist, graphic designer, developer and video editor. And you need to have these skills coming out of college since this is an entry-level position (entry-level = terrible pay, by the way). I present to you the Mystical Unicorn.
For an outsider to the design field, they may wonder why designers don’t go back to school and learn all of the skills above in order to qualify for more positions like this one.
My simple answer would be you can’t be a specialist if you are a jack of all trades. Design is more than making things pretty. It’s critical thinking, problem solving, marketing and communications all mixed together. There’s always a rhyme or a reason as to why a designer did something (at least if they are a good designer).
For example, my background was print design. I went back to school to learn web design, information architecture and some front-end development skills. I would say I’m a specialist in design with an understanding in IA and development. This all helps me be a better designer because I understand the importance of usability in design for web, and I can better communicate with developers because I know the limitations of the technology out there. But my main focus is on creating a dynamic and effective design that communicates a client or employers message to the target audience. If I spend a majority of my time developing the IA, writing the code or editing web videos, I’m not going to focus as much on the design solution. This will cause big problems down the line for my employer.
Now, the next question to be asked is what do we do about the Mystical Unicorn? It doesn’t seem to be going away and is becoming more prolific in the job posting sphere. I wish I had an answer from the candidates’ side, but I don’t. The change needs to come from employers.
I might suggest to them re-evaluating their needs and expectations. If you really do need someone to do design and information architecture, be prepared for a VERY limited pool of candidates. Or offer job training to a qualified designer with the willingness and drive to learn.
I’m eager to see what happens down the road as employers continue to chase that which doesn’t exist.