A Designer’s Challenge to Entry-Level Jobs That Require Five Years of Experience


Next time you interview for a junior design job, counter with this answer

“Job title: Junior Designer
Salary: The lowest level we can get away with for an entry-level job
Requirements: 5 years of experience and a degree in Design
Interview Process: Do a small project for us which we may use for free after we don’t hire you.
Perks: We have great culture and free snacks!”

Does this sound familiar to you? It sure does to me.

Young talents deserve better than this type of treatment from employers.

But why is this vicious cycle of “we want experience but we won’t give you a chance to build one” still a thing now? It was certainly the case for me when I was job hunting as a young designer. Now a decade later, I was hoping it would be a thing of the past.

Sadly, it isn’t.

Now as a design educator, I am again confronted with this dilemma faced by frustrated students who are eager to get a foot in the door.

To find a solution, let’s break down why it keeps happening. Then we will find a way to confront it head on.

Reason 1: Employers Don’t Want To Waste Time On Training

Employers are selfish.

I’m not saying they are bad — human beings are inherently selfish and that’s okay. In many ways, businesses must be selfish to be profitable. They must always put their interests first.

Employees with no previous experience require longer and more in-depth training. It comes at a cost to the employer who would rather be as productive as possible making as much money as possible.

In this regard, an inexperienced employee becomes more of a liability at first, not an asset.

In this regard, an inexperienced employee becomes more of a liability at first, not an asset.

In business, we know that we must maximize our assets and reduce liability.

So naturally, employers prefer experienced talent. If they can get away with experienced talent being paid minimal salary, that’s even better!

Think manufacturing — why do most companies still prefer to manufacture in countries where labors are cheaper? Because they can reduce cost and make more money.

The same thinking process applies to employers in other sectors. It is how capitalism works.

When we translate this to job postings, it is not at all surprising we are seeing the kind of ads that require 5 years of experience for a junior designer.

Even if some employers don’t go as far as requiring 5 years of experience, most stipulate that they require 1–2 years of experience for an entry-level job.

Common sense tells us that the 1–2 years of experience needs to be obtained from somewhere.

Common sense tells us that the 1–2 years of experience needs to be obtained from somewhere.

So where is that magical place that new talents can all go?

Reason 2: Job Candidates Don’t Dare to Challenge It

In the job market, employers always have an intimidating presence.

In the job market, employers always have an intimidating presence.

Many of them are large corporations with resources one cannot even imagine. Even if it is a smaller employer, candidates don’t often have the courage to challenge the process due to fear of losing opportunities.

In a competitive job market, employers have an abundance of options to choose from. Candidates, however, don’t have as much leverage.

When job requirements don’t cross over any legal boundaries, such as experience requirements, employers don’t really have a reason to change it.

And as we all know, if nobody says anything, it will never change.

Apply Anyway And Prove Your Own Worth Creatively

Instead of getting frustrated at the problem, let’s confront the problem head on, with a spin.

Disregard experience requirements you see. Apply anyway.

If you are applying to a company that is open-minded and innovative, they will at least give you some consideration.

If a company goes so far as to reject candidates automatically just because they don’t have the experience level, it’s not the kind of company you want to join anyway. This practice shows they are close-minded and rigid.

Once you get someone to respond to you, whether that’s in the form of an initial phone screen or a formal interview, it is time to prove your own worth creatively.

Let your work, your personality and your interview skills outshine your lack of experience.

Let your work, your personality and your interview skills outshine your lack of experience.

Without an outstanding portfolio that wows a company, you will not likely go too far beyond this point. So the first step before you get into the job market is to make sure that you actually have great work. When you compare your work to other designers, you will need to see a similar level of competence, or better.

Without outstanding work, you might as well be a salesperson who tries to convince potential customers to buy a product that doesn’t work.

Without outstanding work, you might as well be a salesperson who tries to convince potential customers to buy a product that doesn’t work.

Ask Them The Uncomfortable Question

What happens if a recruiter brings up the level of experience during the initial call and upon learning your lack of experience, attempts to hang up the phone?

Believe it or not, some recruiters do that — I personally have experienced this before.

As scary as it may be, it is time for you to bring out a counter question.

Ask them this: “How would the company like to hire someone with 5 years of experience but not the level of work I can produce and lacks the work ethics that I have?”

Ask them this: “How would the company like to hire someone with 5 years of experience but not the level of work I can produce and lacks the work ethics that I have?”

See how they respond to this question.

If they try to come up with answers to justify it or gets offended, that tells you everything you need to know about this company. At that point, it’s wise to move on and find another company that is at least willing to reflect on it.

Candidates must remember that the job market is a two-way street.

Employers want to test if you are the right candidate for them and you also want to test if the employer is the right place you want to work at.

Follow Up With A More Daring Question

To take it a step further, follow up with an even more daring question.

“Give me a small design challenge that a designer with 5 years of experience can complete in 30 minutes to an hour. Look at my submission and tell me if you think my lack of experience is still a deal breaker.”

From my decade in Corporate America, I have not seen this level of confidence too often, but I have seen it once or twice.

Every time I see it happen, the person ended up getting hired.

From my decade in Corporate America, I have not seen this level of confidence too often, but I have seen it once or twice. Every time I see it happen, the person ended up getting hired.

In fact, it was that kind of confidence that convinced me to stop thinking that I am not good enough and finally start making bold moves.

What’s the worst case scenario of having that kind of confidence?

They still don’t think you are the right fit and they don’t hire you. But if you don’t try it, they will most definitely not hire you.

If you don’t try it, they will most definitely not hire you.

Easily Build Real Work Experience In 3 Different Places

If you can’t get any interviews, there are only two reasons:

  1. You portfolio is not quite there yet
  2. You only passively apply for jobs and didn’t actively network.

My school launched a great program to help students fix the first problem. The second problem requires students to get started on networking early and often.

Nowadays, there are so many channels available for networking. LinkedIn, online communities, virtual events, conferences, and engaging with people in the industry you admire on social media.

I often find myself saving Instagram handles of designers and artists whose work I admire and would some day want to hire or collaborate with.

Be that person who is active every day at building your connection genuinely without expecting anything in return.

Be that person who is active every day at building your connection, genuinely without expecting anything in return.

When you can’t get an opportunity with an established and renown company yet, you may find yourself welcomed by small business owners, early-stage startup founders and non-profit organizations.

Many of these companies and organizations will be grateful for what you do because their businesses can’t afford higher-priced talents, but you can work with them to build real client experience.

Soon enough, you will be populating your portfolio with lots of real client projects. They count as experience. Now you can confidently walk into bigger companies and show them what you’ve got.

Don’t be afraid of the ridiculous 5-year experience requirement for entry level jobs.

Confront it.

Question it.

Prove your worth with confidence and back it up with real good work.

Confront it, question it and prove your worth with confidence and back it up with real good work.

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