After graduating from design school I spent a few months “freelancing” (*cough* unemployed *cough*) before I ended up landing a job at a massive media company in Christchurch. It started out as night work then quickly became a 9–5.
The work was fine, I learnt much from just being in an office environment. Taking and following up on phone calls started out as an daunting task, I look back and think how stupid I was to have so much fear to just call clients or the sales team. But the big company structure left me wanting more – some co-workers would make the most of smoking breaks, lunch breaks and basically stopped working at 4:30pm, the phone calling aspect was the only really challenging part. Design was more about getting it done, clear cutting was sent off to Burma with a click of the mouse, all pre-press was sorted by some elaborate automated system. I left after a year, with a new contract being offered to me, dreaming of working in a small studio, and creating great design work.
A move to Auckland was planned. Stupidly I didn’t really plan… I mean, put in the work to create contacts and openings before moving and arrived excited and incredibly naive. I managed to find a place to live in Grey Lynn, complete with a famous New Zealander as my landlord.My portfolio at the time consisted of average student work; a geometric block typeface, some terrible page layouts, and ads designed for Tim Shadbolt’s new bin system in Invercargill. I managed to get a few interviews through recruiters and applying via ads. Some trips to interviews involved multiple bus and train rides to industrial areas of Auckland. Rejection emails piled up, even after having face to face interviews employers would just send emails too.
One interview had me visiting an agency in Eden Terrace. On a typical December Auckland day – it was hot and humid – but also raining fairly heavily. The walk from K Road (where I got off the bus) to Eden Terrace isn’t far, 15 minutes on a good day. This wasn’t a good day.
Styled by the corporate world of Christchurch; dressed in my best shirt (at the time), formal looking shoes, dress pants, and favourite black coat, I ventured down K road. Happily covered until having to turn off K Road. The decision to go with Upper Queen St or continue onto Symonds St was swayed by my hungriness.
I had previously been to Bian sushi and shared a table with a random business man, we didn’t say a thing to each other, other than asking to share a table. The businessman was in his 50s, overweight, a bit balding… I actually don’t remember, this is just the generic description of a businessman someone would give. He quickly wolfed down his sushi, before offering me some parting words “Best sushi in Auckland, best sushi in Auckland!” And I think at the time Metro agreed with him giving Bian some award.
I walked into Bian fairly wet and hungry, and realised that sushi wasn’t the best option on this day (I actually wanted hot food). But sitting there were a few potato croquettes, so I grabbed one and some sushi. I had time to dine in, but again had to share a table, my awkwardness got the better of me so I got it to go, I had time to roam and would still be a bit early. But with the rain, there was nowhere to stop and eat. My thought was to find where my interview was, then walk around the corner to find shelter to eat.
I arrived at the offices dripping wet. A quick look around and there was no real place nearby to stop and eat, except the garage. Reluctantly, I stop in this dark garage. It is full of mid range European cars, in line with what you’d expect from a “boutique agency”. I start eating my sushi and slowly thinking over what my strategy would be for drying myself off with the singular sushi napkin.
Right when I’m about to take a bite out of the potato croquette, the door flings open and light floods into the garage. A shadowy figure has stumbled upon a; dripping wet, tired looking, mid bite deep fried ball, aspiring designer. To my horror it happens to be someone from the agency. I try to explain myself but all I say are what seems like overly awkward stuttering. Somewhere in that word salad, I say interview and the name of the agency, so hopefully I’m not coming across as a crazy homeless person.
He calmly explains to me that there is a bathroom just up the stairs from the garage, and I can dry myself off before the interview. Things are looking positive, he walks over to one of the cars and pulls out a few objects and I say thanks as he walks back by me, but not before an ill-timed bite of the potato croquette.
Mostly looking sane again, I step into the agency’s office. I fidget waiting before being warmly greeted by the Director. She takes the time to talk me through the position. The role is for a Creative Assistant, the items listed seemed good: Designing, brainstorming, idea generation, art direction, assisting the Creative Director. But it also came with some other tasks which included: Greeting clients, fetching water, taking notes, being the in between for whatever was needed.
It started to sound like a personal assistant role more than a creative one. She then began to look through my portfolio and seemed impressed by the work. I then told her that I “didn’t actually want this role”. The man who greeted me was who I would be replacing, and all I wanted to do was talk to him. But if he was leaving then it didn’t sound like the right situation to be in.
A few more minutes of friendly small talk and obviously an awkward goodbye (who are these people who are good at goodbyes?) and I was out, back into the rain, back to Grey Lynn for more 2 minute noodles and bok choi.
Back to the insecurity of being unemployed and on the job hunt. I pondered for hours if I should email them back with a change in my decision.
“You’ve got to get a foot in the door”
“Take what you can, while continuing to find the right role”
Advice from others kept coming in, but life kept continuing. I picked up some freelance work here and there which kept me going and my entertainment budget was library books and if I splurged paying to hire a DVD (it was 2010, a different time!) from the library. The work I was doing ranged from; drawing cartoon illustration for an IT office, fusing portraits with their personality test animal traits (with mixed results), to working for a TV production company designing the proposals for the next run of hit New Zealand reality TV. I’m truly sorry for the shows that I helped create, one in particular I have not seen, but did nothing to improve culture in New Zealand.
After a few months had gone by I picked up some freelance work with a small studio on Karangahape Road, this turned into me negotiating to be their first full time employee. What happened over the next three or so years was an amazing journey of working with some of New Zealand’s biggest companies, growing immensely, and my role turning into a senior position with a couple junior designers and an intern working below me.
I was – and still am – grateful for the opportunities that have come to me. It’s a tough road to find the right job, people are always grappling with this situation, no matter where they are in their careers. Sometimes you’re just a square in a round hole.