Employment options for older designers
Monday, February 06, 2017
A former client wrote me recently to say he had hired two older employees some months ago and has never been happier. Their professionalism and experience has helped his firm to thrive. Regrettably, he is the exception rather than the rule.
Most employers I have worked with in the past couple of years are not interested in hiring designers past the age of 50. That’s sad news for the design industry, which has greater numbers of older designers than younger.
Not only are designers as a group aging, so are many of their clients. As a result, these older designers are experiencing a decreased demand for their services.
Younger, affluent clients generally prefer to work with designers who are closer to them in age and outlook. As a consequence, over the past couple of years I have seen a good number of older independent designers who have successfully operated their own businesses for decades apply for senior positions in design or architecture firms because their client pool is dwindling.
In most cases, though, they never even make it to the interview stage. Contrary to what they expect, employers are looking for "senior designers" who are much younger.
In human resources lingo, a "senior designer" is, on average, one with around 10 years or more of experience. Some postings will specify, for example, bachelors’ degree in interior design or interior architecture and eight years, or 10 years, or 12 years of experience.
That would place the bulk of candidates in the age range of mid 30s to early 40s — far younger than the independent designers in their 50s or even 60s who hope to compete with them. If the employer or partners are thinking of selling or transferring the firm to this individual eventually, they can anticipate another 15 to 20 years of work from them, as opposed to maybe 5 to 10 from an older designer.
In addition, some employers are looking for a minimum combined years of experience, but others, particularly commercial firms, are looking for number of years practicing a particular specialty. That can be another handicap for independent designers who have done primarily residential projects.
The same applies to aesthetics. A firm that has branded itself to appeal to affluent urban dwellers has no interest in hiring a designer with 20 years’ experience doing traditional or country interiors.
All of this can be discouraging, especially if you are an active professional looking forward to many more years of gainful employment.
However, I urge you not to give up hope. If you are an older designer looking to make a career transition, you still have options.
Many of the qualities and skills that come with experience are in-demand and transferable to other industries. Moreover, in many instances, I have found that design professionals who are considering working for someone else can still be successful on their own if they modify their business practices to be current with today’s market demands.
Sometimes all it takes is talking with someone who can direct you onto a new path or help you view your skills and opportunities from a different perspective.
Creativity and talent are ageless. Experience only increases in value over time. If you are willing to adapt, you can find new outlets to put them to use where they will be appreciated.
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