May 3, 2023
Written By Liz Achanta
So you’re a graphic designer, and you’re working a new contract job. You hit the ground running, and are putting all of your best efforts and designs forward to make a good impression. And just when you’re starting to become comfortable in your role and make friends with your team members . . . your contract ends, and now you have to start looking for a new job.

For many graphic designers, this situation can be frustrating – especially to those who were hoping for their contract to be extended, or were trying to work towards a full-time gig. If you’ve found yourself in this situation before, don’t worry – you’re not the only one. According to ColorLib, there were 265,000 Graphic Designers employed in the US in 2021, with 90% of those designers working contract or freelance. This brings us to question if there’s such a large need for graphic design, why aren’t businesses hiring us permanently?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but common theories in the design industry relate to overhead costs to onboarding new employees (compared to the more cost-effective way of hiring designers, like Freelancers), and the fear of a designer’s style not matching the company’s brand (no one wants to be stuck with a bad designer).

While contract work lacks the stability of full-time employment, being contract isn’t always a bad thing. As a matter of fact, according to IBISWorld 90% of Graphic Designers prefer working freelance. Check out our pros and cons list below:

Pros & Cons of Contract Design Jobs

Pro: You can negotiate a higher base salary due to the lack of benefits you don’t receive from being contract. Typically with contract work, you don’t receive the normal benefits a regular employee would receive: like health insurance or paid holidays. Use these ‘cons’ to help you negotiate a higher salary to make up for what you’re anticipating to pay out of pocket for these expenses (or, if you’re married and your health insurance comes from your spouse, pocket that extra cash to pay for the unpaid vacation you’re planning on taking!).

Con: You don’t get paid holidays or vacation time – so you need to save enough to cover these unpaid times off. Some contract companies offer a few days of paid sick leave, but this is not always guaranteed as well – so make sure you ask about this benefit while you’re interviewing with your recruiter.

Pro: You have more flexibility over your schedule. Unlike regular exempt employees, your work schedule really can stop at 40 hours if you want it to (or you can cash in on that overtime pay). With most contract workers, you can decide when you work and for how long – giving you more autonomy over your personal and work life.

Con: You have a shorter amount of time to learn the job. Since you’re employed for a short amount of time, the expectation is that you get as much done as possible, so you have to hit the ground running starting day one.

Pro: Your employment is relatively secure during the length of your contract. Contract workers are generally hired for specific projects or services that employers anticipate to last for a short period of time. That means the employer has funds reserved specifically for you, for that project, so you can typically anticipate no surprises during the course of your contract, which also means you know exactly when to start looking for a new job as your contract wraps up.

Con: Contractors are usually the first to go during corporate downsizing. While this isn’t always the case – like General Motors, who offered early retirement as a first option to their corporate downsizing in 2019 – the seniority structure of the “last to arrive is the first to go” is usually an easy-out for companies looking to decrease their headcount. And since contractors aren’t regular, full-time employees, well . . . you get the picture.

Pro: You can get your foot in the door with certain companies. Have dreams of working for a large tech company or a Big Three, but are having a hard time finding full time employment with them? Working through a contract company and showing your value as an irregular employee is a great way to show your value, and express your interest in working for them on a full-time basis. If your employer likes you and your work, there’s always the possibility of extending the contract or working contract-to-hire.

Con: If you want training and development, you’ll have to pay for it yourself. For full-time employees, paid T&D or tuition reimbursement is becoming the new “norm” as a benefit for working with a company – according to Georgetown University, employers spend $177 billion annually on formal training, and $413 billion on informal on-the-job training. Unfortunately if you want to stay competitive with your colleagues and relevant in the newest software, you’re going to have to save a portion of your paycheck to pay for these classes.

How to land that full-time gig:

Start freelancing to bulk up your portfolio & resume. By showing off your versatile skills as a contract designer, you’re telling potential employers you’re able to adapt quickly to their needs and could start designing right away. Need help setting up your online portfolio? Check out our related blog post here.

Join a professional design community like AIGA or the International Council of Design to make professional connections, like independent design agencies or heads of design departments.

Build on the relationships you already have: hit up that old manager you had two jobs ago to see how they’re doing (and if they’re hiring anyone on their team), or post a catch-all status on LinkedIn saying how you’re looking for a new position.

Learn all about UX design (and how to put the customer first). On average, UX designers earn more than the typical Graphic designer, with a base salary of $95,577 compared to the $58,260 mean annual salary of other occupations in the US. You can get started learning more about UX design by earning a Google UX Design Professional Certificate, which is free if you complete the course in 7 days, or by taking professional classes at your local community college or university.

Here’s some places where you can find full-time Graphic Design jobs: