How To Find a Job as a Graphic Designer: 10 Tips for Emerging Talent
Coming to the end of a design degree, or being a graduate, without any solid employment prospects is a pretty stressful situation. In my own experience, uni life came to an end smack-bang in the middle of a recession and finding work, especially in the design and advertising industries, seemed almost impossible. So, to help young graduates avoid the job hunting pitfalls I encountered myself, here’s a list of awesome tips on how to to find a job as a graphic designer…
1Get to know the industry
Make sure you understand your options. Generally there are 3: in-house, agency and freelance, and I explain those below, but there are also some niche areas out there, like font design. ‘Graphic design’ translates to all sorts of disciplines – product design, illustration and brand development to name a few – so be sure to explore them all thoroughly in case you really feel drawn to one area in particular. The tips below, though, are more for the general ‘graphic designers’ out there.
‘In-house’ means working in the design/marketing department of any company whose primary business isn’t design/marketing i.e. a finance company, a solicitors, a fashion brand etc. It can be a fantastic career path as it means you get to meet and work around all sorts of people from different sides of the business, not just designers. If it’s a large well-known company, they’ll often have cool initiatives for staff and decent job benefits too. The down-side is that, if you work for ’Tommy’s Toys for Toddlers’ and you can’t stand pastel colours and nursery rhymes, you’re snookered! As a junior in-house designer you can expect roughly 30% of your work to involve admin or not-so-stimulating work. There are probably more in-house positions out there than agency-based.
Agencies provide design services for all types of different companies who are ‘outsourcing’ their requirements. At an agency, you basically work for anyone who wants to pay you. Design mercenaries, if you will! Days are often very busy, your work will be 90% design-focused and you’ll get to work inside a variety of different industries. Unlike with an in-house role, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll have a design manager who you can learn from on the job. Agencies can be both small and large, ranging from 2 or 3 good all-rounders to hundreds of staff all with increasingly specialist skills. The drawback with agencies, if there is such a thing, is that it’s demanding work – you need to produce your best every day, you need to adapt to new clients and their working methods regularly, you need to be able to take rejection and criticism on the chin and, above all, you need to be learning constantly to ensure your growing skills and knowledge help to keep your agency afloat.
‘Freelancing’ is your third option, generally. If you’re the persevering type and don’t mind the idea of talking to clients and suppliers almost as much as actually doing any work, that’s half the battle right there. Most of your worries will initially be around finding work and turning a profit. The beauty of freelancing is that you could keep a part- or full-time job going at first until you start to gain momentum with paid work. Ideally, as you start to provide work to real clients you’ll benefit from referrals, where your client will speak to their friends or business partners about your services and you’ll get additional work that way. It takes some time, and money, up-front before you can really get started as a freelancer – you’ll need all the usual gear – a laptop, design software, probably a camera and all the other little extras. So, again, it’s worth considering finding a ‘regular’ job to support yourself while you chase design work in your free time.
5Build a portfolio
Once you know which direction you want to go in, it’s time to create your portfolio. Think about how you’d present it in an interview. It needs to be practical. For a print portfolio, include around 3 or 4 projects – just enough that you’ll take around 30 minutes to talk through it in your interviews. More often than not, employers want to see how your ideas took shape in the first place, so include your sketchbooks, notes and drawings. This applies throughout your career really as it more or less proves you actually did the work in your portfolio! And consider the design of your portfolio as a whole – is it compact and easy to carry? Can you speak to your printer to get something special made? How much can you afford to spend on it? If you know that most interviews will be conducted by around 2-4 people, would you even consider designing it in the form of handouts? Above all, use it to show that you’ve grown beyond university level into a budding designer.
You can make yourself stand out to employers by including work in your portfolio that you may have done since your degree ended. Work doesn’t end with uni. Design something. Anything! If you struggle to write your own briefs, there are design books out there filled with exercises that you can work on. Just be sure to critique your own designs and work through the full creative process. Do something relevant to what you want to do in full-time employment e.g. if you really wanted to be a brand design specialist, making a photo essay wouldn’t necessarily be the best way to demonstrate that.
With your portfolio sorted, you’ll be in a good position to get your designs onto behance.net with minimal extra work. Behance is an Adobe platform created as an online design community for people to share their work. It does have a jobs section but it’s not the best resource for UK-based designers. What it is great for is getting an insight into other people’s work and also getting some actual feedback on your own which, at this stage in your career, you might feel you need more of. Take the chance to really look at how other people present their work as well – a lot of the time it’s as much about the presentation as the work itself.
Why not design your own personal branding? If you wanted to work for a branding agency, then I’d say this is a must. Check out davidairey.com for some stellar branding tips and other great resources. When you’re ready to print your new business cards moo.com has the goods you need. Keep your portfolio in mind – it’d be nice to tie everything together so that when you make contact with employers you have a design consistency that’s memorable for them and helps you stand out among the crowd. Don’t be afraid to show your personality too – it’s better if your employer decides sooner rather than later if they don’t think you’d fit into the team for any reason – it wastes less of your time finding that perfect job that’s still out there.
7CSS style yourself
Consider setting up your own website. For now it could just house your portfolio, but in the future you might want to start a blog on it or use it as a base to build digital projects if you get into web development. There are communal platforms like wordpress.com where you can have a free subdomain as well as more design-centric communities like cargocollective.com. Or, if you’re interested in having a site that’s set up for long-term use and growth over time, buy a hosting package and set up your new website on its very own domain. It doesn’t cost the earth. Check out hosting providers like GoDaddy, 1&1, or Heart Internet to get started.
Take the opportunity at this early stage to ask questions – before the years go by and you get to a stage where you should really know the answers! Call a good print firm like Pressision and ask if you can go in one day to get a better understanding of print processes – some printers set up days when you can go and do this. Write a short list of questions and email all of your favourite designers or agencies around the world – if you furnish your email with a few compliments you’ll surely get a few back if not all of them. Create a LinkedIn profile and join the design industry forums where you can join in the conversations. Although you could request to link to employers on LinkedIn I wouldn’t do this until you’ve contacted them some other way first i.e. with a job application, otherwise it may come across as being a little direct. Just remember what Confucius said… ‘The man/woman who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man/woman who does not ask is a fool for life.’ (Just felt the need to inject some gender equality into that for the 21st century!).
9Build your skill set
Your own worth, as a designer, is in your hands – if you put in the work to learn new practical skills and acquire more knowledge, then you become capable of working more efficiently which leads to getting more done, and to a higher standard! Most designers will need to know Adobe Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop inside out – so try sites like lynda.com | tv.adobe.com | indesignsecrets.com for serious learning and when you fancy something more relaxed try tutorial sites like veerle.duoh.com | deke.com | creativebloq.com. Lynda.com, if you don’t know it already, is an invaluable resource for much more than just the Adobe software but you’ll likely want to focus on that first. Try Deke McClelland’s courses on Photoshop and Illustrator, and prepare to be amazed if you watch Bert Monroy’s video on recreating Times Square in Photoshop. It’s mind-blowing.
Your job hunt needn’t be a repetitive soul-destroying browse through the job sites – if you’ve done your research you’ll know what kind of work you want to do and where you want to work. Make a shortlist of businesses you’d love to work for, then pour your passion into creating something you can send them that’s really going to get their attention. Don’t worry about whether there’s a vacancy or not, if there isn’t one then the employer will realise you genuinely want to work for them and that’ll be to your credit. A lot of agencies are quite poor at actually advertising jobs because they’re so busy, so don’t wait for them to announce an opening.
How you get in touch is up to you but whatever you try, you need to make a lasting impression. Try sending, or taking in, something physical that’s designed purely for that business and then perhaps follow it up a few days later with a call. And, if you do get to speak to someone, start small – say that you’re keen to learn about the industry and would love to drop in sometime to get some advice – they might be really open to that if they know you’re going to go away afterwards! Ask how placements work and if they ever offer them there. Even if its just a day unpaid, it’s valuable experience. Anything that gets you working in the studio is a good thing.
Finally though, don’t sell yourself short by going for the first job you can get – unless you really struck gold first time. It’s a two-way street and you’re well within your rights to change your mind about a business if it’s not what you expected, as long as you do it in a professional manner. Getting the right start in your career can set you up for exciting prospects further down the road.