Career Advice For Design Graduates

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Originally, I thought about writing this article in response to the number of badly written job requests we receive, but I’ve revised it after talking to students and graduates who are struggling to find a job in the creative fields

At my company [AirSpace Studio] we regularly receive emails from students asking for jobs or internships. Being a small boutique consultancy we can only respond or help the applicants that take the time to do some simple research on our business. If you show an interest in us, we’ll take an interest in you.

It is tougher than ever for students (and graduates) find a job in their chosen field and it can be just as tough finding an internship. It is also important for creative hubs around the globe to create a better platforms for jobseekers. I’m not talking about investing in interns or placement programmes, the creative industry needs to build supportive organisations or a creative council that can initiate projects, provide additional training (to help graduates apply for jobs) and act as a standards and advisory board.

Here are some ideas that can help potential candidates. This is not some secret sauce but these suggestions could increase the odds of landing a career in design or the creative industries…

1. Preparing yourself for work (as students)

Spend time in the studio.
Its tempting to work from home or Halls of Residence. Good work comes from the effort and hours. It is easier to be motivated and inspired among your peers.

Experiment. Use your university’s facilities.
This is your time to experiment with ideas. Design studio are often less well-equipped.

Discover disciplines that interest you.
Find out about the other companies within that creative field. Who is good, bad, innovative. Who do you admire?

Learn about other artists, designers and progressive innovations.
Read about artists, designers, architects. Read about manufacturing or print techniques. Knowing this will help you develop your own techniques and will improve your employability.

Be informed about your creative field.
Form an opinion and talk about it in your interview. It proves quite early on that you have a passion for your subject.

Start personal projects.
Start building a portfolio. It’s never too early. Personal projects are a great talking point in an interview. More importantly they will help you grow as a designer.

Travel. Gain life experience.
As a designer you are a sum of your experiences. Your experiences will inspire you. They will add richness to your work.

Keep a sketchbook.
As an employer I want to see how you think. A sketchbook show me you are passionate. It show me that you can articulate your ideas visually. I want to see that you can experiment and the journey it takes you on. Sketchbooks are more interesting than final pieces of work.

Enter awards.
If you win it will help you stand out and provide free PR.

Ask for advice.
Build up a network of companies, designers that you like, write to them and ask if they would mind giving some advice about design, finding a job, build relationships. Invite the same people to your end of year exhibition.

Subscribe to industry magazines & blogs.
Here are a few to get started on…
Boom / Change the thought / Grain Edit / Core77 / Dezeen / Computer Arts / Design is Kinky / Print Magazine / ffffound / Form Fifty Five / its nice that / Lost at e minor / Motionographer / September Industry / Thunder Chunky / But does it float / Creativebloq

2. Preparing yourself for work (as graduates)

Put yourself out there.
Go to art openings, art fairs, creative industry nights and chat to people that share your interest. Promote yourself, create newsletters and send them out to people who’s work you like. Use software like www.campaignmonitor.comand design your own newsletter template.

“Who you hang out with determines what you dream about and what you collide with. And the collisions and the dreams lead to your changes. And the changes are what you become. Change the outcome by changing your circle.” Seth Godin

Be discoverable — find an agent.
Apply to recruiters that are appropriate to your field and focus on creative/design jobs. They will understand your needs and have a strong network within the city or country you are working in.

Make sure you have an online portfolio (behance, coroflot, deviant art, odesk, elance, carbonmade, Creative Animals).

Take a placement.
Go to a design studio. Ask if you can just hangout. Ask if you can make the coffee. Ask if you can help out for one morning a week, even if it’s not paid, get experience early on, and lots of it, it’s in your hands.

Become an expert in an area related to your chosen field.
i.e. Take a placement with a the local printer if you are a graphic designer learn about techniques and processes.

Start a collective.
Start a collective and gain support from other like-minded individuals. Invite people from other disciplines to your group. Share an office together that way you can feed each other work when the opportunity arises. Create your own pop up studio. Look at what the Pop Up Agency are doing which was originally started when the team were students.

3. The art of applying for a job (apply professional etiquette)

– Write a covering letter or send an enquiry to that company about vacancies or internships.

– Include your CV and portfolio, or include a link to your portfolio site.

– Address it to the right person

– Research the person you are addressing. Do they have published work, articles/interviews about them, or a portfolio online like on Behance.

– Show an interest in the company you’re applying to. What do you like about them, their work, their style, their philosophy.

– Attract their attention in other ways. Mail or FedEx them something clever and make it relevant.

– Write an actual letter (on paper) to the person you are applying to. It will show that you’ve made an effort and the personal touch will hopefully solicit a response.

– Send your work to other designers and creative directors. Don’t ask for a job ask them if they would mind giving you feedback on your work. This can be a more effective way of building a relationship with potential employers and it can help you improve your portfolio.

4. The interview (be yourself)

  • Dress appropriately.
  • Demonstrate understanding of the agency you are meeting.
  • Talk about what interests you creatively.
  • Prepare some questions that you’d like to ask during the interview. It shows you’ve taken an interest.
  • Tailor your portfolio for each interview. Make sure it is relevant to that agency. i.e. Don’t include photography work if you’re applying for a job in branding design. The consultancy is interviewing you based on your abilities as a designer. Keep the portfolio focused.
  • Listen to the interviewer.
  • Be enthusiastic and passionate.
  • Thank the interviewer for their time.
  • Leave behind a business card.
  • Write a thank you email. If you receive a reply, thank the company for their time.
  • Connect with the consultancy/agencies on social media.

Prepare yourself for the interview with these common interview questions:

  1. What design consultancies agencies do you admire and why?
  2. What design projects interested you?
  3. Who do you admire?
  4. What is your opinion about design in the region/globally?
  5. What would be a dream project for you?
  6. What would be a nightmare project for you?
  7. What kind of design disciplines are you best at?
  8. What kind of design disciplines are your weakest?
  9. How do you normally start your design process after receiving a brief?
  10. Can you draw? How do you articulate your ideas?
  11. Why do you want to work for us?

5. Getting experience on the job (before rushing off to start your own business)

It’s good to know how the creative industry works before you start selling your services as a freelancer or business owner. What services do creative agencies and individuals offer? How much do they charge? How is quality judged? Learn how to work efficiently. Learn from others. Learn from the projects. Learn to work in a team. Learn to support your colleagues. Learn what it takes to beat the competition. Experience company politics. Challenge yourself. Inspire people.

  • (a) Get an internship with a company that does the type of work you want to do. I recommend you try out a number of different sized companies in the field you’re interested in. You may find it’s a lot more hands on with steep learning curves at a smaller company. In larger businesses you might have the opportunity to move around departments learning different skills and a broader experience.
  • (b) Work in your chosen field for a couple of years. Get a feel for working with others in a team learn form these people. Get some industry insights go to meetings learn how to present your work.

Last but not least, if you really want a job that you’ll love start a personal project. There are lots of stories out there where personal projects have sometimes led to a job or a startup business. Your project could provide PR opportunities and you might get to work with some amazing, talented people.

6. Additional Reading

Words and illustration Mark Woodward

Mark Woodward is a creative director and the founder of AirSpace Studio. He has been working in the design industry with clients around the globe for the past 24 years.

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