A Design for Life – Tips for the Graduate Designer
“As we are told that this is the end” is what James Dean Bradfield shouted at us from the CD (remember those?) of the album Everything Must Go.
That was exactly how I was feeling when I graduated from university in the summer of 2003; I’d reached the end of 3 years of a degree in Graphic Design so “this is the end” and time to get a job – and literally ‘design for life’.
Back then it was easier to get a job in design in the North East than it is now, as there were what seemed like agencies big and small on every street across Newcastle, Sunderland, Gateshead, Durham and beyond.
After a couple of recessions though there’s less and less agencies almost daily, and that inevitably leaves fewer jobs for hungry graduates leaving our region’s universities every summer. I look back and think how easy it all seemed, leaving university for the last time on a Friday and starting work as a full time Graphic Designer come the following Monday morning…
Luck isn’t on the side of the graduates leaving university now. There’s the obvious post-recession issue of lack of agencies out there and therefore a lack of agencies with vacancies, so it’s tougher and tougher to get a job. And that was one thing universities didn’t labour on – the getting a job bit. There were in fairness some ‘industry related’ projects, but the vast majority didn’t and still don’t suit the needs of today’s creative agencies. The ‘six weeks to design a logo’ still rings true in some quarters, and original creative free flowing work is sometimes overshadowed in order to get the right mark or grade.
Once the “hard” part of studying is over, the fun bit begins – getting an actual job in the industry. And right now that’s a hell of a lot harder. Hopefully though, the rest of this piece will help you when it comes to getting into this fantastic and creative industry.
Resume at will
You’d think this wouldn’t be an issue but sadly in some cases it is – a badly worded or difficult-to-read CV can be binned before the reader has even got past your full name. Clean and concise is the way forward.
Any inclination you have about a 4 page multi-coloured biopic life story should be placed to one side – Creative Directors and Heads of Design in all honesty don’t have time to read through pages and pages, so keep the data bulleted and relevant. And list your experience wisely, as Saturday jobs flipping burgers are great if you’re applying for work flipping burgers, but not that great if you’re wanting to be a Junior Designer in a leading ad agency in town. Industry placements and work experience are far more appealing too, if you don’t have any permanent employment history.
Also, try and read your CV with a fresh pair of honest eyes, as if you’re the employer – how are you selling yourself? And don’t use Word. Please don’t use Word; opt for InDesign instead.
Do your homework
Sites like LinkedIn are a goldmine for graduates and those on the hunt for a job. In truth, it’s an easy way of getting you noticed by the creative decision makers, which is great as you should try and connect with people you know in the industry and follow the companies you admire and are interested in.
LinkedIn also has groups where you can learn, share and generally ask questions to professionals. And don’t be shy on your profile, but do keep it truthful and honest. Maybe leave that holiday snap of you in Magaluf to one side, in favour of something a little more suitable. Make sure you complete the profile as much as possible. LinkedIn’s algorithm dramatically favours completed profiles and accounts, crediting them as ‘All Star’, so don’t go skipping on your summary or skills.
And don’t be afraid to (truthfully) recommend someone’s skills, as they might reciprocate back and this will help your profile even more. But don’t recommend people’s skills that you don’t actually know, or who’s work you’ve genuinely seen.
Have a presence
Having an online portfolio is a must for designers these days – or so you’d think. Again, it’s back to first impressions – www.yourname.com with your work on is far more impressive than having to email firstname.lastname@example.org to ask for a PDF.
Having www.yourname.com will also increase your searchability. This is because one of the first things recruiters and employers do once they get your CV is to pop your name in Google, and seeing www.yourname.com at the top of the search engine’s results is far more impressive than a candidate that doesn’t. In addition, portfolio sites like Behance and Dribbble make it easy to showcase your work. They’re also free, and once you’ve got your LinkedIn profile up and running you can also show your work as ‘Projects’ too.
Plus, sharing these sites on your Twitter and Facebook accounts can only help in amplifying your message. So get social!
Work experience and placements
Working for free admittedly doesn’t sound an ideal situation, but it’s been part of the creative industry for so long it’s accepted. Whether you call it ‘a placement’, ‘work experience’, ‘an unpaid internship’ or whatever, it’s kind of the same in the fact it’s working for free.
But it does have its perks. For one, it’s a first step for many of getting their foot in the industry door, and again it’s great at connecting with experienced creatives. The main thing is being able to embrace an agency’s culture and ethos and learn from it, while at the same time potentially enjoying being able to work on live briefs for big brands.
Plus, if you’re good enough while you’re there, you’ve a good chance of being first in line when an opening arises. I’ve worked at a few agencies where placement designers and creatives have excelled to such an extent that they’ve been offered roles right after their placements ended. So, get knocking on doors and pick up the phone; working for free isn’t permanent, if you’re good enough!
Signing up with recruitment agencies is a definite yes. It’s good to be registered on the big sites like Reed and Monster, but you’re competing with hundreds if not thousands of other people in the same boat.
While you shouldn’t avoid these, also get in touch and sign up with speciliased regional creative recruitment agencies in your area – get in and meet them face to face as well. Chances are they’ll know pretty much every senior agency decision maker in the area, so you’ve a better chance of getting your CV in front of their faces than not. And the recruiter doesn’t charge you, they charge the agency, which is nice.
Some agencies don’t use recruitment agencies, instead preferring to source their staff and save a few pounds on the recruiter’s fees in the process. Have a bookmark of agencies in your area on your browser and keep checking them regularly; once a week or so. You’re pretty much guaranteed to get your CV in front of the decision makers’ eyes, and if you’ve been clever enough to connect with them socially and professionally chances are they’ll remember you.
So in a nutshell, don’t use Word, be honest, be social, be ready, be prepared to work for free, and be lucky.