There you are. You're fresh out of design school, bursting with excitement to start your fancy new design job. That is until, you start to realize that finding your dream job isn't as easy as you imagined. At least I know that's where I was. I imagined companies to be lining up to hire me, I mean why wouldn't they - I had done everything I was "supposed" to. I had excelled at design school. I had a resume, a portfolio and a pair of heels that I would only ever wear to an interview.
So What's the Problem?
For starters, I had no experience. And it seemed that every job I was applying to was asking for at least SOME experience. I was applying to the wrong jobs, and sending the wrong emails. Not to mention my portfolio needed a makeover. After really doing some evaluating I made a few changes that helped me to land my first job as a graphic designer!
Carefully Choose What's in Your Portfolio
Pay close attention at interviews to how people are responding to your work. At an interview for an internship the art director reviewing my portfolio joked "you must have been thirsty when you created your portfolio." To my horror, every piece in my portfolio was some kind of drink! I had an energy drink ad, packaging design for a vitamin drink, and the list goes on. I couldn't wait to get out of there and tear out half the pages! So, learn from my mistake - make sure you're portfolio shows variety. Employers want to see that your versatile, and that you can design more than drink ads. It's a good idea to have at least one of each of the following pieces in your portfolio:
- Packaging Design
- Print Design
- Branding Design
- Website Design
- Social Media Design
However, if you want to focus on a specific niche - say you really like web design and that's all you want to do. In that case, put a variety of different website designs in your portfolio.
Do Some Freelance in the Mean Time
If you can't find a design job right away DON'T PANIC! Having a part-time job and doing some freelance work can help you pay the bills. Checkout job boards such as UpWork to bid on freelance work. One way to get your design proposal accepted is to stand out. Do this by not only submitting a written proposal but record a video of yourself explaining why you're the best person for the job and your plan of action. Most people are going to be submitting plain jane written proposals so you'll be ahead of the game with a video proposal.
In my opinion, I would avoid websites like 99 Designs that hold contests. With those types of sites there's a good chance you're not going to get paid. There's also several people charging way too little for graphic design so it will be hard to compete.
Don't forget to add any freelance work that you do to your portfolio. The more real world work that you have in your book the better. Always explain what the design problem was and how you tackled it. Employers want to know that you care about more than "making things pretty".
You'll Need an Online Portfolio
In this day and age it's so important to have an online portfolio. People want to view your work and make sure they like your style before they take time out of their day to interview you.
A few cool places to make a free online portfolio are:
Now, if you're an aspiring web designer I highly recommend creating your own WordPress portfolio website. Purchase a domain with your first and last name. If your name is already taken you can use some variation of your name like by including your middle name or adding "design" after your name. Next you'll need to purchase hosting and install WordPress. Find an awesome portfolio theme and customize it to your hearts content. Make sure it's mobile friendly so employers can view your work on their phones!
Write Meaningful Emails to Ad Agencies
If you've applied to dozens of jobs ads and aren't getting the results that you'd hope for, I'd recommend applying to agencies that you find interesting. The thing is, when you're applying to job ads you're competing against a lot of other designers. If you happen to email an agency at just the right time you could be in luck! Say they're looking for help but haven't posted a job ad yet, you may have just landed yourself an interview.
Whatever you do, don't write a generic email and send it to every agency in town. Most people will see right through this strategy. Take the time to learn about an agency and specially tailor a sincere email stating who you are, what you do, and why you would love an opportunity to learn more about their company. Be sure to include a link to your online portfolio.
Send a Printed Piece
With everyone and their mother sending emails and connecting through the internet, printed pieces have become a lost art. One way to get noticed is by showcasing some of your work in an interesting printed piece and actually mailing it to potential agencies you're interested in. They're likely to be impressed by your initiative and creativity.
Create Business Cards
This might seem like a no brainer but I have to mention it. Make sure you have business cards to leave with your interviewers. It's a way for them to remember you and get back in touch when they decide to hire you! 😉
Make Some Leave Behinds for Interviews
Similar to sending a printed piece, leave behinds can really make an impact on employers. Create a mini stack of cards that display your favorite portfolio pieces, leave a mug with your website domain on it, or even get quirky and leave them a funny tshirt with your logo on it. Be as creative as you want, and make sure it's not something they're going to toss into the garbage the second you leave the room.
Make Sure Your Potential Job is a Good Fit
You should never take a design job that doesn't suite you well just because it's a job. It's easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of an offer without thinking about what your life will actually look like once you settle into the job. You need to make sure that you jive well with your potential co-workers and the culture. You should be excited by the type of work they do, and if you're not, you probably won't thrive there.