Patronising advice for design students and graduates – finding a job


The difficult to reach first step of the career ladder

Times are tough, and have been for a number of years. It is particularly tough for those finishing their education coming out into the workforce to find the first step on the career ladder. So here is my advice.

Ignore the recession

Easy to say, not so easy to do. I have come into conversation with a number of people either recently graduated or close to graduation. Their negativity and fear regarding job prospects is understandable and very sad. So my advice is, don’t let the recession get in the way of your dreams. Pre recession there was maybe 30 jobs out there for you. Now there is only four. How many jobs do you need? One. It will just be a little harder to find.

If you allow the recession to stop you being motivated to find work you will wake up one day in about 10 years and hear an announcement that a new recession has begun. And you hadn’t noticed the previous one end. You will also hear of someone who went on to do well because they thought of a clever way to get active during the recession. You will be kicking yourself.

Job searching basics

There is lots of advice out there, use it. Don’t send anyone an email that is a copy paste email. Ensure something relates to the company or person you are writing to. I like ‘such and such’ on your website. My favourite campaign is your one for xyz. It is not so much about ‘sucking up’ to some one. It is about personalising an email. Therefor a very busy person is far more likely to send you a personal message rather than a ‘thanks but no thanks’ copy paste job.

Unless you have written 200 applications, you have not even begun applying. Use that number as a positive target. Something to aim for. Five a day, every day, it will soon mount, and you will become better at it.

Worst case scenario

So what do you do if you still can’t get in. There comes a point where you have to work. Perhaps it is in a coffee shop, perhaps as an entry level trainee in a different area completely. You may well have the best time of your life and make friends for life. An odd thing is, you will be surprised how random opportunities can come your way in life. You may find there is a creative position within this company you never knew existed. I worked as a barman in London. I went on to start my own business as a blackboard artist, as a full time job. Who knew that was a possibility? But I had the contacts and knowledge just from working in the branch to know how to do it. And what I didn’t know I learned on the hoof.

Be prepared

Another issue regarding the random nature of things, is after sending hundreds of CVs out, and working yourself into the ground trying to find a job with no success, you could find yourself sitting at a dinner party or in some other social situation, when during small talk someone says ‘oh we are looking for a designer, can you Photoshop?’. And before you know it, you have a job, without applying or being interviewed.

Now here is the important aspect of that scenario. Make sure the last design work you did, wasn’t what you did in college. Make sure you are still active. Have a website portfolio, or a blog that is active. Make sure you can show your enthusiasm for your area of expertise. Because you will be kicking yourself if an opportunity like that comes up unexpectedly and you blow it because you were not prepared.

Working for free

It’s a tough one. You need experience to get a job, how do you get experience. How do you build a portfolio that shows what you can do, without working for free? From my experience, the sort of people who would accept free work, are the worst people to work for. They are like sharks. They will never pay you at a later date when you are experienced. Their shark brain will go, ‘find another idiot to work for free’. They will not respect you, will not respect your work, and will almost certainly insist on doing something to the design which is so bad it means you can’t use it in your portfolio. There is also the argument that working for free for people demeans the industry you wish to work in.

Stay positive and keep learning

If you still can’t get a job in the design industry there are further options. Start up freelance is one of them. Another is to look at the different aspects of your work and work at it in your free time. Illustration or animation for example, or typography design, or motion graphics. Something that would have been hard to get to, and possibly too exhausting to work on in your free time as a designer as it is too similar to the day job. Working in a different field you are completely fresh to work on this in your free time. This can be incredibly rewarding and go on to you being able to work in your niche area later. Helps if you think of yourself as being like an out of work actor. Ignore anyone who uses the word ‘hobby’ to describe what you do.

Keep taking online courses to extend your skills. If you work in the web, get javascript, get php skills. In design, add typography design or motion graphics, take figure drawing classes, there’s always more to learn. Keep adding to your portfolio and good luck!