Land Your First Design Job
This time of year are the plenty of design & tech graduates out there about to dip their toes in the world. The career ladder awaits.
With two decades in the industry, I have experience on both sides of the interview desk. I thought I would share that experience in this article. It will provide some insights into ways you can stand out and get your foot in the door.
I'm a Creative Web Developer who has designed and built websites for many well known brands. Much of this advice can applied to most creative disciplines. Illustration, Typography, Photography, Multimedia or Graphic Design students should all find some useful hints here.
This is the number one tool you have to show what you can do. It is not a place for a picture of your cat. It's great you love sushi and make origami animals at the weekend. I'm sure you do love your girlfriend very much but your home page is not a place for a giant picture of you both. Yet, I have seen all that in online portfolios. Don't make the same mistake.
A great portfolio, online or offline, needs to show your work. It's not about you, it's about what you can do. Focus on that. Pick your best work, frame it well and go from there. Explain why you did it, and the process you used. Outline any unusual techniques and the software involved. If you did a lot of sketching first before inking it, don't be afraid to toss in the odd photo of the open sketch book on the table.
The star of the show should be the finished article. As an employer, however, it is useful to get a hint of the journey that got it there. Think about the little cards you get on the wall next to paintings in galleries. These explain the work succinctly. That's all you need. Employers are busy people, they don't have time to read reams of waffle.
A portfolio can be tricky for graduates because of lack of experience. Without work to show, how can you get a job? Well, you have spent three years working alongside other students. Think about collaborating. For example, If you studied photography, team up with a typography student. Work together to produce a book. Take the photos, get the other student to lay it out into a book. Find yourself an Illustration student to design the cover.
Get it self published. There are plenty of online services out there that can do this pretty cheaply. You can even do it from the Photos app built into every Mac. This way, all three of you have a portfolio that doubles as a real world piece of work you can all use to promote yourselves.
If your aiming to break into the world of web design or branding, a good place to start is a site called 99 Designs. This allows people to post real world briefs for real projects and they pay for the result if you win. The idea is people pitch designs and the poster goes through rounds of elimination.
It isn't limited to web design. There are jobs listed for things like Logo design and producing brochures and so forth. You may even earn a few quid in the process!
Now comes the scary part. Interviews are the worst stage of finding your first role. The old adage "Failure to prepare is preparing to fail" rings very true here. Stay calm, research your employer, and tailor your pitch match those expectations. Because that is exactly what it is - it's a pitch and you are the product on sale. Look at the job spec, find out the key points they are looking for and tailor yourself as best you can to tick those boxes.
A great way to break the ice is taking physical items with you. Theres nothing worse then sitting across the table from four people staring at you. A trick I have used in the past is to make a stack of full colour postcards of my work and throw them all out on the table. Everyones up out of their seats, picking things up and asking questions.
Don't stand there flipping through them like a PowerPoint presentation with a voiceover. That won't get you the job. Throw them all out on the table and let the interviewers dig in. The conversation will start to flow and they will learn much more about you.
If you have an online portfolio, a great trick to use involves Google Analytics. This is a tracking tool you can add for free that has the ability to tell you what pages someone visited and for how long.
Most employers are situated in technology parks or other business centres like Regus. The network tab inside Google Analytics will often give a clue to work out that visit came from your prospective employer. From there, you can see which pages they looked at and for how long. You can then use that information to tailor your interview. They spent 15 minutes looking at a particular piece of work. Great! Make that the first thing you pull out of your sketchbook at interview.
The great thing about creative industries is that you can show your flair by designing a wonderful CV.
The sad fact is nine times out of ten you will be dealing with recruitment agents. They will feed this into a computer system, extract the text and remove your contact details. Your employer most likely won't get to see it. For that reason, its a good idea to have two CV's, one in plain word that can be read by computer systems, and your fancy pants one. Give the plain one to agents, and use the fancy pants one when you apply directly to companies.
For the CV's content, focus on your achievements rather then what you have done. If you have any awards or competitions, mention them. Don't be afraid to list jobs that have nothing to do with the industry but do show skills that are useful.
For example, at one point I was a team leader in a shop. I managed staff, dealt with the takings, locked the shop up at night and motivated the team. These are all skills that transfer to any job. It shows team working, use of initiative and that you are trustworthy.
It's worth noting that when you sign up for Monster they will offer you a free CV review. Take it. You will get a report back that you can use to further enhance it. If you wish can pay a fee to have them go to town on it further.
Getting hold good software to produce work on a shoe string is a challenge. There is no doubt that Adobe has pretty cornered the market on this, and the software they put out is by no means cheap.
There some tools out there that are either free or won't break the bank. Affinity Photo & Designer by Serif are both superb, and direct equivalents to Photoshop and Illustrator. They will happily open Photoshop files. Later this year they will release their answer to InDesign, so keep an eye out for that.
For painting with a Wacom, it's worth taking a look at Krita. It's powerful, free and has a good community around it.
For video editing, Blender which is a fantastic 3D tool. It contains a video editor, and a compositor capable of doing green screen work and camera tracking.
Thats all for now. Hopefully this article was of some use to you. Don't panic, there is a great career ahead of you. I wish you all the luck in the world!
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