So, in light of my last text post (My top 5 tips for a new graphic design student) being a little successful, I’ve decided to take to the keyboard again, this time to explain my own path of going from graphic design graduate to a junior designer, in the hope that this might be of some use to someone… somewhere.
I’ve been meaning to write about this journey for a while now, since becoming junior designer for a creative agency in Bournemouth. The reason I’ve hesitated, is because I don’t want this to come across preachy, or all-knowing. This is simply my experience and what I’ve learnt from it personally. (I’m also very wary of my distinctly average writing skills.)
On June 1st 2014 I started my first day as a full time junior graphic designer, roughly 11 months after graduating from the University of Portsmouth. Three months before graduating, I had managed to get myself a job as a freelance graphic designer for a company within the marine industry. Until this, I had no experience whatsoever of being a real, working graphic designer. I remember being advised by former students at the time to gain as much experience through internships and part-time work as possible before graduating, but for me this never accumulated to anything. Now I’m on the outside looking in, I would second this advice, although I would also like to add that this is not vital.
I was able to land my first job as a graphic designer because another graphic designer who I had worked with on a side project recommended me, which leads me to my first point; networking. Throughout my time at university, prior to this freelance job, I hadn’t really pushed myself to go beyond the course itself and engage in other projects other than my own personal ones. I decided it was time to change this in my 3rd year, so I got involved with the design of our university magazine and also worked on a project with engineering students from my university to rebrand the Formula Student Portsmouth Racing team. Through this project I was able to work with the engineering students themselves, web developers and fellow designers to create the new identity. For me it was a great experience and one that led to my first paid job. Without getting involved in it I wouldn’t have met Matt, the graphic design masters student who recommended me to the marine company. I guess it was a little fortunate (I didn’t even have my CV put together at the time), but it just goes to prove that even a little networking can make a difference, genuinely, make connections with people, you never know where it can lead.
I had the job itself, for 8 months, working 1-2 days a week in between university. It mostly involved art-working and updating the company website, working on everything from switch labels to be fixed on to yachts, to giant banners and van liveries. It wasn’t the most creative of jobs (sometimes I went in and didn’t even do anything remotely related to graphic design) but it did teach me a lot and I see it as a very valuable experience.
My second point is self promotion. I can’t stress enough how important and how much of a deciding factor this can be to potential employers. I was fortunate enough to have a whole unit dedicated to just this in my final year of university and it really was such a big help. Everything, from the way you photograph your work, to the paper stock you choose, can make a difference. Your CV is one of the most important assets in getting yourself a job and yes, this can probably be said for nearly every industry – however, I would argue that it is even more crucial as a graphic designer. Just as important to the content of the CV, is the design and consideration put in to it. Treat your CV like a design project and it can prove to be a firsthand example of your design skills and has the power to set you apart from the competition, and there is a lot of competition. It’s your chance to show off in more ways than one. Don’t just send out PDF taster CVs via email – these have the potential to be easily missed and simply don’t have the same impact. Printed CVs that are hand delivered or sent via the post can have a lasting impression and even if nothing comes of it straight away, if it’s good enough in the eyes of the employer, they’ll want to keep hold of it and it could still lead to something in the future.
Of course it isn’t all just about the CV, you need to have a good portfolio of work. I would say take time over getting this right, this applies to both the physical one that you can take to interviews and your online portfolio. Create an identity for yourself, it doesn’t have to be a all singing, all dancing brand, after all, you don’t want it to distract from your actual work, but rather it be something that ties everything nicely together. I would also recommend having a good online presence too, such as a blog, LinkedIn and twitter account. I don’t think this is essential, but I like to think it can help to give your future employer a better insight to what kind of graphic designer you are… just make sure what you’re posting is ‘appropriate’.
My third and final point is to be persistent. Don’t expect a job straight away. I gave myself a year after graduating before I would seriously start panicking and perhaps looking at other options (my mum always said I should be a plumber, you’ll always need a plumber). Do your research, write a list of agencies you want to work for, think about where you want to work and send your CV and a cover letter out to as many places as possible, even if there are no vacancies, it’s always worth a try.
I was lucky, in a way, and got the job where I am working now from sending my very first CV out to them on a whim, but it was in no way as a case of simply being offered the job. I worked there for a month, unpaid, just to gain some experience and to enhance my CV at the time. This soon became paid experience as I slowly began contributing to the agency and was asked to come in to work more often. This continued until January where I was then offered a full-time freelance contract before finally being offered the junior role in May 2014.
All the time this was happening I didn’t stop looking for other job opportunities, I knew my time at this agency could easily come to an end and I also knew that the freelance role was not a permanent solution for me. I went to numerous other interviews for internships and job positions and continually looked to update my website, improve my CV and put myself out there. Be prepared to spend the time (and the money) in order to get the job. It might even mean that you end up taking a role you didn’t necessarily want to do, or work somewhere where you’re not quite happy just to improve your CV, it’s worth thinking about the long game.
I realise everyone’s post-university experience is different, some are fortunate enough to be employed straightaway, picked out at one of their end-of-year exhibitions and others that I know, which are still looking for a job a year on. I think it’s important not to put too much pressure on yourself during this process and don’t concern yourself too much with what everyone else is doing, just try to focus on doing what is right for you.
So there we have it, my experience and what I’ve learnt from it. I hope this hasn’t been too preachy/self-indulgent. Again, it’s a fairly brief look and I’ve probably not covered everything, but hopefully I’ve helped in some way! Thanks for reading and good luck to any graduates out there on the hunt for their first job!