How to land your dream design job
With the number of UK design graduates growing by nearly a quarter since 2003/04, young designers more than ever are desperate to find a suitable position in the industry, many of them ending up working as interns or, as a worst-case scenario, following a tangential career path – in a.
It’s more important than ever to stand out from the crowd.
Before becoming a creative director at Go Up, I was facing the exact same situation. After graduating from University with high expectations and a first class BA Honours, I was confident I would find a job as a mid-weight designer,. But it turned out not to be as easy as I thought.
I spent the first 5 months searching for a job, with no luck I eventually came to the conclusion that furthering my education and studying a Masters degree was my best chance of getting the position I desired.
But once I had ticked that box, I was in many ways back at square one. Despite my additional qualifications, the saturated market kept me out of a job for another 4 months. Then an opportunity landed on my doorstep.
It has now been four years since I began working as a creative director for Go Up. My experience working in the design world, and finding new recruits to join the team, has helped me finally identify what I was doing wrong that prevented me from getting those other jobs.
To help you avoid that situation, I want to share some of the lessons I’ve learned to hopefully help you land your dream design job.
What to do/not do during your time at university: Ask for feedback
Make sure to take notes when you receive feedback from your tutors. Annd then apply it to your design on a continual basis. This will significantly help you to not only improve your work, but also helps you become more adaptable. In the real world, you’ll constantly have to deal with feedback – sometimes a lot more scathing than the input you’ll get from your lecturers.
In fact, I suggest you seek out constructive criticism. All creative work is personal but if its your job then it is also a trade. This means responding to what the market wants, not just your own preferences.
Be a perfectionist
Try to improve your work as much as possible. As a designer you should learn to be picky about your work Usually asking for opinions helps me to identify the issues with my designs I can’t quite figure out.
Others look at your work from a different perspective. Use that to hone your craft. Only be satisfied with your very best. Its good to be a perfectionist when it comes to your work. Your designs should make you feel proud of your creativity and motivate you to work harder.
Expand your knowledge by reading design related books, websites, blogs and magazines. This doesn’t mean limiting yourself just to design related articles. Having an overall understanding of your surroundings and the world will help you to be a better designer.
Keep a visual diary
Make sure you document your design process using a sketchbook. This will help you reflect on your design outcome and understand why you did what you did when you look back on it later.
Take good care of your work
It is essential to be organised and to keep your projects in order.
Always back up your files and make sure they’re organised logically
This applies even to the projects you’re not very fond of. That way you can look back at them in a few years and reflect on your work progression.
Time is precious
As a full time student you shouldn’t really have any free time! I know this sounds quite harsh but the 3 years studying are most likely to be the most important time of your design life in terms of understanding design in depth.If you lay the right foundations, you have more chance of being successful. If you do get any “free time”, try to set yourself little design tasks and projects.
Concentrate on the projects that interest you. This will help you to express your creativity in a much more organic way and will keep the creative side of your brain sharp.
Take advantage of the opportunities around you by attending as many design conferences, seminars, galleries and museums as possible.This should inform the visual diary of your brain. You don’t need to memorise everything, our brain has the capability to store this information that could potentially be your main source of inspiration later.
You might not think that you have the time for it, but try and do as much freelance work as possible.
This gives you real world experience and will help expand your professional network. As well as earning some extra money, it could lead to more freelance work or if you are lucky, even a job. If nothing, it will strengthen your portfolio.
How to prepare yourself for the design world
One of the most important aspects of a designer’s career is their portfolio.
Your portfolio shows how good your work is and what you’ve learned. Ultimately it’s what gets you the job.
Despite working in digital design, I still believe having a printed portfolio is essential. I recommend printing out your work in A3 format on a good quality paper (aka not the cheapest) and keep it in a portfolio case or a box.
You should make it as easy as possible for your viewers to go through it page by page. The layout must be simple but at the same time it should represent who you are as a creative and designer.
Design your CV
I won’t get into the contents of a CV, but what I can tell you is to not send your CV to a design agency if you haven’t designed it yourself.
On the other hand, don’t be too plain. I shudder when I see a designer’s CV in a Microsoft Word format. And I’m sure so will many other potential employers. It is unprofessional and amateurish, plain and simple.
Have an online presence
Ten years ago it wasn’t nearly as crucial to have a personal website. Nowadays, creating a website and showcasing your work online gives you a much wider platform to connect to people.
Believe me when I say that your potential employer would much rather look at your work online than just as a PDF. Your website offers a lot more interactivity and it is a great way of showcasing your personality. Avoid using template websites as this will take away the individuality of your personal design identity.
Don’t think it’s a step down to do an internship if you can’t immediately find a paid job.
I started my career as an intern and by working hard secured a job at the same company. In addition to growing your portfolio and gaining design experience and contacts, internships give you a real sense of the design world.
Don’t know where to start? Go Up is always on the look out for fresh talent and we offer internships that could lead you to a full time web design role.
In this economic climate, jobs don’t normally come to you. You have to be a bit tenacious. Even if it’s not in your nature, become the one who seeks out the opportunities that might lead to a job.
One of the things that I learnt during my time at Go Up is that the people in charge of hiring really appreciate applicants that call them up and enquire about a role. Not many applicants have the guts to pick up the phone and directly talk to the person in charge, choosing instead to “hide” behind emails. It could give you the edge you need.
My advice: Pick up the phone and offer to meet them and show them your portfolio over a quick cup of coffee.
How to prepare for your interview
Once you’ve secured an interview, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind before you attend.
Firstly, learn about the agency beforehand Check out their website. Learn who they are and who they do work for.
If you are selected for an interview, it means that they like your work. In most cases, the point of the interview is to see if they can get along with you and if you will fit into their office environment.
So it’s important to be yourself. Show confidence in your work and make sure you feel comfortable talking about all your projects. Prepare one or two questions to ask them as this will show that you are interested and enthusiastic about the role.
What to do after you’ve landed the job
Let’s say everything went well and you landed yourself a job. Congratulations!
Now it’s the time to show what you are really made of. For a start, be on time. And be organised. Try not leave what you can get done today for tomorrow. Staying a little over time won’t kill you. Pay extra attention to your time management and make sure that you don’t miss any of your deadlines.
Continue listening and learning from those around you. Consult your head designer/other designers and analyse their feedback. And show initiative by presenting new ideas and coming up with ways of improving things. But don’t expect them to love all of your ideas. You’ll win some and you’ll loose some. It’s normal, don’t panic.
Be patient with clients and listen to their comments. At the end of the day they are the ones paying the bills, so treat them with respect. Try to explain your design process and choices. Usually once you explain the story behind your designs, they will feel a lot more comfortable trusting your ideas and designs.
As a designer you have one of the best jobs in the world. There is nothing more satisfying for me than going to work and doing what I love to do everyday; and also get paid for it!