How to Get Your First Job in Design

1. Be Portfolio Ready

Your portfolio is a key tool for selling yourself to potential employers. It should give a strong sense of who you are as a designer – How do you think? What’s your design style and technical ability? How do you approach design projects? Can you come up with creative solutions for problems and challenges?

Don’t feel pressure to include everything you have ever done in your portfolio. Choose the best pieces that show off your design skills. Displaying the end-to-end process for some of your projects will give insight into your work approach.

Make sure your portfolio demonstrates an understanding and appreciation of typography, negative space and colour theory; whether it be illustration, animation, video or rendering.

If you have a strong portfolio with lots of work examples, you could consider tailoring it for specific interviews so your presentation is better aligned with the Design Agency you are going to meet.

2. Create a Stand Out CV

A pre-requisite for any job seeking activity is to have a relevant, up-to-date, well presented CV. Include key information such as: your education, qualifications, work or voluntary experience and any part-time or holiday jobs. On graduate CVs where work history is a bit thin, it’s good to give details about your hobbies, clubs, memberships, awards and personal achievements. These display commitment and diligence; as well as reflecting different aspects of your personality.

Start your CV with a succinct personal statement that gives a summary of your design experience, passion and ambition.

It’s important your CV is easy to read and free of typos and grammatical errors, so make sure you read through it thoroughly, and ideally get someone else to check it too.

There are lots of great online tools that give layout options for CVs. Use these to get a head start and form the basis for your document. As a design graduate there is also an opportunity for you to express your creativity.

3. Immerse & Experience Agency Life

There’s no better way to hone your design skills than by working at a design agency. This will give you a chance to observe experienced designers working on live projects. Many agencies take on graduate interns over the summer. Most placements are conducted on a voluntary basis, but don’t be put off by this. The experience will be worth it, plus it will make your CV more attractive to potential employers further down the line.

I’d recommend trying to get placements with a few different agencies. This will give you an idea of the sort of environment you might thrive in. Try to do some basic research on each agency you apply to. This will give you things to talk about when you go to an interview. Work placement experiences are a chance to learn and refine your skills. Be open to constructive criticism and take all the advice you can get as it will help you to grow and develop into a better designer.” Eleanor, Junior Designer – Buddy Creative

4. Be Proactive

Go beyond searching job boards and recruitment websites.

A design agency doesn’t have to be hiring for them to be interested in you. Try introducing yourself to agencies who you’d like to work with. This could be a phonecall to try and arrange a meeting with them, call in to drop off your CV, or maybe put together a nicely designed mailer that will grab their attention. This type of approach demonstrates a forward-thinking attitude that’s attractive in a potential employee.

Create a LinkedIn profile and set your status as ‘open to offers’. This signifies to recruiters and design agency contacts that you are available for work and open to opportunities. Make sure your profile has a professional looking photo and header banner and complete your details as fully as possible to show the breath of your experience and skills. Use LinkedIn as a means to network with contacts in your chosen industry, and source good quality articles and training materials too.

5. Ace Your Interviews

Preparing for interviews is crucial. You can’t expect to turn up and just ‘wing it’.

Research the design agency you are going to meet with so you have a good understanding of their services and clients. Take a look at their website, social media channels, and have a read through blog and news articles etc.

Go prepared with a list of questions – things that you would like to know about the company and the job you are going for.

Get a friend or family member to run through some test interview questions with you. This is a great way to get some practice in, boost your confidence and alleviate nerves.

Dress well, but in a way that is comfortable and reflects your usual style. Make sure you have everything you’ll need prepared in advance such as: directions to the agency’s office, a contact telephone number, your portfolio, petrol in your car or train tickets booked etc.

 “When you go to a job interview; try to relax and be yourself. Your potential employer won’t expect you to know everything there is to know about design, and acting as if you do can appear arrogant. Be forthcoming with information when questions are asked, show your passion for design, the industry, and being part of your potential employers’ team.”
Eleanor, Junior Designer – Buddy Creative

6. Keep the Faith

You may have to submit multiple applications and have a number of interviews before landing your first design job. But try not to get despondent, this is perfectly normal. Treat each application and interview as a learning experience. Ask for feedback when you don’t get a job offer. This will help you to refine your interview skills, identify if there is something missing from your portfolio, or assess whether you are maybe applying for jobs that don’t match your skill set.

7. Be an Academy Superstar

Post degree, consider doing some further study to develop your skills or gain more specialised experience. There are a number of courses and academies in the UK that could help you to gain the competitive edge over other graduates from your cohort, by super-charging your design acumen.

One such example is Werkhouse – an initiative set up and run by design industry professionals to help graduates learn the creative and interpersonal skills needed to succeed in a design studio. Our Junior Designer Eleanor was in the Class of 2017 and benefited greatly from the experience.

8. Keep an Open Mind

Don’t put restrictions on your job search such as; a particular location or industry sector. You’re just starting your career, so take advance of the fact you’ll probably have fewer responsibilities and ties than more experience candidates. You can be flexible, daring and think big!

Moving location for a job can seem daunting, but be reassured, you’re not the only one that’s done it. Starting a new job is a great way to make new friends and explore a new place. You’ll soon settle in and start to build up a network of friends and contacts.

Eleanor’s Story

We asked our Junior Designer, Eleanor to recall her experiences of being a fresh graduate and her journey to getting her first job at Buddy.

Hi, I’m Eleanor, Junior Designer at Buddy Creative. I studied Graphic Design at Bristol UWE and graduated in the summer of 2017.

During my three years of study I learnt just how fierce the competition was for a job was in the creative industries. With so many design resources online and different courses you can take on, it’s no surprise many want to pursue a career in in it. When you come across the perfect job that’s bound to turn heads, it can be hard to stand out and get noticed.

After graduating I chose to complete several internships in very different companies first before I started to look for a full-time position. This gave me an understanding of what environment I thrived in, and which ones I didn’t. When you’re in a studio, you experience a closer representation of work life because you’re actually part of it. During this time I also took part in the first Werkhouse in 2017. This experience gave me valuable insight into real agency life and helped me understand what sort of designer I wanted to be.

Despite the competitive odds, one day I found myself presenting to the creative partners Mark and DJ at Buddy. I still remember the trepidation and excitement I felt as I opened my (‘old school’) portfolio case to show with them what I could do. After another meeting, I was told I’d got the job. I relocated from Bristol to Exeter to take up my position and have been at the studio since, where I continue to develop my design skills and ideas – specialising in brand development and packaging work.

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