So you’re going to school in hopes of landing an awesome job in graphic design? That’s great! But, are you really leveraging every opportunity to increase your chances of this happening upon graduation? Truth is, many (if not most) college grads enter the real world with the misconception that a degree and a portfolio of school assignments will get them a job at the firm of their choice. The harsh reality they face is that it takes much more than this to compete in today’s pool of graphic design talent.
You could be one of the most skilled designers in the world, but if you don’t work to build your personal brand while you’re in school, you’ll more than likely run into some trouble when it comes to finding a job. So how can you go about creating a personal brand that will sell potential employers on what you can do? First and foremost, start early and work hard! Or, more specifically, start doing the following five things during your studies to prep for graduation:
1. Develop Soft Skills
The ability to provide impressive examples of your work is one thing. Being able to sell potential employers in an interview is another. This is where soft skills come in. Soft skills include your ability to listen, problem solve, communicate and present. Refining these skills while you’re in school will put you leaps and bounds ahead of other applicants who have trouble interacting with interviewers. Jobs in customer service and sales are great places to start developing these skills. They force you to think fast and resolve issues on the spot. They also require that you sell a product or service, similar to the way you’ll need to sell employers (and ultimately clients) on your work.
2. Seek Opportunities for Experience
This can’t be stressed enough. On-the-job experience is invaluable in terms of landing a secure job after graduation. Employers want to know that you have the ability to produce great work on real-life projects. The great thing is, there are tons of opportunities for students looking to expand their skill sets and get some hands-on experience in design! Some of these include:
- Unpaid Internships
Although you’re working for free here, the value of the experience you’ll gain will be more than worth the time you’ve invested. Not only will your internship projects be great portfolio-builders, they’ll also show future employers that you’re capable of working with a team to achieve client objectives. A good internship will also provide you with your first opportunity to get your foot in the door at the firm of your choice.
- Work Study
Most schools offer programs that place students in on and off-campus positions that are relevant to their degrees. These positions pay a low wage that is funded by the government and is intended to help students pay for their schooling. Speak with your counselor and/or career services to determine your eligibility for this. Working with your school to get in on this program can help you find awesome opportunities to develop your skill and build your portfolio while earning a little extra money.
- Junior Positions
There are a lot of smaller companies looking for help with design projects. While they may not be able to afford the services of a larger firm, they’re looking for a talented in-house designer to help them out. Check classifieds, ask around at career services and get active on LinkedIn to scope out these opportunities. Junior positions are a great way to start working in the field on a more consistent basis, prior to graduation.
3. Become a Team Player
We’d all like to think that our ideas are the greatest ideas that have ever been…Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. It takes a team to produce the best finished product possible. That being said, learning to take criticism in stride is crucial to your success in the design world. Clients, art directors, and coworkers will critique your work, and it will be up to you to make the necessary changes without holding a grudge.
It will also be important for you to work as a team and listen to input from others to improve your work and achieve optimal results.
The most important thing to learn here is that a critique isn’t a bad thing. In fact, a critique gives you a great opportunity to learn and grow from the expertise others have to share. Develop a thick skin and be open to feedback from clients, peers, and leaders. Even if you’re the only designer in the room, anyone there can have a good idea.
4. Follow Industry Leaders and Trends
You can’t design well without seeing what others have designed well. Thanks to social media, finding the work of industry leaders is easier than ever! Following top design firms and designers will give you the guidance you need to produce work that is of higher quality and appeal. Checking design blogs on a consistent basis will also be of utmost importance in keeping with the times. Design is constantly evolving to include new trends and standards. It’s your job to stay on top of them to produce your best work.
5. Take Advantage of Electives
While it may be tempting to take a few bowling and yoga classes to finish out your college career with electives, there’s a significant advantage to taking courses in marketing and communications instead. The information you’ll receive in these courses will prep you for the production of strategic work that will be expected of you in an agency.
Marketing for non-majors and courses in advertising will prove invaluable in your future work at a firm. Some schools even offer programs that allow students to work in an agency setting, producing real work for real clients while earning credit and making connections. Look for interesting opportunities within your school’s communication and marketing departments to increase your skill and build more value in your personal brand.
Overall, branching out and developing both hard and soft skills early on is the most effective step in securing an awesome job in design – and each tip listed above is a great way you can get started on a successful career while you’re in school. You’ll have to work hard and be persistent, but eventually, the effort you put in will pay off as you develop your talents in design, advertising/marketing, and working with a team. Good Luck!
Author: Cosette Jarrett
Cosette Jarrett is a marketing specialist at Red Olive, a digital agency located in Salt Lake City, Utah. She specializes in social media and content marketing, working closely with the Utah SEO team to develop and execute marketing solutions and social strategy. The tips in this post were provided by Red Olive’s Creative Director, Brad Hoen and Art Director, Chris Grayson.