I graduated from Keene State College in May 2011 — nearly 4 years ago, and what an interesting 4 years it has been. I currently work as a Graphic Designer in Salem, NH for Extreme Networks. I have been with this company for exactly 18 months — my first day was September 11, 2013. Before my time at Extreme Networks, I worked at a rapidly growing online home furnishings company, Wayfair.com. You may have heard of them if you're an avid HGTV watcher — they have fab TV spots created by Ian Eshelman and Ian Kilburn.
Are you ready to enter what is known as "The Real World?" I have something you should consider thinking about while reading this post, and that is... What do you have to offer that all the other new design grads don't have to offer? It's a tough question, I know. I could barely answer it myself as a new grad. But think about that. Think about what you currently have to offer and what you want to learn and grow in, so you can offer that sometime in the near future.
I found myself asking this question a lot: If I'm inexperienced compared to other applicants (even for entry-level positions) then what am I to do? When I graduated, I applied to everything. And I mean everything. I applied to jobs that were just a bit out of my experience level, I applied to positions that I was over-qualified for, I even dropped my self-promo off at a few locations — but wasn't able to land any opportunities. Did I need a new approach?
I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing with some incredible companies — even though I was only offered a couple of these positions, it was still a major confidence boost for me. I interviewed with Spirit Products Ltd, Coco Raynes, Anheuser-Busch, Legacy Publishing Group, 360 Public Relations, Hub Folding Box (way cooler than what their website shows...), Northeastern University and Wayfair.com.
I also interviewed 3 times with Staples — 2 different Creative Managers, and the Creative Director. I interviewed with the Red Sox — in-person one year and digital video another. I interviewed with the Lead Graphic Designer and VP of Marketing of the Boston Bruins.
My First Job.
I had applied everywhere. And I mean everywhere: companies that were looking to fill a position, and even those who did not have any positions open. I'll admit it, the lack of job offers had crushed my spirit.
I was excited and eager when Dave Ladetto brought me in for an interview at Wayfair.com. I've always wanted to work in a city. Not only was Boston's Back Bay exciting and filled with life, but so were my co-workers. They were full of fresh ideas and creative concepts — I learned so much from them.
My first day at Wayfair was in May 2012, a full year after I graduated. This was really my first job out of college. Yeah I interned at a print shop, yeah I did freelance work, yeah I did print and minor web work for the Anike Foundation — I think I'm still listed on their website, yup — but Wayfair was a stepping stone, a beautifully constructed stepping stone.
Steps I Took to Succeed.
When I finished college, I would go to 99designs and check out the types of design work companies were looking for. I entered just 1 of my designs and ended up coming in 2nd place — no reward or payment. Winning wasn't my goal when I read through design briefs on 99designs. I wanted to challenge myself, I wanted a stronger portfolio.
I didn't want to enter the design contents because 99designs is an ugly platform — someone pays $150 for a decent logo and gets upwards of 10+ options to narrow down. It's terrible for Graphic Design. I did want to take a look at the different languages people use — not everyone knows design lingo. It's our jobs as designers to teach clients and give explanations as to why we chose a certain color or selected a specific type face.
I recommend looking up creative briefs so that you can dive into your creative process and produce banner ads, email headers, infographics, etc. so that you can make a stronger portfolio.
Alternative, edgy posters are cool and all — but they aren't going to land you a design job. When you are brought into an interview and you're showing a marketing manager, lead designer, creative director or founder of an agency your book: you need to show work that is relative to the job description.
Companies are social — whether you plan on working for an agency or for an in-house marketing team, I recommend mocking up Facebook page headers, email headers and social sharing images for Twitter.
I also recommend mocking up your designs, especially if you don't have a book and are showing your digital work on your laptop. It's easier to connect your design work to professional pieces when your web work is shown on a laptop screen or if your poster is mocked up in a frame. You can find free PSD mockups all over the web.
I was never taught how to write a brief, engaging cover letter when I was in college. I don't even think my professors brought up the importance of it. I found that when I spent the time fine tuning a cover letter, I was asked in for an interview. I've even had the VP of Marketing for the Boston Bruins tell me that it was one of the best they've seen, and this was including cover letters from those who were applying to the Creative Director position at the time.
I recommend putting an hour or two of focus on each cover letter you write. It may sound like a lot, but you WILL get the interviews you want.
I got a Twitter. I know, doesn't sound like advice you were hoping for. In all honesty, I've gotten so much more exposure being active on Twitter.
- Instant connection with designers all over the world, and in your backyard
- Attended 3 Patriots games in 2014 — not design related, but still awesome
- Interactions — @johnmaeda, @CreativeGroup and @yurivictor followed me
- Attended a design meetup: #DribbblePorts
- Received a Dribbble invite from @agfabrega
I recommend getting a Twitter and trying to at least post once or twice a day. Post images and screen shots of what you're working on. Post tips and tricks you've come across. Interact with other designers — this is a great community to be a part of. I've also had interviewers tell me that they've come across my blog or Twitter account and that sparks a conversation.
I found it helpful when I wrote out my own person design process. I included sketches and wrote down each step of my process: Research, Sketch, Computer/Software, Mock-Ups to show clients, Revisions, etc.
Show how you work, this is exactly what agencies and in-house creative teams are looking for. They want to get a sense of how a candidate works and their thought process through it all.
Here's to never giving up and always looking to see what's out there. Keep in mind: on average, young designers generally have a 2-3 year tenure for jobs before they move on to another design position for a different company. We're always moving and always looking to be mavens for other directors and industries until we find the perfect niche.