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Many young designers find it hard to believe that they can make
a living doing something they find compelling and
interesting—something they love. Finding the right first job, even
if it's a summer job or an internship, is not just an important
step in launching your career. It is an exploration of the field
and a continuation of the learning process. Even the most skilled
designer finds the search for a first job stressful.The suggestions
that follow can reduce that stress by providing an overview of the
Before you can begin your job search, you need to understand 1.)
yourself: your motivations, strengths, and weaknesses; 2.) your
work: its nature, style, and variety; and 3.) the job market:
corporations, design offices, and the wide variety of other
businesses that employ graphic designers. Then you can get ready to
present yourself and your work in a portfolio.
To create a portfolio, select only your best work—the work you
are proud of and want to discuss. Bearing in mind that people
remember best what is first or last in a sequence, bind together
sketches that show your ability to think, to sketch and to
brainstorm. Meanwhile think about your strengths and weaknesses (we
all have weaknesses), and prepare yourself to discuss them in an
interview. Because your well-crafted, unique communications can
take a beating when they are handled, safeguard your work. Shoot
documentary slides of the work for your own record and for a slide
portfolio to send to a distant location.
If your school provides courses or advisory sessions for
assembling a portfolio and marketing yourself; take advantage of
them. Show your portfolio to teachers and attend any portfolio
reviews organized by local professional design organizations.
Listen to the feedback you get. Identify special interests or
characteristics that you bring to the work situation as well as
what you would like to learn on your first job. You'll want to make
clear to your prospective employer that you know learning continues
throughout a career. In fact, the learning curve is particularly
steep for the first two or three years after you finish school and
should continue for the rest of your life.
Everyone looking for a job should have a résumé, but this
document can be especially important to a design applicant. Your
résumé deserves careful typographic design that reflects your type
skill and ability. Remember to give the facts an employer wants to
know as well as reliable address and telephone number. It is also a
good idea to design and print stationery and business cards for
yourself. They provide another opportunity to make an individual
design statement. Any designer with whom you interview will
appreciate the difficulty of designing this material. Designing for
yourself is worse than representing a client; it can be like having
an identity crisis.
The next step is to identify the design offices, corporations,
or individuals with whom you'd like to interview. School placement
offices usually have job leads of real value, and they cover the
larger organizations that recruit for design positions. Trade
magazines and design annuals in your school library are also good
resources. If you want to work in a particular geographic location,
look for help wanted listings there. Also scan your school's alumni
lists for recent graduates in that city. Call them up and discuss
your interests with them. Alumni know people in design and are
often willing to help a recent graduate meet them. Looking for a
job is a serious networking activity. This may be the first time
you network, but it won't be the last.
Prospective employers often prefer to receive a brief letter and
résumé before committing to an interview. If possible, use the
letter to establish your interest relative to a particular job
opening or to the organization's specialty. Give the reader of your
letter a sense of who you are. Follow up with a telephone call to
arrange an appointment. The person you are contacting is probably a
busy professional, so don't be easily discouraged. Be politely
persistent if you do not get an appointment immediately. Sometimes
you will get an interview with someone who has no job openings but
is still willing to meet with you. Take this “exploratory”
interview. It will be excellent practice, and you may be more
relaxed if your dream job is not on the line. What's more, this
individual may help you make other connections.
The first interview is always the most stressful, so arrange
mock interviews with friends to get practice and feedback. At the
real interview, try to relax. Remember to breathe. If you don't see
design work displayed, ask to see some. Ask questions about the
organization and its projects. Be interested in them; then explain
how you can help with their needs. Don't drone on about yourself;
be attuned to the interviewer's verbal responses and body language.
An interview, when it really works, is a dialogue between people
who are sharing information and finding common ground. After any
interview, always stop to record your impressions. A follow-up note
of thanks will be appreciated as a courtesy and is a way to help
interviewers remember you.
When you are offered a job, you may be taken by surprise and
neglect to negotiate. Don't just blurt out a “yes.” Employers will
respect your taking time to consider the conditions of your
employment. This is your opportunity to establish your market value
as a designer. Figure out what it takes to live reasonably in the
city under consideration, and don't forget your educational loans.
Try to find out what entry-level design salaries are in that area,
and balance that information against your personal strength as a
designer. Remember, in addition to money, other things are
negotiable, such as health benefits, paid vacations, unpaid leave
days, starting date, flexible hours, or months to a performance
review (and hopefully a raise). You can sacrifice some of these
items for others that are more important to you. Be clear about the
offer, ask questions, and take time to consider it. Try to adjust
whatever is not satisfactory now. It is important to start off a
relationship with clarity and trust. After you accept the position,
celebrate but don't throw out your contacts. Send them a note
announcing your new position.
Finding your first design job means matching your creativity and
skill with an organization's real needs. It is also a valuable
learning experience. While you are looking, you are learning about
the various ways design is practiced. Your next job search—whether
it occurs soon or well down the road—will be easier; you will have
gained a clearer vision of the field and how you want to position
yourself within it. Remember to communicate, to follow up, and to
be courteous. That way, you'll take away from this first stressful
experience some valuable information, increased confidence, and
Graphic Design: A Career Guide and Education
Edited by Sharon Helmer Poggenpohl
The American Institute of Graphic Arts
Suppose you want to announce or sell something, amuse or
persuade someone, explain a complicated system or demonstrate a
process. In other words, you have a message you want to
communicate. How do you “send” it?
Section: Tools and Resources -
There are probably as many kinds of designers as there are kinds of
design, so how do you know whether a career in design might be
right for you?
What do professional designers really do? This question needs to
be asked in order to answer why you need a design education and
what you need to study.
Mobile phones and tablet devices are fast becoming our primary way of
accessing information. Watch this webinar to better understand the trends around these
devices and ensure you design the right experience for your client.
Developing a contract between yourself and your in-house clients may seem overly formal, but defining your business relationship with your company is absolutely essential for in-house success. Learn what questions you should ask and what information you need to have.
Section: Tools and Resources -
in-house issues, INitiative, contracts
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