Dear Bonnie: April 2018

Hey designers, I know you have burning questions about design jobs, portfolios, and other career conundrums. Email me at for a chance to get my advice, published here each month. Submissions are anonymous, so include as much information about your situation as you can.

Dear Bonnie,

I’m getting my first year of experience post-graduation at a major daily publication. But I had about four years of graphic design experience while I was in college, at a small business amassing a decent range of projects from package design and brand identity to marketing and advertisement. This seemed to have no impact landing the gig I have now. My current employer mentioned I had no “real professional experience” and leveraged it against me during negotiations and it has me worried about my future as a designer.

I feel the type of work I do now may stifle my growth as a designer, as potential employers could see designing for a daily publication may not be a good fit for a design studio, a start-up looking for a designer for brand identity/product design, or even tech companies looking for digital designers. Should I branch out and get different design experience?

Wondering in Wichita

Dear W.,

The first years after college are always the most difficult. You have the most enthusiasm and the least experience. I, too, would hesitate to count work during college as “real professional experience” but would bet the work in your portfolio did in fact contribute to getting the job you have now.

The real question is—do you feel like you are growing in your current job? Are you learning? Are you enjoying the work? Are you challenged?  If the answer is yes to these questions, I would stick with it without worrying about future potential employers. If the answer is no, then you should be looking for another job, not because of a mysterious future job, but because you should be in an environment that you find creatively fulfilling. You can’t possibly predict what will happen next, so focus on getting the most out of your current situation, kick ass, and the rest will follow.

Dear Bonnie,

What elements would make a portfolio stand out to you? 

Stagnant in St. Petersburg 

Dear S.,

Depending on what you want to do, the most compelling pieces would reveal your passion for that particular area. Create projects for yourself; show that this is the air you breathe, sincerely and truly. Don’t think about what you should do. Rather, reveal yourself, your skills, your ideas. That is how you will find the job that is right for you. Authenticity is rare in portfolios. Often we can glean more about the teacher than the student. Make your portfolio unique by being true to yourself.

Dear Bonnie,

I graduated from a well-known design school in the fall of 2017. My interests are around logo and branding design, print design, advertising, app design, packaging design, and illustration. I started my job search in late December. After not hearing much back from any potential employers I started to feel very discouraged. My school’s job portal, Indeed, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor have been really helpful in my job search and I could continue to apply but still, I don’t hear much of anything back.

I also live in a very small town so I am not sure if my location also affects my chances of finding any opportunities, since I know that most of the internships and employment opportunities are usually in bigger/popular cities like New York, Los Angeles, Austin, and so on. I really would like to work in my state.

Currently, it does feel like everyone else is moving on with life and I still haven’t found a job or internship yet. I don’t know if I am just being too impatient or if something is wrong with my résumé, portfolio, etc. I have shown my things to my career adviser and he says that there isn’t anything wrong but I should keep applying and stay positive, but it has been very difficult. 

Stuck in Smallville

Dear S.,

I appreciate your frustration, but while three months may feel like an eternity to you, it is actually not a crazy long time to look for a job. I have a few recommendations for you: 

First, talk to someone besides your career adviser—maybe a friend? A professional? Attend an AIGA event and portfolio events. Ask that person to be brutally honest about your strengths and weaknesses. 

Second, think about what you really want to do. What is your dream job? Where in your town would you just love to work? Reach out to that company and tell them what you can do for them. Explain why it’s your dream job, and possibly volunteer to work for free for a month to show them what you can do. You will learn a lot from this experience—and they will have nothing to lose while you have a lot to potentially gain. There’s nothing better then an enthusiastic employee.

Applying for jobs where people are flooded with résumés from job sites can be very cold and impersonal and most likely you’ll never hear back. If you do see a job you really like on a site like that, do something to make your application stand out from the rest. The job will go to the person who is not just another “face in the crowd” (side note: a great movie that everyone living in America should watch right now). 


About the author

Bonnie Siegler founded the award-winning design studio Eight and a Half. She has taught at the graduate level for many years at the School of Visual Arts and Yale University, conducted workshops at other schools and judged design competitions all over the place. She has two new books coming out in February: Signs of Resistance which is a visual history of protest in America and Dear Client, which is a book that will (hopefully) help clients work more successfully with creative people.