So, we paid a visit to Manchester College to chat to Paolo’s final year design students about getting on that bottom rung.
If you’re stepping out of University, it can seem overwhelmingly difficult. If you’re not learning outside the classroom, you might find that your skills and techniques are already out of date. I’ve laid out a few points below that’ll hopefully help anybody coming out of education, wanting to move into the design industry and net their first interview, and a bit of advice on what’s expected of you from an employer.
As a designer, this is probably the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do, but branding yourself has benefits. You’ll start to see your work as a product. You will take more pride in something you put your name to. Most importantly though, you’ll see yourself as a unit of output. Your goal is to get your interviewer to want to hire you in order to take their studio’s output up a level, to plug a gap in their client offering, or to offer a new service. Present yourself as an upgrade to the existing company.
Don’t wait for them to find you. Be proactive.
We do keep your CVs. If you’re impressive; we’ll want to meet you. If you’re remarkable; a studio will find room for you. Research your local design agencies. Target your cover letters and CVs. Include work if it’s relevant, or if it demonstrates a skillset. Don’t include your five years working in an off license as you paid your way through college, unless your target works in the liquor industry. And don’t put your GCSEs on your CV. And never, ever use the sentence “I can work well in a team, or on my own”. I cringe when I read that.
Head over to blurb.com and get some hard copy, printed versions of your portfolio to send out to potential employers. Although fairly cheap to print, books make a great first impression. A big plus is that as well as impressing whoever’s desk they land on, they’re likely to be kept around in a studio.
If you land an interview, have a look over the company website. Pick out a piece of work you like and make sure you mention it. Little details like that stand out.
Keep a sketchbook
I like to doodle when the computer’s doing my head in, which happens quite often. A sketchbook is the quickest way to jot ideas down. As a simple tool you can use it to note down the odd sentence, or go into a detailed logo design or website schematic. They’re much handier to pull out when you get a flash of inspiration than a computer and they’re a great thing to take along to a job interview.
Another benefit of sketchbooks is that they’ll help improve your composition. You’ll become more adept at drawing the eye around an image and you’ll learn more about visual hierarchy.
Is your website up-to-date?
I’ve seen an alarming number of design students who think that a Tumblr makes for a compelling portfolio. They’re fine for showing off your new skinny jeans, browsing images of Kim Jong-iL looking at things, or looking for advice from the Insanity Wolf, but not for showcasing your skills. Get yourself an online presence and show that you’re comfortable in a digital environment. It doesn’t have to be dripping in jQuery or Moo Tools, just keep it clean and easy to use.
Get a blog or a scrapbook going. Most hosting companies allow for WordPress hosting and many have one click installs. Start off with a simple theme and get yourself familiar with the workings of a content managed website. You’ll be expected to have an established online presence, a website, linkedIn or Twitter.
Learn how to code
Money is tight, printed media is struggling to keep up with digital. Our client base has shifted online because return on investment is measurable. Audience is targeted and results can be seen immediately. If you want to stand on a level footing with the plethora of designers competing for your job you need to know how to code a website. Very few studios can afford the luxury of hiring a designer who isn’t capable of turning their designs into semantic CSS/XHTML ready to hand to a developer to add functionality. If you can plug in a CMS yourself, you’ll be even more attractive to employers.
The added benefit of learning to code, is that your designs will improve. You’ll find that your websites can become quite complex as you learn more techniques and you’ll feel less restricted as you discover what’s possible to recreate online.
A physical portfolio is a must.
It seems quite old school to keep a physical portfolio, especially if you work in a digital environment. But portfolios are tangible. Portfolios can be impressive. Go for something over-sized, with removable plastic wallets so you can swap out your work to suit your prospective employers’ client base. Mount your work on a dark or neutral coloured card, with plenty of space to breathe and make sure that you use either a non-greasy mounting putty, or semi adhesive tape. You’ll want to remove items easily. Take work out and hand it to your interviewer, they’ll be much more likely to remember it than if they skimmed past it in a folder.
Meet other designers, go to meetups, interact online, share leads. Design circles tend to interact regularly. I know of several SEOs and agency MDs who try to brush off the Wednesday morning hangover as essential to business development. Head over to Meetup.com to see if there are any groups in your area. Here in Manchester for example, there’s everything from weekly WordPress meetups to the hugeley popular Northern Digitals meetups.
Never stop learning.
This is really important. You work in the fastest moving industry on the planet. Those of us who started out pasting together garish GeoCities websites covered in .gifs, .wav files and scrolling marquees laid out the foundations of the modern Web, and we’re the people interviewing you. Your competition is a generation of self taught pioneers who not only dragged the mainstream online, they laid down the codes and conventions that you use to build digital media. You should never stop adding tools to your belt because as your competition, I’m still adding tools to mine.