10 Tips for Starting Your Graphic Design Career

The creative industry is booming and there are more graphic design career opportunities than ever before—but the competition is just as fierce. Give yourself the best chance possible of landing the graphic design career of your dreams with these 10 Top Tips compiled by Pip Jamieson, founder of The Dots, the professional networking platform for the creative industries.

1. Before graduation, get prepared!

If you’re a student in your final year or a graduate looking for your first step on the ladder, it’s best to get all your ducks in a row before applying for jobs. Make sure your graphic design portfolio, cover letter template, website and profile on The Dots are all up to date and looking great—it will set you up for life and allow you to focus fully on your job search.

2. Work on personal projects

One of my all time favourite quotes is from Micah Walker, Creative Partner at The Monkeys:

“If your portfolio reflects nothing personal, it might as well be someone else’s.”

Employers have to review hundreds of graphic design portfolios so stand out with self-initiated personal projects—it shows you’re proactive and passionate. This can be anything from your own personal brand identity through to your work created on internship placements or submitted to industry competitions.

3. Get your graphic design portfolio ship-shape

Your graphic design portfolio is essentially your calling card—the better it is, the juicier the role you could land! As you won’t always be in the room to talk first-hand, make sure your project descriptions are clear and engaging—and you’ve credited relevant contributors on projects. Professional photographs are also a great way to enhance your work and make your graphic design portfolio stand out. And as the first person to review portfolios will most likely be an HR Manager, always include a CV outlining your education and previous work experience.

4. Promote yourself

Once you’ve got a killer portfolio together it’s time to get busy promoting yourself both online and offline! Even though so much work is now online, more traditional employers will still want to see a physical portfolio at interviews. From there, you can then set about promoting yourself online with submissions to blogs and publications, your own website (our favourite site for this is Cargo Collective) and of course set up a profile on The Dots and connect with potential employers and creative collaborators.

5. Network your socks off

The contacts you make as a junior can last a lifetime, so immerse yourself in the creative world on your doorstep.

Attend events, gallery openings, workshops, talks, networking events and go armed with business cards! Also make the most out of your grad shows and network with potential employers and industry contacts—they could turn out to be your future boss!

6. A killer cover letter

Cover letters are a pain, but can make all the difference. Make your life easier by creating a template that’s easy to customise and design up what is normally a boring word document to really stand out from the crowd. The crux of a cover letter is to express why you’re perfect for the job so make sure you give specific reasons for wanting to work for the company, while still keeping it short and snappy—there’s no time to waffle or repeat what’s on your CV. And don’t forget your contact details—it’s a classic mistake!

7. After graduation, take a break!

So now you’ve got all your ducks in a row. A killer portfolio, CV, cover letter, a Dots profile and maybe even a couple of internships under your belt. My best advice is to take a break and enjoy your last days of freedom before settling into your graphic design career. Travel, volunteer, party, hang out with friends, whatever floats your boat. It will put you in the best frame of mind as you’ll then be ready to throw yourself into your career on your return. Just don’t forget to check your emails at least three times a week so you don’t miss out on a life-changing opportunity!

8. Applying for roles

Use all the tools at your disposal to land that amazing job. Research companies you’d love to work for and contact them directly for future job opportunities. For a better response rate, never address your applications to Sir or Madam and instead find a specific name—you can always call the company to check. Interning is also a great way to keeps your skills fresh whilst searching and could always lead to a more permanent role. And of course, set up job alerts on The Dots to get notified of the graphic design career opportunities at your favourite companies!

9. Prepare for interviews

As you embark on your graphic design career journey, spending time preparing for interviews will not only improve your chances of landing the job but will also reduce the nervous energy that builds up before an interview. Make sure you swot up on the company, who are their clients, what are their areas of expertise? When you are offered the chance to ask questions back, always have some up your sleeve as a blank response when asked simply shows you’re not interested. It might sound trivial but also know your audience and plan your dress accordingly. There’s nothing worse than turning up in a suit when your employer is in jeans!

10. Interview Time!

I recently presented alongside the amazing Chris Doyle, and he said something that really stuck with me.

“I meet lots of great designers, but not that many great people.”

In the end, companies are looking for creatives that will work well in their organisation, so your interview is a chance to let your personality shine and communicate your passion. Remember to stay humble though, there’s a fine line between arrogance and confidence.

An employer may see as many as eight people in a day while interviewing, so always leave behind something to remember you by even if it’s just a business card. It is also always professional to drop a note when you get home to say that it was great to meet them, it’s polite and shows your efficiency!

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