Newsflash! You don’t need a university degree to build an amazing career in design. In the design world, employability is all about your graphic design portfolio, your proficiency, your process and your persistence.

At Shillington, we train all types of people with little to no design experience to become graphic designers in only 3 months full-time or 9 months part-time. Our students upskill, graduate with a industry-relevant graphic design portfolio and land desirable graphic design jobs. Sound too good to be true? Go through this checklist and decide for yourself! We’ve been perfecting our approach since 1997, and our student work speaks for itself. As Bianca Mancini, recruiter at The Creative Store shares, “we are very impressed with how much good quality work Shillington students produce in such a short amount of time”.

So, what do you definitely need to get a career in design? Here’s our complete checklist, supported with quotes by creative recruiters from around the world at Creative Circle (New York), Creative Resource (United Kingdom), Become (Global), Creative Recruitment (United Kingdom), Represent (United Kingdom) and The Creative Store (Australia). Read on to discover what’s required to be employed as a graphic designer, and how Shillington fully prepares graduates to confidently apply for design jobs.

To get a job, graphic design graduates must …

1. Master industry-standard design software

It’s a no-brainer. Just like you can’t become a carpenter without a hammer, you can’t become a graphic designer without knowing the software. As Brian Young, recruiter at Creative Circle in New York City explains, “the designer must have a mastery of the essential design programs.”

At Shillington, we teach full-time students and part-time students the industry-standard design software Adobe Suite: InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop. Plus, to support the digital design components of our curriculum, we recently introduced Sketch App, a prototyping software that’s fast-becoming the industry standard. We start from square one with step-by-step software demonstrations—sharing best practices and helpful shortcuts—and teachers are always available for one-on-one technical guidance. But as professional designers know, you only master the design software by spending hours and hours working, experimenting and gaining efficiency. That’s why at Shillington, we jump into real-world briefs quickly so students can see the software in action and learn “on the job”. Just like the real world.

Shillington graduate Pete Conforto shares: “My first design team was shocked that I walked in the door knowing Sketch.”

I was only a junior, with no experience before three months at Shillington, but ended up training some of my colleagues on the most current industry software.

2. Have a graphic design portfolio and online presence

You won’t establish a career in design without showing what you can do. And the best way to do this? A graphic design portfolio with varied projects and styles. Design graduates must have something to present at interviews and impress potential employers.

In both Shillington’s three month full-time and nine month part-time course, we make sure students graduate with a physical portfolio (print or iPad), giving them the best possible chance of employment as a graphic designer. We make sure all Shillington graduates create design portfolios with a wide variety of projects including digital, print, packaging, UX/UI, branding, campaigns and more. See examples in our student showcase.

Bianca Mancini, recruiter at The Creative Store explains: “We look for a strong body of work, a designer who has worked across different mediums and who can present a creative and diverse folio. At Shillington, we see a great range of work from concepts, wireframes, art directions, illustration and design in various programs.”

Kim Leavy, recruiter at Become agrees: “The standard of the work coming out of Shillington is very strong. The course gives the students a taste of real life within the design industry which I think is key! I think the mix of projects is also a real selling point for prospective employers. The graduates from Shillington come away with experience in tackling projects from branding and print through to packaging, brochures, annual reports, outdoor advertising, web and apps!”

And in addition to a design portfolio, it’s important for graphic designers to have an online presence so potential employers and clients can find and research them independently. Kim Leavy elaborates: “I would suggest for all students to get some work online. It can massively improve your chances of securing a role.” As a requirement for graduation, Shillington graduates must have a functioning website, showcasing their best work.

3. Meet tight deadlines

This is a big one. Most designers would love the luxury of spending weeks and months on projects, but the reality is—most clients need work done as soon as possible, if not yesterday.

Design graduates must have experience working quickly and meeting tight deadlines.

Andrew Shillington knew this when he founded our school back in 1997, and it’s a mission we’ve stuck to for the past 20 years. Our classroom is fast-paced and mimics a real studio environment. Students are given real-world briefs and expected to turn around a product in anywhere from two hours to two days. Just like the real world.

Evie Darroux, recruiter at Creative Recruitment, knows this is Shillington’s greatest asset. “In my opinion, Shillington prepares their students for real life in the design world. It gives them a sense of deadlines and how the briefing/creative process really works.”

Reliability is key. Employers and clients don’t just want talent. They want to work with someone they can count on. Design graduates must be reliable and consistent, manage client needs and prove trustworthiness. It’s a sure road to getting hired for design jobs, locking in long-term freelance projects and improving your client referral rate.

4. Think creatively to solve client briefs and problems

At Shillington, we believe in the power of design thinking and creative process. Why? Because in addition to the aesthetic aspects of design, it’s important for graphic design graduates to master problem-solving and presentation. You have to think logistically to not only produce something brilliant, but also work out how the pieces fit together and turn ideas into a finished product.

Phil Cookson, recruiter at Creative Resource explains how creative thinking helps applicants get a step ahead in the job hunt. “I like to see some process in the portfolios, they shouldn’t be afraid to show some initial sketches and how they have journeyed from their starting point to finished design.”

When Shillington students put together their graphic design portfolios, our teachers make sure they’re not just dropping in pretty pictures. Each project must have an idea, a story, and reasonings behind it. We champion substance, and find the best graphic design portfolios clearly show creative process through ideation like mind maps, word association and thumbnailing.

How do we ensure this?

At Shillington, students don’t work on a project independently, submit it for a grade, cross their fingers and wait. Because that’s not how it works in the real world!

Instead, Shillington students experience dozens of critiques throughout the course to get constructive criticism while they test and develop creative concepts. Whether it’s a pin-up critique where teachers and students can share verbal feedback, or a one-on-one critique where students get direct questioning and guidance from experts … we make sure Shillington students create meaningful, purposeful and aesthetically-justified work.

5. Be confident to pitch themselves and their work

So, amazing portfolio = amazing job? Not necessarily. Even if you have the best portfolio around, you won’t land a career in design without successfully presenting your work and creative approach verbally in an interview.

Joe Cooper, recruiter at Represent says it best: “Designers need to really consider the mental points to tick off as they’re explaining each project, starting with helping someone understand the brief, challenges, considerations made and ultimately the final outcome. They should also go into the smaller details where necessary on each project too; why they chose a particular font, colour palette, etc.”

Beyond the work you visually showcase in your design portfolio, it’s important that design graduates know how to present their process and approach verbally in an interview.

Evie Darroux, recruiter at Creative Recruitment was impressed with how Shillington students came across during portfolio reviews: “All the students were prepared and very articulate when presenting their work. They presented their work like telling a story, explaining where their research and inspiration came from. Some students included their rough sketches, ‘scamp ideas’, which I believe is an important part of the process. The final executions were polished and demonstrated good technical skills also.”

And design graduates must always be ready to discuss their work and approach—not just in an interview. Why? Because designers can connect with new clients or potential employers in lots of different work and social situations, so know your stuff and sell yourself! Brian Young, recruiter at Creative Circle suggests: “Practice your elevator pitch. Be able to talk fluently about your work and know who you are and what you’re capable of—design wise.”

6. See a brief through from concept to finished art

Graphic designers need to think creatively, but they also need to execute—delivering technically-sound files and materials for print, digital or physical production. At Shillington, we’ve crafted our curriculum over the past 20 years, reviewing and improving at least once a year to make sure our students have the necessary technical skills and production knowledge to work professionally as graphic designers. Design graduates must have the expertise to see a project through from start to finish.

Kim Leavy, recruiter at Become shares: “I like the fact that all Shillington graduates come away with a good understanding of the art-working process. This can be a vital factor if you are joining a smaller team or an in-house role where designers are involved at every level.”

7. Stay agile—never stop learning and networking

One of the best parts of working as a graphic designer is that you’ll never stop learning, and you’ll constantly be inspired to improve by the creative community surrounding you.

At Shillington, we know agility and networking is paramount for a long-term career in graphic design.

Technology is always changing, software evolves, and design graduates can always learn new techniques to work faster and smarter. We encourage Shillington students to stay open, always be willing to learn new things and seek out new knowledge and self-training opportunities. Shillington graduate Vanille Cuvelier shares: “I’d always been a bit curious before studying at Shillington, but I do feel like the course takes it to the next level and really brings it out of you.”

And beyond technology, it’s important for design graduates to get involved in the design community and learn from the industry’s best. To engage Shillington students early, we host at least three guest lectures from top designers during every course, which stresses the importance of industry connections. (Read about past guest lecturers in our #IndustryTalks blog series!) Because while a Shillington portfolio will take you far, it’s up to design graduates themselves to hustle, keep learning and stay connected to build their dream creative career.

8. Be passionate about creativity and design

And what’s the biggest factor to help graphic design graduates land a job? Passion and persistence. You don’t study hard and end up in the creative industry unless you do what you love. Graphic designers must care passionately about their work.

At Shillington, we expect a lot from our students. It’s a fast-paced graphic design course, but one that delivers results time and time again. Why does it work? Because our teachers’ passion and encouragement is contagious! As Bianca Mancini, recruiter at The Creative Store noted when she visited our campus: “It was also good to see the high level of support and encouragement the teaching staff provide to their students.”

We champion a creative community in the classroom and beyond with our #Shillumni network. We love to guide our design students into the industry, but after graduation we keep tabs and share resources and job opportunities throughout their careers. Our graduates working in the industry are the greatest testament to our course and teaching approach. It’s amazing to see #Shillumni out in the world—especially Shillington graduates hiring Shillington graduates—and they make us proud by getting in-demand graphic design careers year after year.

So, want to change careers and become a graphic designer but worried about your employability? As this checklist shows, Shillington covers all the bases! But don’t take our word for it, read our graduate testimonials, scroll through our alumni on LinkedIn and read unbiased reviews from external websites.

Study graphic design 3 months full-time or 9 months part-time at Shillington in New York, London, Manchester, Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane –>

Illustrations—Shillington Brisbane teacher Belen Ramos