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The Post-Shillington Job Hunt with Cari Sekendur

Cari Sekendur, #shillony graduate, is a graphic designer who seeks to “create visual experiences that make the complex clear and the average exceptional”. A former operations and marketing manager, Cari graduated from Shillington in mid-2014 and her creative career took off! She moved to Berlin to design with a start-up (on campaigns for big names like Nike and Viacom), then back to New York City as a freelance and in-house designer.

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Today on the blog, Cari gives us the inside scoop about job-hunting after Shillington. How did interviewers react to the portfolio she created in only three months? How did she land a job with a studio that wasn’t even recruiting? And what advice does she have for designers on the job hunt?

What have you been up to since Graduation?

After I graduated, I moved back to Berlin, Germany, where I was living prior to studying at Shillington. There, I started working for a new start-up that some former co-workers of mine had founded. The company was called Project J (now called Fy) and is a jewelry/accessories e-commerce site. It was a great way to learn about art directing photoshoots, hone my photoshop and retouching skills, and become familiar with producing a lot of image heavy content for the web.

After that I joined a creative studio called The Adventures Of that had just launched. I did a number of awesome projects with them; plus I got to have the experience of shaping their own brand from the beginning. Some of the projects included working on campaigns for Nike and Viacom, designing the studio’s own website, and creating the brand identity and websites for a few different start-ups.

I worked for them until I decided to move back to New York in December 2014. Since returning, I have been working as a freelancer doing a number of largely web projects directly with clients, and in March I started working part-time for LMNOP Creative in Brooklyn. There I do branding, print, signage, web design and art direction for clients in the restaurant and hospitality sectors.

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What do you most love about where you are currently at in your design career?

I love that I feel like I’m really coming into my own as a designer. I feel more confident in approaching new challenges and taking on new types of projects everyday. I feel like I’ve passed the initial exponential growth hurdle that is the first year after Shillington and am at the point where I’m able to focus on honing in and refining my skills.

How did you go about securing those interviews and ultimately, your first job?

I found jobs a few ways: the first one was through a connection, as I was working for a start-up that some friends founded. The second, I just applied to their job posting the old fashioned way. I found the current gig with LMNOP by just emailing them with a little information about me and expressing interest in their work. They didn’t have an opening listed, but brought me in for a chat and then on as a freelancer.

What projects in your portfolio do you feel made the best impression on your interviewers?

I received nothing but very positive feedback on the work I produced at Shillington.

Most Creative Directors that I met with were very impressed that the portfolio of work I was showing was only created in three months.

It’s hard to say which ones made the best impression! I think interviewers liked the projects that were rolled out across multiple media, for example the architecture forum project which I did a poster, desktop and mobile web design for.

In your job search and interviewing, what were some of the most common requirements of the role on offer, and how confident did you feel that you had the skills to tackle those?

It was totally dependent on the job. I mostly was looking at studios with an integrated approach—whose work spans across various media, so in those cases they liked that I showed a breadth of experience. I didn’t interview for any solely digital or print jobs.

I felt very confident after leaving Shillington that I had the skills to start working, and I found that I was well prepared. I’ve also learned and grown as a designer exponentially since graduating.

Shillington gave me the foundation I needed to grow very quickly as a designer.

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We’ve all got a pearl of wisdom or two that we’ve taken out of an interview that maybe didn’t go as well as we’d have hoped. What is one of yours?

I’d say trust your gut on how you feel about a place, and if you can afford not to, don’t just jump on the first job offer you get if you know in your gut it’s not the right decision. A mistake I’ve made in the past is letting the pressure of feeling like I need a job immediately to convince me to take a position that I know isn’t the right fit.

Cast your mind back to the weeks or months before you made the decision to study with Shillington—what were some of the main motivations you had to get in to design? And how does your post-graduation experience align to those motivations?

I had always been attracted to visual arts, and had pursued various forms throughout my life, but found myself working in a field that while challenging in its own ways, wasn’t creative enough for me, and I was itching to make visual problem solving part of my daily life. I had been working for a company in Berlin that laid off all of its employees, so I found myself in the perfect opportunity to dive into pursuing my creative passion.

My post-graduation experience has been very fulfilling. I’m so happy to have found Shillington; it completely transformed my career into what I always wanted it to be, but prior to the course, never knew how to make into a reality.

Have you discovered areas of the industry since leaving that you never would have dreamed working in?

Yes definitely. I never expected to be working on print heavy jobs where, as part of a studio of only three people total (LMNOP), we’re each responsible for managing the production and project managing the jobs we work on. So that means creating all of the mechanicals to send to the printer, spec-ing out pricing across a number of printers to find the best solution, choosing papers and signage materials, creating neon signs etc. I’ve learned a ton about print and signage design and production that I never imagined I’d be working on.

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To anyone considering starting out in design, what advice would you give them before they make the commitment?

Talk to professional designers and get a feel for what their day-to-day is like. Read about design: books, blogs, etc. If it gives you butterflies when you think about how excited you would be to make that your reality, than you know it’s the right move for you!

For someone who’s already made the commitment to study, what advice would you give in the way of preparation?

Get excited! You’ll learn everything you need to know in the course, so as long as you come in ready to work hard, you don’t need to do much else in the way of preparation.

Thanks so much to Cari for sharing her story and beautiful work! Be sure to check out her full website.

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