Exams are over, dorm rooms have been cleaned out, parties have been had, and diplomas have been accepted. Spring is over, and for many recent design graduates, the beginning of summer marks more than just the start of a new season. It’s time to enter the working world and begin their careers as graphic designers. Some have already accepted jobs– connections they made during internships or at portfolio reviews. But for others, their new job is finding a job.
At least, that’s how I remember feeling when I was a recent graduate. Presently, I continue to be impressed by the efforts and presentations of entry-level graphic designers on the hunt. So I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve encountered, and the strategies that helped me find my place in the Jacksonville design community.
1. Make a Self-Promotional Piece
I can’t stress how much of an impression a personalized, thoughtful self-promo piece can make. Whether it’s a book, box, or USB drive- make sure it represents your personality and is custom-tailored for the job you’re applying for. Address the Art Director or Creative Director you’re contacting specifically, and tell them why you admire their company.
2. Ask for an Informational Interview
At the time that you contact them, many companies will not be looking to hire. But that doesn’t mean you can’t request an Informational Interview. Many agencies would be happy to briefly meet with you to provide constructive feedback on your portfolio. Not only does this help you practice your presentation skills, but it plants the idea of you in their heads. They may not be hiring at the time, but six months from then, who do you think will come to mind?
3. Don’t Be Afraid of Cold Calls
Okay. Cold calls are pretty awkward, no matter how you slice it. But if it’s a company you’re really interested in, don’t be afraid to make the first move. I recommend sending your self-promo piece, waiting a week, then calling the agency to follow up. Reiterate how much you admire their company, and politely ask if they would be interested in an informational interview.
4. Have a Website
No matter how simple, it’s really helpful to have a website. Just something for employers to quickly reference after meeting you. It doesn’t have to have a lot of bells and whistles, just make sure it’s easy to navigate and shows your best work. I recommend free sites like Behance, Squarespace, or WordPress. Don’t forget AIGA Members who create portfolios on Behance are invited to join the AIGA Member Portfolios Gallery.
5. Leave No Stone Unturned
When your job is finding a job, your life is very akin to Jim Carrey’s movie, “Yes Man”. This was probably the most difficult part of the process for me. I have a mean case of the awkward and can tend to be a hermit if left unchecked. But when I was job searching I said “Yes!” to every event I was invited to. Cocktail networking event? Yes. Speaker event? Yes. Fundraising bake sale? Yes. Gallery show? Yes. I even attended events that had nothing to do with graphic design, like a meet up for architects. After a while, I began to see familiar faces. And they recognized me too. I began to make friends. And without even knowing it, I was finding leads.
6. Get Involved in Something
For me, that something was AIGA. I didn’t just want to attend events, drink cocktails, and make friends (although that was very fun). I wanted to do something productive with my time. My favorite events to participate in were gallery shows like The Always Summer Poster Show and the Toy Show. It was a chance to strut my stuff and show the design community that I was serious about being a part of it. I also asked to volunteer at events, further solidifying my name in the minds of the companies I was interested in.
7. Don’t Give Up
Job hunting takes time. Don’t get discouraged if your favorite agency doesn’t call you back. So much of job hunting is luck– being in the right place at the right time. There are many factors at play that determine whether a company is hiring, and whether you are the right fit. The only way to get your timing right is to be trying all the time. Don’t give up. Keep saying yes, and keep pushing yourself to get involved in the community. Only good can come of it.
To all of 2014’s recent graduates, congratulations! We hope to see you at the next AIGA event, and get to know you. Claim your place in our design community, and pursue your dream job. We’ll have lots of fun along the way!