You can have the best folio in the world and still not get a job. The number one thing you should do to get a job is to build up your connections. I always tell my students to do a LinkedIn challenge (I don’t personally like LinkedIn but I think it’s a good place to record how you are going with this). Try and hit 3 figures (so 100+ quality connections) by the time you graduate (or if you’ve already graduated, give yourself a deadline of 6 months). If you know 100 people in the industry, that’s 100 different channels of people that might be able to help you get a job. Try to send a message and introduce yourself to 10% of these connections, so they are aware of you. If you’re struggling with this, I would make it a rule to go to one industry event every week. This can be scary to start with, so maybe grab a friend for your first one. The worst-case scenario is you feel super awkward and you need to go home – that’s fine, you gave it a red hot go! The best-case scenario is you’ll meet a lot of different designers that already work in the industry, that can help you on your journey.
In my opinion, your lecturer is one of the best ways to get a job – they are the doorway between studying and working. Most lecturers I meet have worked in the industry for several years or still work in the industry alongside teaching. They’re 10+ years ahead of you and they know a lot more people than you do. They also know a lot of students, so if you can work hard and stand out then they won’t have any problem recommending you to their studio friends. If you’ve already graduated, all good; pick your fave ex-lecturer, hunt them down online and invite them for a coffee. They want to help you succeed – it also makes them look good! Plus proactive students and grads are a rarity so you are already winning.
Do you like branding, or packaging, or corporate design, or big advertising campaigns? Are you good at writing or photography? Do you love art direction or managing timelines and people? Do you want to work barefoot and surf at lunchtime (maybe an Editorial Designer at a surf magazine) or earn the big bucks, wear a power suit and drink cocktails after work (NYC-based designer at an ad agency)? The worst thing you can do is have a very varied portfolio, zero direction and send 48,294 emails to every studio you found online. Do. Not. Do. That.
They’re a really good way to get noticed because the organisations who run these are really good at promoting the winners. If you win it’s some easy and free promotion for you! Try to find awards and competitions for students and grads that are free to enter. I don’t believe in paying to enter awards, plus sometimes they can be really expensive! Competitions are a great way to expand your portfolio, potentially win prize money, get your name out there and something cool to put on your resume.
In an email, you are reduced to letters and numbers only, and your beautiful personality can’t shine through. Meeting people in person is always more ideal. A few years ago I was looking for sponsorship money and I sent 10 big companies some snail mail – it included photos of my previous road trips for TDK, a handwritten letter on yellow paper and some stickers all inside a big envelope covered in coloured dots. You can imagine these companies get boring mail daily and so the Partnerships Manager would have felt pretty special that day. All 10 of them got back to me! Think outside the box, make an effort and make it personal. A really, really important point, if you are going to send an email, do your research first and find the name of the person. Make sure you spell their name right and mention something you love about their studio in particular. Do not copy and paste the same email, and just replace the name – make an effort if you want them to read it and respond.
You don’t walk into a bar, sit down on a stool next to someone and ask them to marry you. You need to get to know them, they need to get to know you too. Asking for a job at an industry event is a similar thing – they have no idea who you are. They haven’t seen your work and it’s too big a jump for anyone. The best thing to do if you meet a designer you like is to invite them for a coffee and ask for 15 minutes of their time for some feedback on your folio. If they like you, they will find you a role or they’ll recommend you to others. If they don’t like your folio, it’s not personal, I’m sure you’re lovely! They’re still giving you helpful pointers that you can use for next time. Be grateful for their time, make it easy for them, pay for the coffee and ask to meet near their studio so it doesn’t take time out of their day. Then if you’re lucky they might show you around the studio afterward.
When I graduated in 2008, there was only Myspace (lol) and Facebook so it was much harder to make those initial connections. Research and stalking is a fine line! Find your favourite studios or companies (and individuals) and be active with them, so they see your name and handle popping up on Instagram regularly. For this reason, it’s good to have a semi-professional (or separate) IG account for design work, so they’re not scrolling through photos of your cat and comments from your mum! Be professional, and you can build that relationship slowly online.
My advice with personal projects is to come up with 5 different ideas and run them past a few of your friends and/or lecturers. It takes a lot of energy to do a decent personal project, so you want to make sure that the project works really hard for you, to help you get a job and make a bigger impact on your design career. If the project can involve other people, it’s a double whammy of building your connections and folio, whilst developing your style and approach.
This means using the same headshot/logomark on all your online accounts (IG, Behance, LinkedIn) so that every time your favourite studio sees you commenting and liking something, they recognize you. All your energy is not wasted by having a weak online personality which is easy to forget and get lost in the crowd. We have a Top 10 for personal branding here.
The first thing you should know about getting a job is it’s easier to give back to the industry then ask for things when you don’t know anyone. If reaching out to strangers via email requesting their time isn’t working, don’t worry. Don’t take it personally – they are just focused on running their business and lives, and might have little time for you right now. A great way to overcome this is to volunteer with your favourite industry groups. People like TDK (become a #TDKtuesdays host for our design meet-ups), AIGA (US-based), AGDA (Australia-based), DINZ (New Zealand-based), Creative Mornings (global), Ladies, Wine & Design (Global) or search for your local community group. They all run events and community-based initiatives and need people to make it happen. Getting involved as a volunteer and giving back is a no-brainer way to get a job. Be part of the industry, polish your folio, strengthen your personal brand and don’t be a dick = you’ll be fine!