How to Start Your Design Career

Published: Sep 23, 2017

You’ve poured years of work into developing your design skills and finishing your education, and now it’s time to seek out that first job. Competition for any job can be fierce, but especially so in design where you’re a new designer competing against people with experience.

Fortunately, you can take some steps to stand out from the competition, even if you have little on-the-job experience. Any little thing you can do to give yourself an edge might help you land that job and start your design career.

Perfect Your Resume

The first thing you’ll want to focus on as you begin your job search is your resume. If you are just coming out of school, you may not have much career experience to list, but you shouldn’t leave this blank.

More than likely, you’ve done some volunteer work or completed big projects in school related to your degree. Some schools even offer a winter term where you can fulfill short-term internships and gain valuable experience, which you can list here.

Design Career - sketches

Take a step back and think about what type of skills the job you are applying to needs. Now, what in your skill toolbox matches those skills and how can you highlight how you’ve used them in the past?

While you can easily write your own resume, you may want to look at some sample resumes for graphic designers.

Create Your Portfolios

As an artist, your portfolio offers potential employers a close look at exactly what you’re able to do. You should have both an online and offline portfolio that highlights these skills. For the offline version, you simply print out any digital design and also show print designs that you’ve done.

The items in your printed portfolio should be of the highest quality possible. Don’t go cheap and print on 20-pound paper at home. Invest in a heavier paper and professional quality printing.

Don’t try to include everything you’ve ever designed. Be choosy and pick the items that highlight your skills the best. You’ll also want a wide variety of types of designs to show your flexibility.

While your online portfolio and offline portfolio should both have a similar look and design theme, you should highlight different items on each. That way, if an employer likes your offline portfolio and goes to your online portfolio to see more, even more of your skills are highlighted.

If you’re looking to put your portfolio online, here is a guide to web hosting for beginners.

Go Where the Jobs Are

For graphic designers, trying to find your first job is a catch-22. You need a graphic design job, but the places around you want you to have 3 to 5 years of experience before they’ll hire you as a designer. How will you get that experience when no one will hire you? If you’re having trouble finding a position locally, then try job hunting in some of the top cities for graphic designers.

Before you send off an application for a job, consider where you’d like to apply. Designers are in higher demand in some cities than in others and pay rates reflect this. New York City is the number one place for graphic designers because of the big PR firms and brands located there.

Design Career - New York

Photo by Kevin Lee on Unsplash

Other cities that hire a lot of graphic designers and offer internship opportunities include: with this.

Other cities that hire a lot of graphic designers and offer internship opportunities include:

  • Los Angeles, California
  • Miami, Florida
  • Austin, Texas
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Bridgeport, Connecticut
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • San Francisco, California

These cities are top places to job hunt for a design job for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is because a lot of graphic design and advertising agencies based in the area. Sometimes, the area has a lot of businesses and companies that hire designers. No matter what type of city you like to live in, or what location, you should find one on this list that suits your needs.

Interviewing Successfully

Once you finally land an interview, you may still be competing with many different people for the job. To land the position, you need to show the company why you are the best choice.

  • Do your research. Know what the company does and how you can help them be more successful. Don’t be shy about explaining what you know and how you can help.
  • Be on time. Managers are busy people. They don’t want to wait around for you to arrive for an interview. It shows them that you’ll likely be late to work if they hire you.
  • Dress for the job. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not best not to wear a suit because most designers don’t wear a suit to work. The typical advice is to dress smart-casual.

Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

After the interview, you’ll want to follow up with your interviewer by sending a short thank you note and reiterating why you’d like to work for their company.

Top Tips for Your First Design Job

Once you land that first design job, you’ll want to make the most of the experience. Even though most people change jobs somewhere between and 10 and 15 times in their life, you should try to make your mark and make yourself as valuable to your company as you can. It is important to consider the following:

  • Assess what skills your weak points. Maybe you can create a fantastic website, but your drawing skills need work.
  • Learn from your co-workers. In most companies, people have different skill sets. Management often hires people with varied skills intentionally to create a well-rounded team. However, you can learn new skills from those around you. Just ask them to teach you what you want to know.
  • Ask if you can save projects to your portfolio. From day one, find out what you can and can’t add to your design portfolio. Some companies are touchy about this, so proceed carefully.
  • Keep in mind that you don’t know everything and be open to listening to other ideas.

A career as a graphic designer is rewarding and exciting. The work is never the same from day to day and over time you’ll learn many new skills you simply didn’t get the chance to pick up in school. Keep applying to jobs and building your resume, and before you know it, you will be one of those experienced designers that other people want to learn from.

Lexie Lu is a designer and writer. She constantly researches trends in the web and graphic design industry. She writes weekly on Design Roast and can be followed on Twitter @lexieludesigner.

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