Global Lingo Blog

Advice for graduate designers

Getting a job as a graduate designer can be tough. In this Guest Blog Darren Scotland Founder and Director of Character Creative shares a few tips.

It’s that time of year again, the sun’s beginning to shine, the sound of ice cream vans is filling the streets and I’ve started getting into planting herbs again!

Yes, graduate season is under way and hundreds of design students are emerging from their 3 year old cocoons ready and eager to join the “real” world and begin an exciting and glamorous career as a creative (shhh… don’t tell them!).

But where to start? There’s loads of you and we all know jobs are hard to come by at the moment. Fear not though – I have some advice that might just help.

First off you need to realise that whilst there might not be a stack of work out there there is still an enormous amount of good will so don’t be afraid to take advantage of that.

Get yourself a list of target agencies – those that you’d love to work for and the reasons why. It might be their client base, recent work, how they operate as an employers, their record for nurturing young talent? Whatever it might be, make sure there’s something.

Don’t go overboard though, you’ll always be better off sending 30-40, well targeted, individual applications vs 200 generic.

If you’re struggling for names get your head down and do some research – with the amount of design blogs out there these days there’s no excuse for not knowing what’s hot at the moment.

Social networking is another great place to pick up leads and the design community in particular has really embraced Twitter.

Start following some design heroes, and other designers in the area. A great rule to stick to is to listen first though, then, if you’ve genuinely got something to say, contribute intelligently and get involved in the conversation.

Try some real life networking too. Creative Networks, held monthly at the School of design in Leeds is a great place to start as well as groups like snZero and GeekUp for digital enthusiasts.

Recruitment agencies might be some help (plug!) but beware – some won’t deal with graduate roles and you’ll need keep a close eye on who the others are talking to on your behalf so you can make sure there’s no crossed paths.

It’s true that some (or most even) of those on your list might not be actively looking for people at the moment but that shouldn’t put you off getting in touch. In my experience, if the right designer for an agency comes along it’s very often not at the ideal time so, if you’re good enough, there’s always a chance things can be shifted around to fit you in.

This is where the 6 degrees of separation rule comes in too – the design industry is an incestuous business with people moving around many of the same agencies. This means if you can make a good impression at one place the chances are they’ll tell their contacts at other agencies (that might be actively looking) and you can inadvertently open doors that you never knew existed.

The approach:

Get names. Whether it’s the Creative Director, Design Director, Studio Manager, Senior Designer or Managing Director make sure you address them by their name. Sending blind letters or emails or (worse) “Dear Sir/Madam” or, god forbid (even worse) getting their name wrong, rarely works so don’t underestimate getting this part right.

Think about how you might approach them differently

Over the years I’ve seen a few interesting applications. Once a grad sent a CV that was already screwed up with a note attached saying “I’ve saved you some time already, now you just need to file it”. Another was done in the style of a charity add – i.e. 14k a year gets you a young, enthusiastic designer with enough money for a studio apartment and bus fare to work, 16k gets you a designer with his own moped and enough money for occasional after work beers, 18k gets you a designer with his own car and bla bla bla.

A few years back my Girlfriend had just graduated as a teacher so we had Mugs with Miss Willis printed round them. Her CV was rolled up and put inside the mugs with the headline, “I’ve got my teachers mug now I just need a desk to put it on…”

Not everyone likes these ideas but they get a reaction of some sort and that’s the important thing – in fact, Sarah got interviews at a couple of schools simply because they didn’t like the idea but wanted to get her in to tell her that!

Gimmicks might get you so far but if you don’t back it up with great work and personality it’s all for nothing (see a previous blog entry on putting together a good book).

Sarah got her job, not because of the mugs, but because she’s a great teacher; the mugs just helped her start the conversations – and that’s the point.

Follow up those approaches and get some feedback – however painful it might be.

Whether you’ve emailed, written, had a tic-a-tape parade, whatever, make sure you follow up with a phone call to get the conversation started.

It’s too easy to send stuff off and think the work is done – it’s not and you’ll get a terrible response if you simply sit and wait for people to get back to you.

If nothing else, call a couple of days later and make sure they got your application. From there you might only need to ask one more question, “what did you think?” – you’ll be amazed how far that one question alone will get you.

If they’ve not liked what you sent, why not? Is their feedback worth taking on board and can you make changes next time?

If they’ve not got your application, find out why. Perhaps even suggest hand delivering it and while you’re there, have they got 10 minutes to have a look at your work?!

Get a meeting

Short of getting a job, getting sat in front of people presenting and getting feedback on your work has to be your aim.

Like I mentioned before, if you can make a good impression with someone, and do it enough times, doors will open for you – there is no doubt about it.

Once you’ve followed up calls and found out what they thought of your approach ask to come in and see them – even if it’s just for 10-15 minutes.

If they’re not actively looking for someone at the moment let them know that all you want is the opportunity to show your work and get some feedback.

Creative Directors are human beings too and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they might not want to meet for fear of having no job on offer.

So take the pressure off them and let them know, first and foremost, it’s advice you’re looking for and jobs will hopefully come as a consequence.

In interviews and meetings be humble

It’s a cliché but now you’ve finished Uni the learning will really start. Make sure you take advantage of what you’ve learnt already but realise there’s a whole load of stuff you’ve yet to learn and there’s a bunch of people out there who want to help you get there – as long as you ask nicely enough!

Be flexible

You’ve bagged yourself the interview, it’s gone well, what now? If there’s some reservation on the agencies part then take the initiative and offer to come in and do a week or twos work – not for free – but perhaps on a trial basis.

Work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life for those two weeks; be enthusiastic, confident, make tea, go on sandwich runs, contribute ideas, really polish up those mac skills and with any luck they’ll forgot how they ever managed without you!

Hope this helps and best of luck. 3,2,1 – let the search begin!

Darren Scotland is Founder and owner of Character Creative, a recruitment consultancy working within the design and digital media disciplines based in Leeds.

www.charactercreative.co.uk

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