So, you’re a college graduate … now what? It’s a surreal feeling walking across the stage in your cap and gown, picking up a diploma holder (with no diploma in it … yet) and heading out to face the world. Whether you are a recent college graduate, or just gearing up for graduation, looking for and finding your first job post-college can be an overwhelming task. ‘Where can I find a design job and how do I land it? And am I really ready for life after college?’ are probably just a couple of the many questions you are asking yourself. Finding your first design job isn’t just an important step in getting your career going – it’s also an exploration of the design field and the next step in the learning process. Here’s a tip – the key to finding the right first graphic design job is knowing what you want and what you can offer to your future employer.
Knowing What You Want.
No one can walk into your life and tell you which design path is best for you. While it may be difficult to decide, you have to honestly take time to evaluate your wants and needs and decide what you want and need out of your first job. If you know specifically what type of job you want, you will be able to find a job sooner than if you just jump into design job listings or create a generic resume. Here are a couple things you should consider when looking for jobs.
- Are you looking to expand your skill set? If you are, look for jobs that will allow you to learn the skills you feel like you are weakest in.
- Are you a ‘learn-as-you-go’ entrepreneur type? If so, you could consider starting a freelance design business.
- What are you passionate about? Find the aspect of design that makes you happiest and start looking in that area.
Once you have an idea of what you want and need in a job, it’s time to find out what jobs are out there. (If you aren’t sure where to look for jobs, this article lists 10 great places to find graphic design jobs.) Start checking job listings anywhere you can find them. Weed out the jobs that don’t fit your needs and the jobs that you aren’t qualified for. Even if you aren’t qualified for a position take a few minutes to look at the job listing to see what employers are looking for; you might even get ideas for other design-related jobs you hadn’t considered before.
While you are on the job hunt, talk to your college professors and other in the design department of your university because they usually have leads on jobs or internships within the department or with local companies. Networking is huge in landing a job. Network, network, network.
Knowing What You Can Offer.
While you are primarily concerned with what you can learn and get out of a job, your future employer is mostly concerned about what you can do for him or her. So, now is a good time to evaluate your skills and writing them down.
- What software programs do you know and how well do you know each one? Are you certified with any programs?
- What niche design classes have you taken and how well did you do in them? What skills did you learn in those classes?
- Think about your past jobs. Even though the jobs may not have been in the design field, did you learn anything or develop any skills that will benefit your future career?
After you’ve decided what you want and what you can offer, it’s time to create your resume. Don’t just create one generic resume, take the extra time and create multiple resumes that are tailored to specific design jobs, employers or situations. (Here’s a great article to help you get started on your graphic design resume.)
You’re the designer, so I don’t have to tell you this, but graphic design is a visual medium. You are almost always going to need to have a resume, but you are always going to have to supplement that resume with a portfolio. It doesn’t matter if you only have ‘student work,’ you can still create a great beginner’s graphic design portfolio. (If you aren’t sure how to design a portfolio, All Graphic Design has a great tutorial to help get you started.) Some jobs may not require a portfolio, but it’s still a good idea to have one ready – just in case. Putting together a portfolio is also a good exercise to help you determine your current strengths and weaknesses – and know that employers are going to ask you about your strengths and weaknesses.
Looking for your first job post-college can be a long and frustrating process, but be persistent. Don’t just look at the classified ads in the newspaper. Keep re-evaluating the type of job you want. Work on building up your design portfolio and refine your resume. Network. Network. Network. And, if all the jobs you are looking at require a skill set you don’t have, consider taking a course to expand your skills.
Landing your first job is all about matching your creativity and skills with an organization’s needs. Your first job is also a very valuable learning experience – you will learn about the different ways design is practiced and what skills employers deem most important. Be persistent and you’ll find your first design job, and just know, your next job search (no matter how soon or far away that is) will be much easier.
About the Author
Nichole Nelson is a self-proclaimed ‘word nerd,’ and loves almost anything to do with the written word. When she’s not writing, she enjoys learning new graphic design techniques, crafting and cooking with her chef husband.