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Ask Lawrence: As a Graphic Design Graduate, what can I do to better my chances?

21 Apr 14:00 By Lawrence Akers

Graphic Design Graduate Lawrence Akers

I was recently asked to write some advice for Graphic Design Graduates keen to get a foot in the door. I have to say that I do truly feel for graduates. After working hard for many years to get their degree, there is no guarantee that they’re going to go on to have a successful career in graphic design. The industry can often have a bit of a ‘hunger games’ mentality where only the strongest, biggest, brightest and boldest survive. Once the three years of hard work, late nights and never ending assignments are done, only then does the REAL work begin.

Graphic design graduates tend to have a disadvantage from the start. I know that many studios won’t hire graduates as they feel too much time is spent in training them up only to have them leave for better opportunities the following year. Recruitment agencies are limited in how much they can assist graduates too, simply as 99% of the jobs they work on will be for designers with industry experience. All this leads to the fact that many graduates will often have to be quite tenacious to get their careers underway and take matters into their own hands.

Here are some tips to help you gain a better foot in the door.

What do you want to do?

You’ve spent years studying design and you get out the other end with your degree, your ambition and a folio covering a vast cross section of work. At this point, you’re going to want to determine what kind of designer you’re going to want to be; what kind of work will you produce? What kinds of companies do you want to work for?

In previous blogs, I’ve often spoken about your ‘brand’ and this is aligned to this. Others might look at it as being your niche. If you were to look at all of your skills, what have been your top 2 or 3 skills that you can focus on to become the ‘specialist’ in that area. Of course, it is hard for a graduate to be a specialist as that comes with experience however it will give you some direction about which companies you might want to approach and see if you can arrange an opportunity to go in, say hello, show them your folio, get some advice and, if you’re lucky, potentially even pick up some work.

People do business with people

This is a really important thing for new designers - people do business with people. Get out there and network. Even if you hate it, it is important for you to go out there and meet the people that make up your local industry. Once they meet you, notice the passion that you have for your craft and how you talk about that area you’re focusing on, it helps to build relationships that are going to play a part in your career. 

It will also give you a chance to talk to people who have been successful in the industry and explore what they did to achieve that. Gain some insight and guidance on what makes them work so that you can emulate their success.

This may even be getting involved in meet-up groups or conferences. I know that I was always excited when AGIdeas Conference came along each year as it was an opportunity to be inspired by amazing speakers as well as to connect with people within the community.

Your Folio

Your folio is the document that showcases who you are as a designer - it really is the piece that reinforces ‘your brand’. I’ll be honest, many graduate folios can often look very similar. You really want to bring this part of the problem to your own creative brief and come up with a solution as to how to make yours stand out.

With that, it is important to get this right. Obviously, you’re going to need to include work that you’ve produced while studying, however, make sure you take some time to talk about the brief and, if possible, include some of the ideation work that went behind it to highlight your creative process.

There is no harm in doing some creative projects that highlight your niche as well, provided that you’re very clear in making sure that it is labelled as not being commercial work.

Of course, most designers have website folios now too but it is important to get the mix right between creative work and more bread and butter work. 

Ask for advice and be open to the responses, willing to take on board what they say and continue to refine it to make it better.

The right mindset and attitude

I’ll be honest here; in my experience, there are two types of graduates. There are the ones who are willing to listen, who continue to learn, who understand that they’re at the start of their career and who are open to taking on new opportunities to gain experience wherever and however they can. Then there are those who feel that, after completing their degree, people should fall at their feet because they’re clearly the next ‘hot thing’. I can tell you now which are the ones people are going to want to work with.

For Graduate Graphic Designers, the reality is that you're going to need to be tenacious, self-motivated, and innovative with how you put yourself out there. With that, you're really going to need to put yourself out there. While there might be some fear in approaching places and attempting to form a relationship, push through that and do it! 

Get out there and gain experience wherever you can. Your family and friends are going to be the best place to gain some initial experience so offer them mates rates, and then offer their friends mates rates too! At this point in your career, experience is going to be far more valuable than anything else because you want to be able to put your craft into practice and to build up that portfolio. Trust me, designers are not alone in this requirement. Ask any freshly qualified ‘service based’ professional and they’ll tell you all about the joys of competing in a market that has lots of seasoned professionals in it. 

If you're planning to become a freelancer, it won't hurt to be a little business savvy. A short course in small business won’t hurt. Looking at strategies about how to get your business out there in front of potential customers won’t hurt. There is no harm in knowing how to promote your brand now that you have the skills to offer.

Lastly, when things seem tough, and there most likely will be times where that happens, continue to remind yourself of why you wanted to be a designer and reignite that passion. You’re in a job that will provide you with so much enjoyment, pleasure and reward, and in return, you’ll be in an industry that continues to engage with people on so many levels.


Lawrence Akers

Digital Recruitment Consultant - Creative Recruiters

m: 0421 660 395



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