How I Got My First Full Time Graphic Design Job

Awards help you go further, faster

Did you know that Yellow Pencils can help you get your first design job?

Since starting blogging about design I’ve noticed there are in many very young designers who actually are a long way from even considering running their own business. I’ve also realised that I haven’t actually shared with you how I got started out in design. Here is a bit of my journey of how I started and how I broke through and got my first design job.

I emigrated from England to Australia in 1992. I arrived in Melbourne with no family and no friends. I had one small thing going for me, my fiancé’s family was based in Melbourne. This post isn’t a definitive ‘how to’ to get a design job in a new country. All I can do is share with you what worked for me at the time in the early nineties. I’ll also share what I’ve seen around the world today that will help you get your foot through the door to get that crucial interview.

Awards will give you a competitive advantage

I was fortunate that I had studied at a very well-respected design college in the UK with two brilliant tutors for a class size of 25 hungry design students. I also consider myself fortunate to be awarded 1st place in the D&AD student awards that year. This really helped me get beyond the ‘we’ll keep you on file’ letter fob off from design companies when I emigrated to in Melbourne. Having an D&AD award from a prestigious and well-respected international design body (and a few other awards from different design competitions) on my Resume helped me get my foot in the door and get an interview.

My advice to you is to enter into as many design competitions as you can. If you have talent you will get noticed, if you are lucky you may even pick up and award which may get you an interview that other designers in the early stages of their career would not get. The advantages today for winning the D&AD awards compared to when I was in them are amazing. Once you get to an interview the rest is up to your folio and personality.

Awards also help experienced designers get noticed too. It may be harder as it seems the awards industry globally seems to favour established companies but an award is a great way to get noticed by established businesses and it provides a great marketing opportunity.

Leverage your heritage

When I arrived I was surprised at the poor quality of most of the design in Australia. There were only a few design businesses that stood out as doing anything of any note. One piece of feedback that I received over and over again was that British design in Australia is really well-respected. Especially when it came to our understanding of typography and a sense of space. I don’t know why that was, but I had that comment made to me over and over again.

I knew that my folio was typographically strong and that I had a good sense of space. I could trade-off that perception and it did get me a few interviews.

You don’t have to be British to leverage your heritage. We all have something unique about our own design culture to offer the prospective clients and employers. I personally love Spanish design. Australia has moved forward in leaps and bounds since I arrived. Most businesses in Australia now understand the potential of design to help give them a competitive advantage.

It’s who you know

I emigrated to Australia for love. Yes. I was head over heals and up to my neck in love (I know I’m stretching the metaphor a bit ). I didn’t know anyone outside of my fiancé’s parents. We were getting married and I needed to find a job. Fast. My future father-in-law was a surprise package. He worked in business insurance and to my surprise told me that he had a small graphic design business as a client. He said that he got on really well with the owners and that he could arrange an interview. The owner of the design business loved my English heritage, my resume and folio, we connected on a personal level too. Within a week I had a temporary contract which would later become my first full-time job in Australia. I started out at this business as a Junior Designer and ended up as the Senior Designer and ran the studio for the owner. My fiancé and I didn’t work out, but the job lasted much longer!

The essentials

I haven’t mentioned the essentials of what it takes to get a design job whether you are going self-employed or looking to work at an established agency. Time has moved on when I started out. There are many more ways to build your reputation out there. Here are a few of the timeless classics and newish kids on the block that every designer who is looking for a job should have in their toolkit.

Folio

Firstly you need a brilliant folio that showcases your ability in the best possible light. You will need an online folio and an offline folio – depending on your design niche. If budget is an issue you can create folios on websites like Behance Network or Carbonmade. Otherwise developing an online presence like LogoBird or Todd Motto is a very good way to go. I am a graphic design boss myself now and if a junior designer doesn’t have an online folio then it actually says something about them. I expect it. It’s the norm nowadays.

Freelancing Agencies

Most major cities now have freelancing agencies that specialise in hiring out talent on a short or long-term basis to design companies or business. Aquent is a multinational that I’ve used in Melbourne and Artisan is another one I’ve used. Freelancing is a great way to get your foot in the door in the local design market. You’ll meet more people and more opportunities will come your way.

Local design magazines are a great source of insider industry information and jobs. Nowadays they are all on the web. If you are in the United Kingdom you have Design Week and Creative Review which both advertise jobs. Wherever you are in the world, what is even better is that you find out who’s who in the industry and you can directly target them in your applications. Personalised introductions will always take you further. If you are self-employed you will also get an idea of potential clients for the future.

Resume

The resume is probably the single most underrated and undervalued piece of marketing every graphic designer has. I’ve seen some terrible Resumes that not only are terrible in content, but have been done in word. You are a designer. Get designing. Get writing. Get spell checking and grammar checking. Think about how you can set yourself apart from the 200 other applicants for the job. Be prepared with a hard copy at your interview even if you already sent one in. Business cards.

If you can afford one. Get one. Go crazy, get out to the design limits and show your potential employer what you have got, both from a design ability, but also in how you used the paper and any potential embellishments. I drool when I see really good business cards. It’s a very simple way to impress a prospective employer or client.

I’ve been a graphic design boss and self-employed now for around seven years now, so I may have lost a bit of the job hunting edge. I’m sure you have a few tips up your sleeves. What advice would you give to someone looking for a job? Get commenting.

3 Responses to “How I Got My First Full Time Graphic Design Job”

  1. Laina April 6, 2011 at 9:39 am #

    Great article and interesting read! Alot of good advice on what to do and not do when starting out :)

    • Graphic Design Boss April 6, 2011 at 11:59 pm #

      Thanks Laina!

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  1. Interview with Ken Cato | Graphic Design Boss - April 20, 2011

    [...] I once went for an interview for a Senior Designer position with Cato Purnell. I was chuffed at just getting the interview, my folio however was a little too corporate for the type of work that they created. But I was just happy to get beyond the letter of application stage. One of the techniques I used was a strategy I believe every designer can use to get an interview. [...]

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