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I’m Jacob Cass, the founder of JUST™ Creative. I’m a multi-disciplinary graphic designer, working with clients all around the world. My specialty is logo & brand identity design. JUST™ Get in touch.

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How to get your FIRST Graphic Design Job

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First Job

Below are some tips for graphic design students on finding the first job and tips on how to reduce the stress by providing an overview of the whole process. (This is a long post.)

Many young designers (such as myself) find it hard to believe that they can make a living doing something they find compelling and interesting—something they love. Finding the right first job, even if it’s a summer job or an internship, is not just an important step in launching your career – It is an exploration of the field and a continuation of the learning process. Even the most skilled designer finds the search for a first job stressful. The suggestions that follow can reduce that stress by providing an overview of the process.

Before you can begin

Before your job search can begin, you need to understand

  1. yourself: your motivations, strengths, and weaknesses;
  2. your work: its nature, style, and variety; and
  3. the job market: corporations, design offices, and the wide variety of other businesses that employ graphic designers. Then you can get ready to present yourself and your work in a portfolio.

Try writing these things down and doing a bit of research of the job market in your area.

Create a portfolio

PortfolioTo create a portfolio select only your best work—the work you are proud of and want to discuss. Bearing in mind that people remember best what is first or last in a sequence, bind together sketches that show your ability to think, to sketch and to brainstorm.

Meanwhile think about your strengths and weaknesses (we all have weaknesses), and prepare yourself to discuss them in an interview.

If your school or uni provides courses or advisory sessions for assembling a portfolio and marketing yourself; take advantage of them. Show your portfolio to teachers and attend any portfolio reviews organized by local professional design organizations. Listen to the feedback you get. Identify special interests or characteristics that you bring to the work situation as well as what you would like to learn on your first job.

You’ll want to make clear to your prospective employer that you know learning continues throughout a career. In fact, the learning curve is particularly steep for the first two or three years after you finish school and should continue for the rest of your life.

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Résumé

NotepadEveryone looking for a job should have a résumé, but this document can be especially important to a design applicant. Your résumé deserves careful typographic design that reflects your type skill and ability.

Remember to give the facts an employer wants to know as well as reliable address and telephone number. It is also a good idea to design and print stationery and business cards for yourself. They provide another opportunity to make an individual design statement. Any designer with whom you interview will appreciate the difficulty of designing this material. Designing for yourself is worse than representing a client; it can be like having an identity crisis.

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Where would you like to work?

The next step is to identify the design offices, corporations, or individuals with whom you’d like to interview. School placement offices usually have job leads of real value, and they cover the larger organizations that recruit for design positions. Trade magazines and design annuals in your school library are also good resources.

If you want to work in a particular geographic location, look for help wanted listings there. Also scan your school’s alumni lists for recent graduates in that city. Call them up and discuss your interests with them. Alumni know people in design and are often willing to help a recent graduate meet them. Looking for a job is a serious networking activity. This may be the first time you network, but it won’t be the last.

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Getting The Interview

PhoneProspective employers often prefer to receive a brief letter and résumé before committing to an interview. If possible, use the letter to establish your interest relative to a particular job opening or to the organization’s specialty. Give the reader of your letter a sense of who you are.

Follow up with a telephone call to arrange an appointment. The person you are contacting is probably a busy professional, so don’t be easily discouraged. Be politely persistent if you do not get an appointment immediately. Sometimes you will get an interview with someone who has no job openings but is still willing to meet with you. Take this “exploratory” interview. It will be excellent practice, and you may be more relaxed if your dream job is not on the line. What’s more, this individual may help you make other connections.

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In The Interview

The first interview is always the most stressful, so arrange mock interviews with friends to get practice and feedback. At the real interview, try to relax. Remember to breathe. If you don’t see design work displayed, ask to see some.

Ask questions about the organization and its projects. Be interested in them; then explain how you can help with their needs. Don’t drone on about yourself; be attuned to the interviewer’s verbal responses and body language. An interview, when it really works, is a dialogue between people who are sharing information and finding common ground.

After any interview, always stop to record your impressions. A follow-up note of thanks will be appreciated as a courtesy and is a way to help interviewers remember you.

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WOW, You Got Offered A Job

HappyWhen you are offered a job, you may be taken by surprise and neglect to negotiate. Don’t just blurt out a “yes.” Employers will respect your taking time to consider the conditions of your employment.

RESEARCH: This is your opportunity to establish your market value as a designer. Figure out what it takes to live reasonably in the city under consideration, and don’t forget your educational loans. Try to find out what entry-level design salaries are in that area, and balance that information against your personal strength as a designer. Remember, in addition to money, other things are negotiable, such as health benefits, paid vacations, unpaid leave days, starting date, flexible hours, or months to a performance review (and hopefully a raise).You can sacrifice some of these items for others that are more important to you.

Be clear about the offer, ask quesitons, and take time to consider it. Try to adjust whatever is not satisfactory now. It is important to start off a relationship with clarity and trust. After you accept the position, celebrate but don’t throw out your contacts. Send them a note announcing your new position.

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Conclusion

Finding your first design job means matching your creativity and skill with an organization’s real needs. It is also a valuable learning experience. While you are looking, you are learning about the various ways design is practiced. Your next job search—whether it occurs soon or well down the road—will be easier; you will have gained a clearer vision of the field and how you want to position yourself within it.

Remember to communicate, to follow up, and to be courteous. That way, you’ll take away from this first stressful experience some valuable information, increased confidence, and satisfaction.

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Further Resources:

Source: How to find your first jobGraphic Design: A Career Guide and Education Directory, AIGA

So what other tips would you have for a design student looking for their first job?

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52 JUST™ Creative Comments

  • nine Reply

    very useful article! i loved it! i’m about to graduate and i am terrified to go out there… but i have a question, which do you think it’s more important when deciding if they hire you: your skills & studies or the portfolio, because mine is awful since i never thought of it while i was doing my school works and i am ashamed to show most of my work! what can i do!

  • Jacob Cass Reply

    Hi Nine,

    Glad it was of help. I believe your portfolio and your will to learn. Someone could have studied at the most prestigious Uni in the world however if there work does not reflect that, where does that leave them? If you only have a few good pieces include them and talk about them, showing bad work is not a good idea. All the best!

  • Sketchee Reply

    Nine: I agree with Jacob. It’s better to have a few good pieces than a larger portfolio with any work that you don’t feel is good. Your portfolio has to be tailored to each job you apply to.

    I’ve seen designers keep showing their college portfolio even after they’ve worked for years. OTOH, my art director told me recently that she had wished she had seen some work from certain projects mentioned on my resume. I was telling her about some of my poster designs and she said she wished they were in my portfolio when she hired me

    Also you can work up some new mock ups for your portfolio. Or consider volunteering for a charitable organization to build up a portfolio piece that involves working with a client. (volunteermatch.org is a great resource) Personal projects and art work can be included in your portfolio. I was a fine arts major. I showed an example of my paintings and how that skill/creativity translates into my design work. In interviews, the interviewers tell me they think that its a great idea and they really seemed to understand what I meant. I had two job offers within a few weeks with that set of work

  • Claire Search Reply

    Great Article, and really seems helpful to those out there hunting for a graphic design job.

    Just over a year ago, i got my first job in graphic design – well it moved onto web design.

    I was applying by the off chance as a trainee as they were advertising for full postitions, but i gave it a shot anyway. It seems that alot of design companies would prefer a trainee anyway, because generally they seem to be really enthusiastic, motivated and keen.

    I brought my portfolio to the interview – dressed smart as you would, with the thought in my mind : “I love design, if i show them that i love it and thats all i have worked for in the past years then thats a damn good reason,’ and its the truth as well. If you show them how you feel about it, they will see the passion.

    I didn’t prepare my interview in anyway whatsoever, obviously i did my bit of research on the company so i knew they were the one i wanted to work for. It wasn’t lazy, to be honest, the more i thought going for an interview, the more worried i became. So i decided my main aim was to show them how much i loved it, together with a few words about my personality : dedication, enthusiatic as well as my past experience.

    They are not just going to be interested in your work and who you are. They will be interested in your past, what you have learnt. For example if you went to study a full time university course and work full time hours to pay for those fees, they will see that you are a determined person, and can handle alot of work.

    Hope this helps, and wish all you guys luck.

  • Nishika Reply

    Hey Jacob, :)

    I really enjoy reading all your articles..
    They really inspire me.. I just want to say thank you :)!

    I finished art college last year.. and did an internship at JWT(India) for 3 months.. Since then I’ve just been doing small things on the side for people I know, nothing too serious as I really can’t afford adobe’s software :)!

    I’m just about to start doing some illustrations for a book of poems written by a friend of mine. Who knows! If its good enough I’ll have something for my portfolio. :) I’ve read your article on design briefs, so thats where I’m going to start I guess!
    Thanks again.

  • Fery Reply

    Hey Jacob,

    Your site and articles are really cool and helpful! I think You’re really creative and I’m really happy to find Your site! It’s true that I’m a few years older than You, but it doesn’t matter at all and I hope I could learn something for You and Your great works and articles :-)

  • Tanwar singh Reply

    I am fresher and i will be good for you

  • Miracle Studios Reply

    To fresher people they have to Create portfolio, so that they can show their skills.

  • Emmanuel Turner Reply

    This article is just a relevant now as it was when written. It’s a good general overview of what to do as a recent graphic design graduate. I’ve written an article that might interest readers regarding how to use the internet to help find job openings http://bit.ly/hmcWyG

  • zontass Reply

    GOOD article Jacob
    i am still in uni but i like doing research on what’s on the design world,so i guess this will help us as junior designers. i am still working on my portfolio now as i do some freelance jobs for some small companies..

  • Cami Reply

    Hi there. I just wanted you to know that I stumbled upon your site through a google search. I was looking for possible freelance illustration or photo editing work, and your name came up.

    LONG story, short-I came looking for one thing, and I ended up spending a lot of time on your site. You have a wealth of knowledge on important topics for designers. I have bookmarked this page. It is so clean, easy to navigate, and informative:) TWO thumbs up! Keep up the great work.

    *cheers*

  • matthew cook Reply

    your portfolio is the first impression that any design agency is going to have of your work so even what holds the work has to be appealing in my view… it hurts my head when i see designers cram there work into an A3 portfolio… for god sakes your a designer at least put the effort in. i spent a couple of weeks getting ready to even apply for jobs… good article though good shpeel my man…

  • Jason Reply

    Hey guys.

    The article was awesome – very good for a graduate who doesn’t know where to look, us graduates need all the help in the world.

    I’m commenting for the reason, i need help. I went to kingston uni, did graphic design and got a very nice portfolio out of it – it was a mix of all different sorts of things, lots of craft and a couple digital pieces. My ratio for interviews to apps is 5:100 pretty crazy. I had an interview with an agency called SomeOneinlondon.com. Cover letter blue Simon Manchipp away. I write cover letters in reflection to the actual ad – i find it really hard to write an app for a boring ad.
    I got called to the interview but because i was thinking about it and did a massive amount of research after i got the invite to the interview i was so nervous, it reflected badly in the interview, my mind went blank i forgot major words, stuff todo with my work etc.

    I need help because i just don’t know where to aim, i want an agency who is into craft and abit of digital. I’m happy to give my email and chat/send my portfolio for anyone to review etc. After the SomeOne interview and failure, i just feel like its kind of broken me, i’ve lost the hunger. Its depressing.

  • Jason Reply

    excuse any typos, blew*

  • adderall Reply

    An impressive share, I just given this onto a colleague who was doing a little analysis on this. And he in fact bought me breakfast because I found it for him.. smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the treat! But yeah Thnkx for spending the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love reading more on this topic. If possible, as you become expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more details? It is highly helpful for me. Big thumb up for this blog post!

  • Phil Reply

    When I left college I proudly had both a Bachelors degree and a Masters degree in graphic design. I thought I would just walk into a job – Nope! 5 months later I was still looking. And that was in London where there were plenty of opportunities.

    I should have networked, decided where I wanted to work, tailored my portfolio, paid attention. But I guess I was a young (probably lazy), cocky (yes, definitely cocky) kid who thought it would come to him.

    12 years later I’ve worked at some big agencies, run my own design business and been a graphic design educator.

    The no experience, no job offer Catch 22 is a very difficult one to get over for graduates. I was always being asked by my students “now I’ve finished this course, how do I get a break?”

    At the time I could only share my personal experience, but later I asked all the designers I knew from across the world to share their stories of how they got their first graphic design job and wrote a book (okay an ebook). The graduates found it really useful and I actually referenced your post here Jacob in the recommend reading section.

    For those of you still looking, don’t give up. This is a highly competitive industry and you have to be determined to get a foot in the door. You’ve got Google and social media on your side. Find and start conversation with designers. Keep an eye on the movers and shakers. Go to design meet-ups. Often its a contact and sheer good luck that puts you in the right place at the right time.

  • Tezikubwa Hamuza Reply

    wow! what a awesome site for us the graphic design job seekers. well am doing multimedia at Aptech Kampala-uganda,our first year was all about Graphics,so am now a graphic designer about to become a video and audio editor after 2 years but i would like to have myself a graphic design job as am also countinuing with video and audio editing but seriously speaking this link has motivated me,big up to u,JACOB. +256777584754 is my number i will be glad to talk more people who are in this field,THANK YOU

  • Vaszka Reply

    Hi I have done everything and more and this is will help only people with english surname. I finish my uni in England , learn everything and start looking for a job, when I send my CV after 5 minutes I always get email, sorry but not !

  • Preena Reply

    What if you didn’t do a degree in graphic design but you worked as a freelance, putting together your own portfolio of work from scratch. and you find it hard to get a job which always seems to require a degree?.

  • Utah Wedding Videographer Reply

    Setting up mock interviews is great, but going out and doing a lot of real interviews is even better (even if it’s just for the practice and not necessarily the job). It puts you in the real thing, with all the stress and nervousness that comes with it. You’ll learn a lot and be ready for when that dream job comes along.

  • Carmela Vallejo Reply

    Hi these are some great tips on landing your first job as well as good networking tips.
    I am in the pursuit for my first graphic design job as well and these tips of doing the research, following up with a note and preparing yourself for the interview, knowing what you want and where are great tips and refreshers to keep in mind. Most of my professors have mentioned these tips as well but it is nice to have a place where they are all written down to reference as well as thank you for the secondary resources, I am looking at creativepool.com right now.

  • Steve Reply

    Nice resources for proposal seekers…….


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