Creativity is an obvious quality to showcase; the cornerstone of every good graphic designer. But how do you showcase it when you’re just starting out your career journey?
And with a lack of experience under your designer tool belt, what other skills or attributes can you highlight and – more importantly – what other qualities are companies looking for when they hire?
Here we've got the inside scoop on what modern companies wants to see when they send out that elusive call for candidates:
You may begin thinking about a career in graphic design before you’ve even chosen a course of further study. Or for some people, it's an industry they move into from another field, having found a love for creativity and design in another role. So do you need a degree in the subject, or another qualification altogether? Or can you be self-taught?
You may be glad to hear that there is no set path that will guarantee entry and each company will be looking for a particular set of skills and qualities in a candidate.
It depends on the individual, but as a general rule, you can miss out on a lot of things that are gained in an educational setting. Experiences such as taking constructive criticism on board, working in a team environment, or mentoring for example. Once you have gained some level of training or experience then, the key is to keep your skills and knowledge up-to-date.
Everyone is different, because their areas of expertise differ but generally, magazines like Computer Arts are good at covering a lot of areas. Across the board, inspiration websites such as Pinterest, The Dieline (for packaging) and Behance (for design portfolios) are popular. Blogs like howdesign.com are also a great source of inspiration and industry news and analysis. When it comes to books, we would recommend Branding in 5 and a Half Steps by Michael Johnson, Know Your Onions by Drew de Soto and Why Fonts Matter by Sarah Hyndman.
Be productive. A library of work is one of the key indicators of a natural designer; someone with genuine flair and passion for what they do, regardless of whether there’s a pay packet or deadline attached to it. That’s why so many young graphic designers are running their own portfolios online like industry blogs.
The sooner you get your name out there, the better. Growing a personal brand publicly in this way will also give you a deeper understanding of the challenges and current social climate experienced by the clients and companies you eventually aspire to with for.
If you don’t feel confident building your own digital shopfront just yet, you can begin by contributing to a friend’s or seeking out industry blogs and asking to contribute a piece. How will you know when to charge for your services? Use your intuition. You’ll get a feel for when people are taking advantage, and you need to make sure it doesn’t steel your focus from your training course or study.
Don’t discard the journey for the finished product on any of these initial projects. Showing your workings, whether it be in concepts of sketches, gives a great insight into how you think and therefore how you might work together with an existing design team. This is something a company will be taking into consideration alongside your existing talent or potential for growth.
When it comes to CVs in the graphic design world, the tendency can be to assume that ‘bigger is better.’ However this assumption is too simplistic.
Do some research into the employer. Perhaps they strike you as looking for something off the wall that will stand out, but generally you will want to keep it simple and factual, showing some artistic flair. Use of typography in this way is important.
Industry employers aren’t recruiting based on buzz words – the skills are too obvious to rely on convoluted sales pitch in a cover letter or email. But there are some key elements that graphic design teams across the board will be looking out for, and therefore you will want to find a way to showcase these in your application;
Enthusiasm is key, as is innate creativity, but a creativity that is matched with a decent level of technical ability. Relevant experience is obviously something you should highlight if you possess it, as is flexibility. Too often this is viewed in literal terms, i.e. flexibility of working hours. But if you can show a flexible attitude to your work, such as a willingness to evolve and grow into a role or new areas, or prepared to try new things. These would all be positive selling points in your application.
Developing your soft skills and gaining confidence is essential, too, in any job. And graphic design is no different to many modern industries in their reliance on good personal relationship and communication, regardless of the latest technological advancements.
Without an existing role, or as a student or graduate on the periphery of the industry world, it can seem daunting to know how to begin with networking, but social media groups and pages are a good place to dip your toe in, comfortably from your chair, and start to get a feel for your local industry.
There are some great events too, such as Offset which takes place in Dublin every year. The workshops there are a great place to meet other creatives and start to build your own networks.
Standing out from the crowd
With all that said, graphic design remains a competitive industry, brimming with eager, creative young talent. So it’s safe to assume that your application for your first graphic design gig will be one among many. That’s why its so important in the modern working world to find those points of difference, to find what sets you apart and give yourself that slight advantage that could be enough to get you hired.
If you’re still studying or about to embark on a course, do seek out opportunities to do a placement year or short period of time – it is important to get as much studio and wider industry experience as possible. Some agencies will also take on interns over the holidays so approach them all and ask about their policies on that.
Treat every application individually – keeping your CV up to date is obviously important but similarly, take the time to tailor it where you can for each role you apply for, checking that you’re addressing everything they’ve asked for. They have taken time to make that list, so take the time to cover it.
Start building your brand early – it’s about more than a published portfolio. Your online footprint, your networking, your professional standing in the industry is a journey and its one you should start as soon as possible, not waiting until you graduate. Sign up to LinkedIn first and get your name out there.
Begin the habit of perpetual learning - its one you will take with you into your career, and it will impress potential employers. Keep up to date with what’s happening in your local industry but also, more regionally and then globally. Look at trends, laws, opinion pieces and awards. Online tutorials are a great place to brush up on your technical skills regularly. They are just as important as creative flair.