How to get that first junior designer job - then take things further

Design studio founders share the key qualities they look for in a junior, and the skills that can lead to promotion.

So you've just graduated and you're out looking for that first design job; how do you shift the odds in your favour? There are more graduates out there than vacancies, so a killer design portfolio isn't always enough, you need to do everything you can to make prospective employers take notice of you and, more importantly, want to have you around. 

Follow these tips for getting that all-important foot in the door, then read on for advice on how you can start charting a course to that creative director role.

01. Be curious 

"You need to be curious to be a good designer," says Ben Jory of Jory & Co. "You should be asking loads of questions and be confident in doing that." Of course, this can be daunting. "When you're starting out and you work with people who've been doing it for years, you don't want to risk looking like an idiot. But you need to be able to ask questions without being afraid of the answer."

02. Listen up

Pay attention. Don't just ask questions – make sure you listen to the answers, because there's always something to learn from the people around you. Not sure you're attentive enough? When people speak to you, try focusing on what they're saying instead of planning how to reply.

03. Show willing

Always give your all, regardless of how thrilling or high-profile the work is (or isn't). "You may not be excited by the brief," says Kristen Streten of Design Culture. "Or it may be something small that needs to be done as part of a bigger picture. However, you don't know what else you might be given as a result."

04. Collaborate 

Be collaborative, not precious or possessive. "That's incredibly important because it's all about having a team and everyone working together," says Jory. "Two people's ideas are always going to be better than just one." Share ideas and let them belong to the whole team, he says. "Then everyone gets to take ownership and feel proud."

05. Be personable

Employers don't just hire on the basis of your portfolio – they want to know that you'll be pleasant to have around in the studio and you'll be a good team player. This means taking the right things seriously. "It's important that you take our client list seriously," points out Jory, as an example. "But you shouldn't take yourself too seriously," he continues.

3 killer skills to make yourself even more employable

You've nailed your first junior designer role; now put yourself in the spotlight for a promotion by supercharging your employability.

01. Coding

It's becoming increasingly important to have some grasp of coding, such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript and jQuery. "We want all-rounders who are interested in the digital side," says Ben Jory. If your background is solely in print design, and it's between you and another candidate who has these skills, they're almost certainly going to beat you to the position. There are heaps of free and cheap resources available online to help you learn – to start with, try Code Academy, Code.org, Code Avengers and Code School

02. Public speaking 

Did your stomach just contract when you read that? Public speaking isn't a piece of cake for everyone, but you do need to master it. It's not feasible to just never present a client pitch or speak out loud in meetings – and the truth is that, in reality, doing these things isn't half as bad as you imagine. Try making eye contact with someone at the back of the room – it makes your voice rise to the right volume. For further tips, visit www.bbc.co.uk/speaker/improve

03. Something completely different 

In '79 Short Essays About Design,' Michael Bierut points out that design is "almost always about something else". The more things that interest you, he says, the better your work. And the broader your horizons, the fresher your ideas will be. So don't immerse yourself in design and designers, and forget there's a whole world out there. Sign up for a free course at Coursera or Future Learn

This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 255; buy it here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anne Wollenberg is an award-winning freelance journalist who specialises in writing about the creative industry.