The creative industries are famously competitive, and getting your first design job can feel like a bit of a minefield. In this post, we offer some top tips you can follow in order to get your foot in the door.
The aim of this article is to help you arm yourself with the essential tools you need to snag a job at a design agency. While specifics have changed over the years, the main principle remains: you need to show off your talent and amplify the message that hiring you would benefit the agency. And when you're ready, we've got thousands of graphic design jobs (opens in new tab) just waiting to be filled. Right, let's get started.
01. Smarten up your portfolio
First and foremost, you need to get your design resumé (opens in new tab) up to scratch. While you may need to print work to bring to an interview, we're mainly talking digital here. Make sure you use this space to show off your best work. Bad or partially finished content will just make you look amateur, so clear out any useless works-in-progress that don’t show you in a great light.
Creating a portfolio of work to show before you've actually started your career is a tricky business. For advice on this, take a look at our article on how to start building up your design portfolio (opens in new tab).
02. Network creatively
The idea of networking might not fill you with joy, but it's a vital way to get your name known and your skills out into the world. Social media has made it much easier to network online, but you need to be smart about how you use it. Start off by following these golden rules for social media (opens in new tab).
If you're going to include social links on your website, make sure you keep those channels professional. Be yourself, but spruce things up a bit and keep the focus on your work, or industry discussions. You want to come across as human, but there's no need to bare your soul.
Of course, you're also going to need to make connections in person occasionally. We have a whole article dedicated to that: how to network successfully (opens in new tab).
03. Harness your creativity
You need to treat looking for work and applying for jobs as a design brief in itself. Show that you are what you’re trying to portray: creativity. For inspiration, have a look at our roundup of the most creative resumés (opens in new tab) around, or our article on inspired self-promo ideas (opens in new tab). All the examples featured here showcase times designers have really thought outside of the box in order to stand out.
Let your particular skillset drive what you produce. If you’re a graphic designer, make something as visual as you can. If you’re an illustrator, pick up your pencil and paper and turn that into something that represents your style. Skilled in motion graphics? Set about crafting the perfect showreel (opens in new tab) that outlines your skills as well as your visual experience.
This is your chance to combine the two wonderfully indulgent worlds of creativity and narcissism. So get to it!
04. Use portfolio sites
Behance, DeviantArt, Dribbble and Cargo are all great tools for getting your work out there. But just uploading some pics to these sites is no guarantee anyone will look at them. So make sure you also match your uploads with supporting posts on your personal blog and/or online design portfolio (opens in new tab).
It's good to be active on the web and use a range of channels to get your message out – after all, you never know where your next opportunity might come from. However, there are some caveats to this. First, don't prioritise quantity over quality. And second, make sure you're not focusing on sharing your message at the expense of actually creating great work.
05. Get experience
Many people find that paid design internships are a great way to get a foot into the industry. If you snag a good one, what you learn and the connections you make can be invaluable. Of course, the trick is turning this into a more long-term gig – and for that, take a look at our article on how to transform a design internship into a job (opens in new tab).
A slightly more controversial approach is offering to work for free, via volunteer work. While many designers will find themselves offering their services out of the goodness of their hearts (and in a bid to get something into their portfolio), we advise caution here. Working for free has detrimental knock-on effects for the whole industry, so think before you sign up.
06. Do your interview prep
So. You've tidied up your online presence, made a tasteful yet eye-catching design portfolio, and found a job you’d love. You've applied, got the call, and they want you to attend a job interview. It's showtime.
If there’s one piece of advice we'd give at this point, it's to be yourself. That goes for what you should wear. The majority of agencies don't expect their employees to wear formal businesswear – suits, jackets, and so on – so neither should you. That said, it’s still an interview, so they don’t want to see you in your battered trainers and ripped jeans. Just look the best you can, and keep a hint of your personality in how you present yourself.
Ensure you prepare some decent material for the day as well. The interviewer will have already seen your portfolio, but here's your chance to add some weight to what you've already shown them. Agencies often like to present you with a brief to work on before the interview. If that's not the case, then do something nice you can leave with them. If you can relate it to the agency's brand and it shows off your skills, then you’re on to a winner.
For more tips on interview, see our post on tips for design interview success (opens in new tab).
07. Go the extra mile
Following this advice alone will certainly get a good way down that long and winding road of establishing yourself a career path, but it might not quite snag you a job. The extra 10 per cent that lands you the perfect job comes down to you.
Think about the type of person you'd be looking for if you were in your interviewer's shoes: a passionate, versatile, excited, self-motivated person who can work as a part of a team and is willing to go that extra mile to achieve real world results. It's likely that your interviewer has considered lots of people for just one role, so you need to stand out. With this in mind, don’t be afraid to mix things up a little and step outside of your comfort zone.