Careers in Graphic Design
Over the years I’ve been approached countless times by young designers looking to break into the field of graphic design, and rather than have people waste their time sending me their resume, I sat down one day and wrote the following. I was a fresh designer once not too long ago getting my share of rejection gets pretty old so rather than explaining that I’m just an independent freelance designer and I’m not looking to expand my business anytime soon I thought I’d just take the time to provide the kind of advice I needed when I was starting out.
I understand what it’s like trying to become a designer; it’s a hard business to break into and no matter how much you want to be a designer the only thing that matters to prospective employers is how good you are. I can’t offer you a job but I can offer you some advice based on this designer’s real life experience. Most of the mistakes I see people make are the same mistakes I made when I was starting out. Perhaps you can avoid some of them by reading through this page.
Tips for aspiring Designers
You’ve got to do what you have to do until you can do what you want to do. Get a job to pay the bills and do design in your off hours until you build up a body of professional work. If your portfolio is filled with stuff you did in art class you need to get busy and do some real work for real people; if they won’t pay you for your work, then give it away. The experience is payment enough and you’ll build a body of work to present to prospective employers.
Volunteer your design services; being a volunteer for a worthy cause looks great on a resume and it will give you real design experience and help you network.
I’ve also found that good employers seek out good employees and if you care enough about something to give your time to it, that will bode well with companies that have a social conscience.
If you get an interview remember that employers don’t really care what your goals are; they care about what you can do for them. New employees cost a lot of money, are you worth the investment?
Be nice to everybody, especially the people that take the time to critique your work or give you advice. They are doing you a tremendous favor so don’t take it for granted.
Emails aren’t worth the paper they aren’t written on so don’t expect any real results from shotgunning your resume via email to 100’s of businesses. If you want someone to notice you then send them a real letter, and if you “really” want to get noticed send it FedEx; you may not get the job but you will be noticed and possibly remembered when a job or internship does open up.
Customize your resume and cover letter for the job you are applying for. Play up those aspects or skills that fit the position advertised. Employers are looking for the person that is the perfect fit for the job advertised so don’t give them a reason to dismiss you from consideration. If you’re applying for a position as graphic designer don’t state that your goal in life is to be a helicopter pilot.
Put your portfolio on the web and build the web site yourself; especially if you’re trying to get a job as a web designer. I’m always amazed when somebody sends me an email telling me they want to be a web designer and they don’t even have a web site. Why would anybody pay you to do something for them that you wouldn’t even do for yourself?
Remove that drawing of your cat from your portfolio; nobody is going to hire you because you can draw a cat. It’s called commercial art because it is about commerce and if your work doesn’t sell something it isn’t worth anything to an employer. While you’re at it you might want to lose some of those mockup CD cover designs you did in college; the last time I checked there weren’t many jobs in the classifieds for CD cover designers. You need to fill your portfolio with the type of work that there is a market for.
Don’t waste your time or that of prospective employers applying for jobs you know you aren’t qualified for; it’s annoying and absolutely nobody gets a job as an Art Director straight out of college.
Don’t take it personally when somebody rejects your work because it’s never personal its business and business is about money. I know it’s hard not to invest yourself into your work, okay it’s impossible if you’re passionate about what you do but just don’t let your ego get in the way of taking honest criticism. You absolutely have to have a thick skin in this business because no matter how good your work is it may not be right for the customer. Accept rejection for what it is, an opinion, and everybody’s got one of those.
Don’t give up; it takes time to get good at design and it takes time to make any money as a designer. By all means though if you aren’t any good at this or you were one of the worst in your class you might want to try something else. Also if you actually want to make a lot of money you should probably find another career because nobody in their right mind would go into design for the money.
I could be wrong… what’s worked for me might not work for you and what hasn’t worked for me might actually work for someone else. I’ve been at this for over thirty years now and I’ve paid my dues. I’ve heard “no” more times than I can remember and I’ve also applied for more jobs than I can count; so the tips I offer are based on my own experiences. One thing I know is that experience, the good and the bad is what helps you grow as a designer and as a person. Good Luck!!
ImageCo is the online portfolio of Tim Garner; I’ve been a commercial artist for over 30 years and I help businesses and individuals throughout the US and Canada sell their products, their services, and their ideas. I was born in the Southwest, raised in the Midwest, lived in the South for a bit and now call the Northwest home. I’m a fine artist by training, a graphic designer by choice and I’ve designed everything from billboards to business cards. In my spare time I feed a passion for photography, art and writing. Check out my other creative work at www.artistpoet.com.