Job Hunting Tips for Graphic Design Graduates | Strategies for new graduates to find graphic design jobs and improve their chances of landing interviews | Jenn Wells Design

This blog post is coming in from way out of left field. I know it’s not all that relevant for my usual readers, and if you don’t need job hunting tips, feel free to skip this one.

Sometimes you get an idea, and it’s not necessarily the best idea you’ve ever had, but it burrows its way into your brain and refuses to leave. This is one of those.

7 years ago I was a recent graduate. After some initial success snagging contract positions, it felt like all the opportunities fizzled out. I moved back home to Delaware from the exciting, potential-filled DC area to save money and concluded almost immediately that there were “no jobs” in DE.

This overly hasty conclusion ended up being a fantastic thing for me, because it spurred me to start my own business. But somehow, now that I’m not looking for design jobs, I see them popping up all over the place. Ironic, right?

Not really. It just so happens that a lot of the actions I’ve taken to find clients and referral partners are also helpful in finding job opportunities. And since I’m not going to be making use of this knowledge, I want to pass it along to someone who can use it!

Let’s cut to the chase. Here’s my job hunting tips…

1. Network

Maybe freelancing isn’t your thing. But getting out to networking events and meeting people is never a waste of time. Even if you don’t book any projects, the more contacts you have, the more likely someone is to bring up your name when a job opens up at their friend’s company. Or that they’ll pass along a job listing to you. However, I’d urge you to be open-minded to freelance work as well, because it establishes you within your field AND it gives you something concrete to put in your portfolio. Oh, AND networking will force you to become comfortable with small talk and delivering an elevator pitch, both of which will come in handy during interviews. Like I said, networking is never a waste of time even if the benefits aren’t as direct as meet people => people buy your services.

2. Use Social Media!

Recruiters cost money, job listings cost money, everything costs money. But you know what’s free? Posting a job on social media. So where do you think companies will post their job openings first? I was foolish and it never occurred to me to follow design companies until I started running my own company and wanted to check out the competition. Since following all the local designers, I’ve seen at least 3 jobs within the last 6 months. Instagram is where I’ve seen the most, but if you hang out more on Twitter or LinkedIn, check out which designers are on there. Follow them and interact. The more often they see your name, the more likely they’ll feel some sort of connection to you when it comes to interview time.

3. Put Your Portfolio Online

I know it can seem daunting as a new graduate to pay to host your own website. But there are tons of other options for having an online portfolio. You can use Behance or Coroflot. Throw some samples up on LinkedIn! And who said websites have to cost money? Try one of the many free website builders like Wix, Weebly, or WordPress.com. The point is, you need to have a way for potential employers to view your work that doesn’t involve them trusting your email attachment or putting forth any more effort than a single click. People are lazy and employers are busy. They have no incentive whatsoever to go to extra effort for you.

4. Be a Student of Your Industry

Just because you’ve graduated doesn’t mean you’re done learning. None of us are! The only way to stay relevant is to keep up with industry trends and constantly hone your craft. The easiest way to do this is to immerse yourself in that world. Follow blogs, get magazines, listen to podcasts, read books. Whatever your preferred intake method, keep learning and keep finding ways to use those new ideas. Every time you learn a new skill, you make yourself more hire-able. Bonus points for looking at job postings and using those to help you decide what new skills to learn!

5. Improve Your Job Hunting Skills

It is a skill, just like editing photos or creating logos is a skill. And schools don’t necessarily set you up for success here, because they’ll give you outdated or just plain bad advice. Ask a Manager has some fantastic job hunting advice, along with advice for regular office scenarios. I recommend browsing through the articles on interviews, resumes, and cover letters. Here’s my quick summary of things to know:

Resumes

  • Name, email, phone number, qualifications summary, experience, education, and maybe a skills or volunteer section if your resume is a little light. That’s it!
  • You do NOT need an objective, your address, or any clubs or volunteer work unrelated to your field. Oh, and no soft skills like communication or organization. Sorry.
  • Keep it to one page unless you’ve been in the field for a long time.
  • Designers: we get to be a little more creative than most fields in our resume design. Make it unique but don’t sacrifice readability just to be creative. Infographic resumes are risky – a lot of people really hate them and some bigger companies use automated scanning systems to pick out keywords, which won’t work with a graphic.

Cover Letters

  • Use the job description to write it. Pull out 2 or 3 requirements and then describe how your experiences or work samples fulfill those requirements.
  • There’s a fine line between boring and bizarre. Try to find it. I’ve strayed too far to both sides, so I won’t try to give too much advice here.
  • Try to avoid bullshit and repeating too much of what’s on your resume. Don’t waste anyone’s time.
  • SPELLCHECK!!! This goes for your resume and especially any initial contact emails, as well.

Interviews

  • A lot of this is common sense and experience. Dress slightly nicer than you think the position requires, arrive early, be polite, etc.
  • Practice common interview questions ahead of time, especially if you’re someone who has trouble coming up with answers on the spot.
  • Always follow up to thank the interviewers for their time. Never argue with their decision. Don’t burn bridges.
  • You don’t have to take a job just because it’s offered. Don’t ghost, because that’s a burned bridge, but you can very politely say that you’re going in another direction or whatever.

And don’t just take my word for it. Research online. Here’s a starting point for resumes, cover letters, and interviews.

6. Be Open to Non-Job Opportunities

I have lost track of the number of aspiring designers who have emailed me hoping for a job. I almost always respond to let them know that I’m a one-woman show, so there’s no opening at present, but would they like a portfolio review? No one ever takes me up on this or even responds. Guys. A portfolio review is ALWAYS a good thing! A) You get eyes on your work and if you make a good impression just maybe that person will pass along your information to someone who IS hiring and B) You get feedback that you can use to keep improving, which you’ll need to do to eventually get hired. It’s also good practice for interviewing and a chance to pick a designer’s brain for job hunting tips. Not responding is a huge waste and, like I said in the last point, burns a bridge.

If I could only give you one piece of advice, it would be this: You are responsible for your own continuing education. School doesn’t teach you everything and the best way to keep improving is to actively seek out learning opportunities. Read, watch, listen, and seek out connections with people who can give you advice. You never know where any one particular opportunity will lead.

That’s it! Good luck out in the field!!!

For the more experienced job-seekers among us, what has worked for you? Or if you’re in a position to hire, what do you look for in candidates?