Nail that post

When it comes to landing that first design job, graduating is just the first stage of an extended journey that takes in internships, networking and blogs. Suzanne Hinchliffe quizzes designers, recruiters and former graduates about the challenges facing the creatives of tomorrow

You’re a fledgling designer who has poured blood, sweat and tears into your studies. You’ve graduated with flying colours and are brimming with creative talent. But now you’ve reached the tricky part – how to get a job.

The design industry has managed to weather the storm of recession by making cuts and redundancies, but this has made the past 18 months particularly difficult for graduates. ’With a limited number of opportunities it has become increasingly difficult to break into the market at entry level,’ says Jim Hunter, of recruitment agency Mac People.

However, things are starting to look more positive – according to recent figures from recruitment agency Major Players, graduate positions have risen almost 10 per cent from a year ago.

So where do you start? Designers and recruitment agencies tend to offer the same advice – a good portfolio and a professional (and spell-checked) CV are must-haves. The Brand Union creative director Glenn Tutssel recommends sharpening a portfolio by showcasing three great pieces of work, because ’too many can water down the impact’.

When approaching potential employers graduates should be concise and straight-talking, as ’no consultancy has the time to deconstruct an overcomplicated e-mail’, explains Nick Couch, creative director of Figtree. A quirky or attention-grabbing mailshot can prove fruitful. ’I once employed a designer who had taken a photograph of our office and made it into a postcard featuring the words “Wish I was there”,’ says Tutssel. Once through the door, hopefuls should sell their portfolio, show strong presentation skills and demonstrate a professional attitude.
Internships can help hone design skills while first-job seekers search for that lucky break. According to a recent survey from University of the Arts London – How the Recession is Affecting Graduate Recruitment in the Creative Industries – 80 per cent of last year’s graduates found a job through work experience and word-of-mouth.

But it is vital that graduates know their rights. Laura Woodroffe, director of education and professional development at D&AD, warns, ’You should never accept an unpaid placement as it is bad practice for the industry – a bit like free-pitching.’ Lesley Morris, head of design skills at the Design Council, agrees. ’It’s incredibly unfair and unethical for graduates to work for free for a long period of time. You can show professionalism by asking about expenses, appraisal feedback and prospects of jobs,’ she says.

The consensus from the industry is that networking is a key skill that graduates need to master. ’It may sound obvious, but networking is essential to be successful and to open doors,’ says Morris.

Regular networking events such as Glug, Bladdered and D&AD’s Sharp’ner are ideal for building relationships in an informal setting. According to Isobel Dennis, director of New Designers, such contacts are critical in providing a competitive edge because ’clients want to work with people they like, trust, and who understand their needs’.

Meanwhile, Couch notes that the recession has changed graduates’ behaviour as they become more opportunistic. ’There is often loads of pressure to “get a job”, but increasingly I’m seeing a breed of graduates happy to do their own thing, such as visiting workshops and fairs, and collaborating with friends,’ he explains. Shellsuit Zombie, for example, was set up by a group of graduate creatives to help promote, inspire and advise graduating design students.

Graduate fairs and festivals are increasingly common. Futurising offers networking and recruitment opportunities for creative graduates, for example, and D&AD’s New Blood and the London Design Festival’s graduate showcase Emerge are great platforms for new talent.

Social media can also play an important role in finding a job, according to Andy Budd, founding partner of Clearleft. ’There is value in setting up a blog,’ he suggests. ’Experiment with your work and talk about design processes. This gives a hint to potential employers about your abilities.’
Finally, getting to know the industry and the different areas to work in is pertinent – if obvious – advice. Poppy Chenevix-Trench, a consultant at Major Players, suggests, ’Scanning trade journals will keep you up-to-date about new consultancies, who is winning business and who is advertising for staff.’

In the end, getting a job is like tackling a new project – from setting a brief to being organised and staying enthusiastic. Tutssel concludes, ’We need young great talent, so don’t give up.’


_Graduate fairs and festivals


Graduates can participate in London Design Festival’s graphic design showcase, 18-26 September. Deadline for submissions: 2 July

D&AD’s New Blood

This is a showcase of the best final-year graduates from D&AD’s University Network, 25-28 June


This festival is led by the London College of Communication, and offers opportunities and information for all creative graduates, 29-30 June

Designers Northern Alliance

This two-day event is designed to bring together the creative industry and academia in the North of England, 24-25 June



Shellsuit Zombie
A project run by graduate creatives encourages interaction between graduating students and the creative industry.

Aimed at students and professional industrial designers, Core 77 publishes articles and holds discussion forums as well as hosting portfolios, job listings, event calendars and a database of design consultancies
Setting up on my own as Lucy Brown Studio felt like the right thing to do after graduating. I now work in a converted stable in Cheshire. The space is a typographic curiosity shop of sorts, surrounded by the beauty of the countryside. My environment has always been important to my output. It’s not easy, but I’m busy and content, which is worth a lot.


_Top tips from recruitment agencies

Make sure that your portfolio is well constructed and fluid – each piece should have an engaging story behind it.

Jim Hunter, Mac People

Being proactive is the most valuable advice – a job is not going to fall into your lap, so go out and get it.

Poppy Chenevix-Trench, Major Players

The old adage ’You only get one chance to make a good impression’ holds true – so make the most of every contact.

Fiona Watson, Gabriele Skelton



Design Week asked five 2009 design graduates what they did to get on the career ladder, and how they are getting on one year later

_Lucy Brown
_BA in graphic design: typography, London College of Communication

Setting up on my own as Lucy Brown Studio felt like the right thing to do after graduating. I now work in a converted stable in Cheshire. The space is a typographic curiosity shop of sorts, surrounded by the beauty of the countryside. My environment has always been important to my output. It’s not easy, but I’m busy and content, which is worth a lot.

_Geoff Marsh
_BA in product and furniture design, Kingston University

I started to apply for jobs in the last few months of my degree at Kingston University, and e-mailed my portfolio to a number of consultancies, including Pure Digital. I had a series of interviews with Pure, and started work as an industrial designer in its product development team last August. My contract ends this July, though, so I will be job-hunting again soon.


_Ruth Pearson
_BA in graphic design, University College Falmouth

After graduating, I decided to apply for This is Emerge. It was a great opportunity to get exposure, which is what I needed. Winning the Emerge graduate award not only boosted my confidence and profile, but also helped me get a job at Smith & Milton where I am now working on a number of amazing, high-profile projects.


_Philippa Mothersill
_MA/MSc in industrial design engineering, Royal College of Art

Preparation is key. The hard part of finding a job in the industry is developing a great portfolio that will stand out. Getting a contact where you’re applying doesn’t hurt either. Once you’ve shown how valuable your skills are during an internship, securing the job should be straightforward. I have been working at Gillette as a design engineer since last September.


_Guillaume Drapier
_MA/MSc in industrial design engineering, Royal College of Art

I saw a job advertised on the Royal College of Art intranet as a hardware project manager at Ubisoft in Paris. I applied and one week later had my first interview. The process was pretty tough, but I did a lot of preparation and two years at the RCA had given me the experience of presenting my work. Two months later I signed my contract with the company.




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