Graduates: How to land a job at a dream studio

PepsiCo’s former design director of global beverages Paul Woodvine is now managing creative director at design consultancy Vault49. Here he shares his best tips on standing out and finding the job you want.

This summer, tens of thousands of people will graduate from UK design courses, hungry to start their careers. Over the next few weeks they’ll be making vital decisions that will shape not only the next few months of their lives, but the rest of their careers. No pressure then.

Having sifted through plenty of CVs I know what can make or break an opportunity for a fledgling designer looking to land – and keep – an engaging, exciting role. Here, I offer some advice on how to pick the right studio to work for, how to stand out in the selection process, and how to make an impression in those crucial early weeks.

Be selective

Here’s the truth – seeking a job and seeking a dream job are totally different things. Too many graduates fire off their CV to as many places as they can find, creating a pile of passionless, generic cover letters that hiring managers cringe to read.

To find and win your dream job, you need to know what that is. Do you want to push deeper into your area of focus, or explore different skills and techniques? Do you want to have your own projects and seek new design opportunities, or keep a regular 9-5 schedule? Focus on agencies that fit your goals.

Culture and environment are key to job satisfaction, too. It’s worth looking at the CV/portfolio of some potential co-workers and see if they have inspiring social accounts you’d want to follow. You can even reach out to people who already work there to get a real feel for the studio.

Tailor your portfolio to each interview

The portfolio, not the CV, makes the real first impression.

Studios and brands aren’t interested in a generic tour through your portfolio – many graduates will have similar work to show, based on briefs from university courses, so the trick is to find a way to make your work fresh and unique to each agency.

What we want to know is why a piece is relevant to us. Showing an understanding of and interest in the agency’s clients and culture makes a huge impact.

We look for talented designers who can articulate the process to us, who can explain the brief, and how they answered it.

We want people who can add to our conversations. Dialogue is key to a community and that’s what we’re all looking to build – a collective of creative people that fosters new ideas.

Use social wisely

One of the first things I look at in potential employees are their social feeds. I ask myself: How could the work I’m seeing add value to the work we do for our clients? Do they follow the same people as I do? Is there a passion for design? Will they be hungry to deliver disruptive work?

I like to see applicants who are engaging and experimenting in the design field in new and interesting ways. Their socials can offer a glimpse into their creativity and personality in a way an interview or graduate portfolio never could. Knowing how to show off your work online, using the right hashtags to engage with the wider design community, and viewing your feed as a canvas to challenge yourself and grow creatively will show employers what you’re all about.

At PepsiCo, one applicant wowed me when she spent hours of her time creating an entire project around the brand, and displayed it brilliantly on her Insta-feed. It communicated her desire and ability to work for us, specifically. Hiring her was a no-brainer.

Continue to feed your passion and curiosity

Once you’ve landed that job, hold on to it by following through on what you promised in your application. You’ve got to continue to engage, impress, and share the infectious passion that got you hired.

Join in, have conversations, take projects that stretch your expertise. Ask how you can help. Ask for advice and support. For me, connecting with a mentor was an invaluable resource when I transitioned from studying to working.

Most importantly, don’t forget that while this is a critical time in your career, it should be fun too. At our NYC and London studios we work hard, but we all turn up every day excited by the people around us and the work we create. Put the effort in now and you may find a job that excites you too.

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