How to get in with the in(terior design) crowd

With thousands of students graduating from interior design courses each year, Lucy Painter’s new book aims to help hopefuls into the industry. Here are her top tips for early career success.

“The link between universities and industry can be quite tricky – a lot of people leave education with a degree in interior design, just thinking: ‘What now?’,” says Lucy Painter, director of Studio Recruitment.

After 15 years of working as a recruiter for the interior design sector, Painter has learned a thing or two about landing a job in industry. But while a decade and a half of experience has taught her all she needs to know about sharp CVs and networking, for interior designers just starting out in their career, she says navigating the trade can be a minefield.

In her new book, Painter aims to change this. In With the Interior Design Crowd, she says, is a handbook designed to get designers’ feet “in the door, on site, and under the desk of their dreams”.

Demystifying the perfect portfolio

Motivation for the book comes from Painter’s own experience as a recruiter – wherein she says she has noticed a gap between what candidates are offering and companies are looking for.

“When I put out a job for a junior interior designer, I’ll get maybe 100 applicants come through,” she says. “But of those people, maybe only five, at the most eight, are typically shortlisted for interviews.”

There are, according to Painter, many reasons for this, from not including sufficient sketches, to not explaining the stories behind projects. Throughout the book, she aims to demystify the process by including “sneak peaks” of established designers’ portfolios.

“Grabbing hold of everything that comes your way”

Elsewhere, Painter has profiled 16 interior designers to find out more about their career histories, ranging from home interiors, to retail, to workplace. This is an exercise designed to show those just starting out that the road to their dream job isn’t necessarily a straight line.

“A lot of the time when people start off in interior design, they confine themselves to one particular sector,” she says. “When in actual fact, sometimes it’s just necessary to get experience under your belt, knowing you’ll get to your end goal eventually.”

Of course, she says, passion for one area of the craft is a good thing, but with this she adds: “There are so many different avenues for building a career, and you never know where it might take you.

“Really, this book is about grabbing hold of everything that comes your way.”

And sourcing these opportunities, she says, is about more than just finding a recruiter. Rather, Painter insists that the “old-school” methods are sometimes the best, and trying them out with some of the nearly 300 UK-based studios listed in the book’s directory is a good start.

“Going to events, handing business cards out, networking with people – this is where so many opportunities will come from,” she says, adding: “You can’t build a relationship over email.”

A career-long companion to designers

Conscious of the fact she was creating a book for the design-minded, Painter says she paid close attention to the book’s own design.

“The presentation of a designer is paramount, so there was no point in me making a book that people didn’t want to put on their coffee table,” she says. Designed by Norwich-based studio Ark, the book features a pared back, predominantly pink and white colour scheme with a foil detail on the cover.

It has also been designed with the intention of being a career-long companion to designers, according to Painter. It features a hardback cover and encourages owners to “scribble over it if they want to”.

“We didn’t want a heavy textbook,” says Painter. “We wanted something people could feel comfortable dipping in and out of, something they could carry with them from placement to placement.” Indeed, she adds, though the principle focus is on “getting designers into industry quicker”, there is plenty included for the senior designer who wants to advance further.

Lucy Painter’s advice for career success in interior design

  1. Tailor your portfolio to the company you are applying to and especially when you attend an interview.
  2. Relationships are not built on email; the interiors crowd are a friendly bunch, build your network of contacts by attending industry events and talks.
  3. As a junior try everything – internships are a great way to broaden your experience and build up connections.
  4. Not all projects you are assigned to will be exciting but each one will teach you something and help broaden your skill sets.
  5. Have a point of view, companies love to hear your thoughts and opinions on design related topics at an interview.
  6. Don’t let your portfolio do all the talking at an interview. It’s easy to hide behind your portfolio but employers want to see your passion and hear your thoughts behind your designs, let your personality shine through.
  7. Speak up, if you need a change or a new challenge ensure you communicate this effectively with your manager.

In With the Interior Design Crowd is available to buy from the Studio Recruitment website for £20.

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