Beating the graduate blues

Don’t despair if it seems impossible to get that first
break after leaving college – Jane Trustram got one, and she offers her best advice

I am now in my third year of watching graduates emerge bleary-eyed from the comfort of their colleges into the big, bad design industry. Four years ago I was one of them. Armed with my BA (Hons) and bags of enthusiasm, I was ready to take on the world. Then I stumbled. I found myself in the situation that, every year, thousands of design graduates find themselves in. Confused. Unprepared. Getting impatient. Little did I know, I was not the first and certainly not the last graduate to be going through the seemingly hopeless task of trying to get on to the first rung of the ladder towards being a graphic designer.

And now that, having made it through all of that, I’m on the other side, enjoying my fulfilling career, it was worth the grind. However, I’m particularly interested to follow the discussions that emerge regarding students and their introduction to the industry. Designers are quick to criticise graduates. I put my hand up to being guilty of this too, before I check myself and remember what it’s like to be in their situation.

A couple of days ago, a CV with some work samples came through the post and found its way to my desk. First, the name of the company was spelt wrong. Second, it was addressed to ‘the Manager’, third it was printed on practically toilet paper. I was shocked at how dreadfully this graduate had presented themselves and it went straight in the bin.

A couple of hours later it was still playing on my mind and I fished it out and wrote the graduate in question a quick e-mail with a few of my thoughts on the presentation of their work. It took five minutes. After all, if I hadn’t told this guy, who would? He would have continually sent it out to designers, only for it to find its way to the bin, leaving him wondering why no one was giving him a chance.

It is important for designers and graduates to both make the effort to work towards a mutually positive goal.

Graduates, there are many things you can do to increase your chances of generating interest in your work samples and CV. I don’t need to stress the importance of checking spelling or finding the name of a contact within your company of choice. Remember, designers are sent promotional material every day from various people, not just graduates, demanding their attention. Printers, image libraries, photographers, freelances. How do you stand out from all of that and make someone take notice? A cleverly executed, simple, punchy concept will often grab a designer’s attention. Once you have their attention, don’t put pressure on them. Designers are under enough pressure from clients, deadlines and budgets to be inclined to shy away from any further demands.

My advice would be, don’t ask for a job or a work placement. The answer will, more often than not, be no. Ask if they can take 15 minutes to give you a portfolio critique, suggest a time when you would be available to pop in. Chances are, you will get a more positive response from this and if they like your work, they may well offer you a placement or even a job. It is important to get your portfolio seen by as many people as possible. It is also important to follow up any contact, first with an e-mail, then with a phone call. Show you are keen. Finally, know your industry. Read publications, research companies, subscribe to blogs. Knowledge is power and you will stay motivated, inspired and up to date with the goings on of an ever-evolving industry.

Designers equally need to do their bit. Take 15 minutes once or twice a week to have a look through some work samples and e-mail back some feedback or even invite a graduate in for a portfolio review. You may be pleasantly surprised. The enthusiasm and creativity from college-set briefs can be very refreshing.

Also, be patient. Remember that they are the fledglings of the industry, still finding their wings. See through a badly executed project to the raw idea lurking below. Identify creative talent and remember that the technicalities can be taught to bring this graduate up to scratch. It is a small sacrifice, but it can make a big difference.

As designers, it is our responsibility to support emerging talent. Graduates are the future, but they will need direction from the more experienced to sculpt them into professional designers.

Jane Trustram is founder of new concept lecture series How To Get a Job in Graphic Design

Securing your first post

• Target companies that are relevant to your style of work

• Don’t send your whole portfolio – keep it to a handful of key projects and retain some new work to show for critique sessions

• Stay in touch with people you meet along the way. Some people call it networking. I call it making friends

• Keep designing. Find competition briefs, set yourself projects, team up with friends, start a collective and get involved in graduate schemes. There’s plenty out there to keep you busy and motivated

• Stay positive. If you really want it you’ll get there in the end

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