Getting a head start in design

If you’ve just graduated, the most important rule in the job-hunting jungle, as in education, is ‘do your research’. Know your prey, says Torben Dunn

Getting the company name right also helps. I recently had an application from a talented individual who ‘really admired what we did’, but then asked if we had any positions going at a completely different company. An easy mistake, if you’re applying to many design consultancies at the same time but, remember, it’s just as easy for recipients to write you off too. First impressions do matter – displaying dash and verve is hugely important, but careless mistakes are hard to ignore.

Make the most of your opportunity. At Elmwood, we invest a lot of time in graduate recruitment. The stars that come through every year are our future lifeblood. It’s worth that effort, but with all the other pressures on our time we have to make quick, intuitive judgements. What frustrates me most is that I see so many talented, passionate individuals who miss out because of simple, basic errors. They stub their toes on the industry door with applications that are, at best, muddled and incorrectly addressed or, at worst, inappropriate.

One of the most fundamental things to remember is that it’s as much about what’s right for you as what’s right for us. If you’ve seen work that inspires you, find out which consultancy created it and approach it. It’s far better for both parties that you start your career somewhere that works on the kind of projects that make you leap out of bed in the morning.

This research is important. I’m sure I speak for all potential employers by saying we would much rather have a thoughtful, dedicated application from someone who has seen our work, engages with our attitude, understands what makes us different and feels they have something to add to us in particular. E-mails which start ‘Dear Sir/Madam, got any jobs?’, and have 50 other companies on the mailing list, don’t turn us on. Think of it like dating – how would you like to be on the receiving end of an ‘anyone will do’ message?

So, where do you go for guidance? This is where your college should come in. I’m sure there are many tutors, lecturers and course leaders who take an avid interest in helping their charges make the leap from education to employment. But, many don’t seem to place enough emphasis on simple how-to-get-a-job best practice. While I’m a strong advocate of using initiative, it does appear that something is amiss when so many designers graduate seemingly unprepared, dipping their toes tentatively and randomly in the water.

Placements aside, initiatives such as the portfolio surgeries at D&AD New Blood are great places to pick industry brains, but these should be there to supplement regular, ongoing advice from your colleges – ask for it.

Putting your best foot forward is easier if you keep focused. The applications that stand out are those that engage us quickly, the ones that get passed around for all the right reasons. An intelligent, thoughtful, creative, bespoke (and correctly spelled) approach will always catch the eye of the right person. Attach a few examples of your work. The thrill of seeing the ‘I wish I’d done that’ piece, alongside others flowing with big ideas, ideas and more ideas, is one we take great pleasure in, doubly so if the attraction is mutual.

One final thing. To all of you graduating this year, the very best of luck in getting your dream job. Luck is often made. Just try not to get trodden on by those pesky deer in the process.




Torben Dunn is group design director of Elmwood

• First impressions count – don’t let yourself down with careless mistakes. Get the person’s name and the consultancy name right. Always check your application before you send it
• It’s about you too – apply to companies that really appeal to you. It’s important that the fit’s right for you and you start your career somewhere you’ll enjoy working
• That means research – no matter how tempting, don’t do blanket applications. Prepare. Find out what companies are about. Which ones appeal, and why? Use this information in your application. Tailor each one. Your application’s more likely to stand out and you’re more likely to make the right move
• Ask for advice – don’t be afraid to use the people around you to get a feel for what it’s like out there. Talk, ask questions, get experience and insights wherever you can
• Be focused – use this checklist with every application you make. And think about how you can impress. Attach examples of your work. Create your own briefs, if you need to. Take the initiative. There’s nothing like a great idea to get people excited

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