Craig Oldham: “Nobody hires d*ckheads just because they do good work”

As the designer releases his new book featuring honest advice for students and graduates trying to break into the industry, he explains why portfolios aren’t the be all and end all of getting a job, and why no wants to work with a wanker.

It’s the final push now. In a matter of mere weeks, wave upon wave of young graduates will be crashing against studio doors, looking for any and every opportunity to start work. I can tell you, it’s terrifying. I can also tell you that even though I’m a good decade into my career, I’m still sensitive to that time and remember it well. Or rather, I have never let myself forget the feelings I felt while going through that period of my life because it was really unsettling.

You move somewhere for three or four years to study in a new place, you’re making new friends, you’ve got no fucking money, you’re learning how to live and you’re growing. It’s a really formative time of your life. Then suddenly, just as all those things are settling down and you’re figuring it out, it all fucking flips again. You have to leave education to try find a job and all of that pressure starts again. I just want to let you know, it’s ok to feel like this.

I know I must sound like some sort of apparitional parent figure, but no one ever tells you this – particularly people already within the industry. Although it might sound impractical (I would struggle to describe how you could implement the advice “it’ll be ok”) it’s these smallest of titbits that make the biggest difference at this time of year. You know, the actual human stuff. So I thought I’d try and share another human tip on getting into ‘the Industry™’.

Now, there’s a lot of stuff flying around about portfolios and presenting yourself, but many of these overlap in my experience. Some of them also contradict each other, which isn’t exactly helpful. What I’ve found is that no matter what folk in the Industry™ say, there isn’t a fundamentally right or a wrong way to address your work. Some treat it as an archive for their projects and essentially document what they did for each piece of work. Others try to express their projects differently in order to “get into that world”, as I’ve heard it called. Neither way works better, but one crucial thing that a lot of people forget is not to rely on your work alone.

When you’re about to graduate, I know it feel likes all people chant at you is “portfolio, portfolio, portfolio”. But as important as your work is, it’s not the only thing that can get you a job. You as a person count too. Your work will get people interested in you, maybe get you an interview, a meeting, or a bit of work from time to time – but things like getting a job or winning new clients also relies on you. Showing work in person isn’t solely about seeing work in person. It’s more to find out about you – what you’re like, how you talk about work, and whether you might be a good fit. Your work can’t help you here, you just have to be yourself.

I have known some designers who relied solely on their work. And even though some of them had absolutely envious, unbelievable work, that failed to convert into jobs or projects because they weren’t prepared themselves. That, or they were complete wankers who nobody liked. But that’s the thing, when it comes down to it no one hires absolute dickheads just because they do good work. Plus, nicer people will generally always improve, because they actually want to.

While it is massively important to prepare your portfolio, it’s ultimately just an extension of you. So be happy with yourself and your approach, and then arm yourself with the best work you can muster.

Note: You may have noticed a couple of little letters hugging onto the word ‘Industry’ throughout the course of this article. Yep, that little ‘T’ and ‘M’. If you’d like to know why they appear, well you’ll just have to read the book to find out now won’t you.

Oh Sh*t… What Now?: Honest Advice for New Graphic Designers costs £17.99, and is available from Laurence King.

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  • andy penaluna April 11, 2018 at 9:52 am

    About time a book like this came out.

    I’ve been an educator and self-employed designer for over 35 years. I covered this stuff from the early 80s because my past students told me how important it was, but suffice to say it wasn’t always an easy journey for those of us who thought this way. The enterprise education is making a huge difference now, and this book makes the needs clear.

    More power to your elbow, and thanks for writing it so enthusiastically too.

  • Carlo del Mazo April 11, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    If he really wanted to help us just graduated designers he will release this document for free and not charge for it in a new book, I see it as a new excuse to make money.

    Also time to go paperless, we have the tech to ditch paper finally, kindle, laptops, iPads, etc.

    Just make a simple pdf with those advices and we graduates will really appreciate this instead of trying to sell us a book in an old way, paper is not cool anymore.

    • J.E April 13, 2018 at 3:40 pm

      The fact you said ‘paper is not cool anymore’ means you really need to buy this book. You’ll find it useful… No one wants to hire a dickhead

    • J Fish April 13, 2018 at 4:59 pm

      You’re an idiot, sorry. The guy still needs to pay his bills and put food on the table. He owes “just graduated designers” nothing. If you feel like you’re not a good enough designer, go watch some free YouTube tutorials or do some free Adobe workshops instead of getting pissed that seasoned designers aren’t going out of their way or sacrificing their royalties to hold your hand.

    • Kirsty April 16, 2018 at 10:23 am

      I do agree that there should be a kindle version of this, but there are many graphic designers out there, including myself, who much prefer the medium of a physical, printed book and will gladly purchase it. However, asking any designer to do work for free undermines the profession. Craig Oldham is an established, talented designer, with a breadth of industry experience and advice to share. Have some respect.

    • Phil Knudsen-Thomas May 1, 2018 at 5:30 pm

      “Paper is not cool anymore”? Mate, you’re in the wrong industry if you really think that!

  • Paul Bailey April 13, 2018 at 9:20 am

    He’s written a book to give advice to new designers. He’s not starting a charity for them!

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