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Finding your way into the design industry during the COVID crisis

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Finding a job – particularly your first, permanent one in your desired field – is an intimidating task at the best of times, especially for aspiring design graduates in an already competitive job market. And now, the economic effect of the pandemic has left young people feeling even more uncertain about their futures and career prospects. This really struck home for me.

Having recently graduated from university myself, I can relate to the barriers involved when finding that ideal job, and COVID-19 has added more bricks to this wall. According to a survey of students and graduates by Prospects, 28% have had their graduate job offer deferred or rescinded as a result of the pandemic.

The COVID crisis has given me time to retrace my own steps into my design career and reflect on the journey I took to find my way into the industry. With my experience at hand, I thought it would be helpful to share my tips and advice for those trying to secure their first job in design, at a time when it's even more challenging than usual.

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Get your portfolio ready

With less opportunities for face to face meetings, it's more important than ever that your digital portfolio is a reflection of you and your work. It’s vital that people get to understand who you are, so include your inspirations and motivations. Getting your design work noticed by as many creatives as you can will help you begin building out your network and open up the conversation to create your own opportunities.

After graduating, I started setting up calls/meetings with creatives to get advice on my portfolio. Not only was this insightful but also a valuable learning experience. While it's difficult to organise meetings, reaching out to designers online to share the new work you've added to your portfolio will go a long way and make your name even more memorable. So, get on LinkedIn and start reaching out to the creative world!

Be open-minded to all opportunities

When applying for jobs it’s important to be open-minded to all opportunities the industry offers. With fewer opportunities available, almost half (47%) of the students and graduates surveyed by Prospects are now contemplating a postgraduate course, and 29% are considering a career change.

Considering all job opportunities within the design industry can help you get your foot in the door to kick-start your career and become a more varied designer. You will fit into any area, whether that be digital, product or 3D. Gaining experience in different areas of the industry can ultimately make you become a more desirable candidate to employ and give you the chance to build on the skills they don’t teach you at university, like confidence and resilience.

Be yourself in interviews

As cliché as it may sound, it’s true! The interview process can be a nerve-racking one, and with the added pressure of a potential video interview rather than a face-to-face meeting, it can feel even more daunting. If you have a video interview, it's a good idea to check your camera, sound quality and connectivity to avoid any issues during the call. Make sure you're in a quiet location that will allow you to focus and think about sitting with a simple background to ensure there's no distractions.

Whatever the format of the interview, it’s important to be yourself and prepared, which means having two versions of your portfolio at the ready, digital and printed (that’s if you have an interview in person) as well as any other materials that are valuable. Go the extra mile and make yourself memorable by leaving the interviewer with any other printed assets from your projects other than just your CV – have these available in easily accessible file formats that you can email along with a thank you note if you’re meeting virtually.

Being able to confidently explain your portfolio work will highlight your design thinking and personality. As well as the project highs and fancy renders, you should also briefly highlight some of the difficulties you experienced and how these were overcome.

Do your research

Remember that while the pressure to prove yourself to be the right candidate for the job may feel paramount, it’s also important to come to an interview with an aim to find out if the job is a good fit for you. So do your research and go into the interview ready to explore the opportunity from all sides.

Be mindful of who your interviewer is and read up on the company. It’s good to go in with lots of questions and it gives you the opportunity to find out more about what it would be like to work for them - this Glassdoor survey has some great question ideas for learning more about the company's culture and whether it's right for you.

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Coming out of university you often believe that you have all the knowledge in the world, but in reality, you are only just starting out. In my opinion, the most important thing I have valued and appreciated from being at Brandpie is having industry mentors. Investing in the younger generation is something I would encourage more companies to do.

And if you are a graduate from 2020, big congratulations! I understand that the last 3 to 4 years of university have had their highs and lows, so give yourself a pat on the back and be proud of what you have achieved.

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