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Graduates – places to go for career support

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Since graduation day, I’ve noticed that there seems to be a massive surge of posts and advice on social media for new graduates from people in the design industry – much more so than in previous years. Perhaps the whole Covid thing has a lot to do with it – after all, those in education have really had it hard over the past 18 months.

Graduates, in particular, have had such a lot to deal with, not just having their place of education shut down for months on end but having to adjust to home learning and facing exams and assessments with little or no peer support. It’s had a significant impact on mental health. So those now transitioning from education to finding their place on the career ladder must be finding it so much more stressful than previous graduates.

I recently wrote a short article about how designers can help and support young people just starting their design careers. Now, I’d like to spin that around and see what information is out there for newly-graduated people looking at career options.

My first observation is that social media, in general, seems to have many posts by designers urging new graduates to remain positive and not give up when looking for placements or work. They recognise that things are tough for everyone at the moment and are more than willing to offer words of encouragement to those just starting out. And beyond that, I’ve seen a lot of useful advice and links to articles and companies to get young people started in their careers.

Most design agencies have a presence on the usual platforms and are willing to hear from graduates seeking advice and work. If you can establish a strong profile on LinkedIn and use it to connect with the kinds of businesses and agencies you want to work with, placing examples of your best work on there, it can be a great starting place and will get you recognised.

Notable advice from around the web

I looked around the web, and a few things stood out that I thought were worth mentioning (how I wish the internet was around when I was graduating the first time around). 

This article on Creative Boom gives some sound advice – and I totally agree with the sentiment that you should always personalise your correspondence. We’ve become used to ‘blanket emails’, in which we basically copy-and-paste our requests to several businesses in the hope that we get some kind of response. But this isn’t the best way to do it – yes, you might think it saves a lot of time and effort when you’re faced with writing to 20, 50, 100 people, but if you can focus your efforts by targeting only those agencies or businesses that you are genuinely keen to work with, learn all you can about them, and then write a personalised email, you’ll get a much more positive response because your message will stand out as being clearly written solely for that person, rather than the copy-and-paste message that they undoubtedly get loads of.

Something else that stood out for me in this article is the point of creating and showing only the kind of designs that apply to the type of agency you want to work for. The example they give is; “If your style looks like Adidas, it’s unlikely to get you a job at Harrods”. That’s a point well made – when you are approaching agencies with a view to working with them, take a good look at the kind of thing they work on, and think about how it fits in with the type of design you want to do. For example, if you are really passionate about designing packaging for corporates, you don’t want to be sending pieces to agencies that focus on branding or web design. They simply won’t be interested.
I recently read this article that made a good point about being resilient, which I think is something that few of us are prepared for when we first graduate. The fact is, many of us, when we leave the safety of education and move into the workplace, are unprepared for it. It can be a bit of a shock to the system when you’re used to working on projects for your own enjoyment and find that you have to comply with other people’s ideas of what design should be. You’ll likely have no experience working with clients or employers, who will often dictate what you will work on and the styles and methods they expect you to use.

There will be agencies who you apply to who simply will not be on board with your particular styles and ideas – and that’s fine. Learn to accept their views and move on. The right job is out there, somewhere, and it might mean that you have to take less than desirable jobs to get the experience needed to get where you want to be.

Seeking support

From my own experience, one piece of advice I’d give is not to be alone. These days, there is such a lot of help, advice, and support out there – take it. Taking that next step can be exhilarating, exciting, and anxiety-inducing, scary, and sometimes soul-destroying. We’ve all been there – and we’ve all come through it (mostly) unscathed. 

Seek out other graduates on social media who you can talk to about your successes and failures – keep in touch with those who were on your course, and seek out those who were not. Make connections with people who have been through it and have made successful careers, and ask them how they did it. When things are good, share your stories. When things are bad, reach out to someone who can give you a fresh perspective and urge you on.

Don’t be afraid to change your mind

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve changed things in my career. You might start a placement that simply isn’t right for you. Or maybe you’ll change your views on the kind of designer you want to be. Just know that that’s always ok. There is always space to change direction. We are creatives, and it’s important that we evolve, even if that means changing what we do and trying things that are totally out of our comfort zone.

The career you think you want right now might be completely different from where you find yourself in ten years. Don’t be afraid of that.

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