Advice

How to Land a Design Job – Part 1: Choose your Path

posted by Manda 17 Comments

What Do You Mean?

In graphic design, there are many many options when it comes to choosing a career. You can go into web design, print design, advertising design, animation, illustration, etc. Within those facets of design, there are also many different types of companies to choose from. You can work for a print shop, a magazine, a newspaper, a design studio, an advertising agency, and so on. Within THOSE specific places, you can hold many different positions from intern to creative director. It is extremely important that you know what direction you want to go BEFORE you start sending out resumes.


Why do I Need to Choose a Path First?

Once you start down one path in design, you will find it difficult to move away from it. For example, if you start off working for a newspaper, you’ll see that your career will advance — within the newspaper industry. If you start out as a web designer, it will be hard to convince a company to give you a shot as a senior prepress manager. They will be looking for someone with print and prepress experience — not someone who can write clean css. This is why it is important to decide now what type of design job you really want. You don’t want to start your career in a design field that you don’t enjoy because — before you know it — you’ll be stuck in that field, and unhappy. Take the time now to make the decision so you can build the career you really want.


What Type of Design Job Do I Want?

Not sure what you want? Think about what you are really good at. What classes did you excel in? What types of design work do you find enjoyable? Does time fly when you code websites? Can you not get enough InDesign? Do you thrive on tight deadlines and concept work? You want to put yourself in the position to start your career at the bottom of your chosen field of design, so that you can end up on top in that same field.

Still confused about your options? Don’t feel bad — you have many, so it’s hard to be educated about them all. Here are two helpful articles that break down some of the fields of design:

You can also search the want ads and the online job boards for types of jobs in design. Look at the job requirements and duties to see what fits you best.

Another great way to find out about specific careers in the design field is to ask someone working in that position. Call, write, or email a professional working in a job that you think you might enjoy. You won’t believe how open and friendly most designers are — and how willing they are to share advice with new and upcoming designers. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them with your questions — find out first-hand what their daily responsibilities are, how many years they had to work to get to their current position, and what the best and worst parts are of their job.


Be Realistic

Try to be realistic while you are making your decision. Be sure to take into consideration the current and future job market. Is there a big call for Photoshop artists or t-shirt illustrators in your area? Can you really make a living playing video games? How secure will a job at a newspaper be for a print designer in ten years? Can an animator find work in your area, or would you have to move to California? Here is a brief outlook for graphic designers provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Do your own research to find out what types of jobs and design companies are in your area.

You also want to consider your current skillset, your education, and your experience. If you have a BFA in print design, it will be very difficult for you to get a job in animation. If your last job was in web design, you should probably be looking for a web job. If you have limited experience, you shouldn’t expect to get a senior design position. You’ll need to put in more time on the job — probably 5 years or so — to earn a position like this. If you are a new graduate, you will have to start out in an entry-level position. Be realistic and be aware of your talents and experiences when deciding what your next steps should be.


Other Considerations

Worried about which design paths will bring in the most income? Check out this Creative Opera post: How Much Money Do Graphic Designers Make? to get a handle on the best paying design careers. Realistically, you may have to choose between what you love, and what can pay the bills. The choice is yours — but you want to make it yourself, not have it made for you. Think long and hard about what type of life you want for yourself. Personally, I chose what I loved over what would make the most money. But, I have friends who chose the other way — and they go on many more vacations than I do!

What about work hours? Do you have (or want to have) a family? Do you need to be home by 5pm every night, or do you enjoy the challenge of a more demanding work schedule? How do you feel about travel? Most positions with smaller design firms won’t require any travel, while it is hard to get a job in an ad agency without travel requirements.

What about stress or responsibility levels? I love multi-tasking, jumping from project to project, and working under demanding deadlines. It’s fun for me — but it’s not for everyone. Think about how you work best. Do you need to concentrate on one thing at a time? Do you prefer to work alone or in groups? These things will often depend on the size of a company. If you work in a smaller company, you will be required to perform various job duties like managing your own projects, dealing with clients, and sometimes even making sales calls. In a larger company, you may have a more specialized job — working for only one client with a large team. You’ll want to think about what situation would be best for you.


Create Your Path

So what do you do now that you have done all of this research? Now that you have delved deep inside your soul to find out where you belong in the world of design? You need to use all of your new found information to create a path for yourself. Start with your dream job and work backwards.

For example, if my dream job is to become the senior designer at a small prestigious design firm — working mainly on identity design, then that is where I will start. I will find some job openings similar to my dream job, and look at the requirements. How many years of experience do I need? What type of experience do I need? I might even call or email the company and mention that I am just starting out, but someday would like a job like this one, and ask what type of experience they suggest I get to increase my chances of landing a job like this one in the future. I can then use all of this information to create a path from where I am now to where I want to be. I can try to get an entry-level job that will give me the experiences I need to get a mid-level job that will give me the experiences I need to eventually interview for my dream job.

It sounds like a lot of work. I realize that this is the most boring part of the process. But, it is such an important step, and is almost always skipped over. I wish someone had stressed the importance of knowing where I was going when I was starting my career path. The more clear your destination, the easier it is to choose your roads. Take the time and do the research that you need to decide what is going to be right for you. You may not land in the exact job that you hoped for, but taking the time to think through your goals will give you a much better chance at building a career that works with your life and makes you happy.

Continue to Part 2 of the “How to Land a Design Job” series: Get Your Ducks in a Row.

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17 Comments

angel May 19, 2009 at 2:22 am

Thanks for the advice on what career path I should choose, because I am a fine arts student that has lots of questions on what job will I have after I graduate. Thanks this is really an eye opener.

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Samuel May 19, 2009 at 9:45 am

Nice article, very very useful, I’m a graphic design student from El Salvador, your articles open my eyes to a lot of things that I never took on mind before.

Thanks for share your experience.

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How To Land A Design Job - Part 1: Choose Your Path | Design Newz May 19, 2009 at 9:48 am

[…] How To Land A Design Job – Part 1: Choose Your Path […]

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Graphic Design Links and Tutorials May 19, 2009 at 9:48 am

How to Land a Design Job – Part 1: Choose your Path…

As a design instructor, I get asked for advice about one thing more than anything else: how to get a job in design. So, I’ve decided to put together a series of posts for all of my past students, and for all of you other graduates out there, to help in…

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Awesomerobot May 19, 2009 at 9:55 am

I’m not so sure about this. Choosing a path too early can really kill your appeal as an entry level designer – I think it’s best to have a path in mind, but don’t discredit any other skills unrelated to the path that you can pick up. There’s no telling where you can end up, and you really don’t want to eliminate options when the job market is so thin.

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Mike Morgan May 19, 2009 at 10:56 am

Great work – again! It can be hard to focus on paths in the beginning. Like life, setting a general design direction, based on both passion and attraction, then heading towards it, will open up doors and new paths along the way. Internships and school will provide contacts. I recommend helping non-profits and start-ups. Creating independent projects like redesigning a corporate identity that needs it (HP), or a site, or product is a great way to showcase your talents and gain experience.

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Joey Sichol May 19, 2009 at 1:23 pm

I also don’t really agree with the premise that you have to choose a career path first.

People coming out of college don’t usually know what they want to do with their lives, despite even the most nurturing college environment.

Also, with today’s job market, turning down a job because it doesn’t ‘exactly’ match your career path is not the wisest choice.

The best plan is to try to find a company that matches your ideals, offers a good work environment, allows room for growth and is stocked with intelligent people that a new designer can learn from.

Once you know the basics, you can look around at different companies and job openings to find the perfect ‘fit.’ It never hurts to be indispensible, knowing everyone else’s job roles and being able to fill in where needed…

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Mike May 19, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Good article. I think it’s important for students in college to get an internship, even more than one if they can. Don’t wait until your senior year. My internship was at a small magazine. I mostly took it because it was a paid internship, haha, But It wasn’t what I wanted to do, and I wish I would have went somewhere else.

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George May 19, 2009 at 10:34 pm

Great article! Even though some people disagree. It is definitely harder with the job market right now. It’s also hard to judge where a certain career path or company can take you, or even an entire industry for that matter. I actually really like doing what it is I do, but it’s not doing a me whole lot of good with the entire industry I’m in going downhill lately. People are getting laid off, salaries are getting slashed, and the cost of everything is going up. Leaving right now would be like jumping out of the pan and into the fire. That’s why it is definitely important to know where you want to go. Picking the wrong path right now can definitely get you stranded tomorrow.

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Chris May 20, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Great article (as always)!!

I’d have to agree with the other posters. Even if you know what you want (or think you do), you might want to explore other opportunities off that path. I started off in print, then built up Web skills. I even worked for a large format printer in prepress (and doing design). Now, I pretty much code Web things during the day, but my skill set is larger than it would have been had I said “I’ll just stick with print.” And I probably wouldn’t have the job I have (thanks Manda 🙂

Also, it might be wise for a young designer to get into a bunch of different industries as well for portfolio boosting.

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Setting a Path and How to Get a Design Job « Katanaville May 20, 2009 at 2:07 pm

[…] These are the steps laid out before you in How to Land A Design Job, Part One […]

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Manda May 20, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Hi Everyone,

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments!! For those of you who disagree with my advice to do some research and find a path for yourself before jumping into the job search, I can completely see where you are coming from. It looks like I should have been a little bit more clear with my reasoning for this step. This is not meant to be a concrete path that you are chained to for the remainder of your career. And, it’s not meant to be such a narrow path that you completely limit your options. Of course the industry will evolve, your skills will build, and your career will move with those changes accordingly. And, if you read any of my other posts geared toward design students, you’ll see that I am always advising that all designers have as many different skills in their pocket as possible.

The reason I do believe it is important to get a handle on where you want to go in your career is because it is going to make your chances of landing a job much better. You can’t send the same generic resume out (or show the same portfolio) for every type of design job. The more you can gear your resume and portfolio to the field that you want, the better. If you don’t know WHAT you want, that is going to make things difficult.

Not only will having a direction in mind help you to impress a potential employer in your cover letter, resume, and portfolio, but it will also help you in the interview process. An employer wants to know what you want to do and where you want to go — and they are hoping that you want to do the job they are hiring for. You can’t (unfortunately) go into an interview and say, “I’ll do anything. I’m good at everything. Just give me a job.” They want someone who is focused, and who is focused in the right field.

Plus, there is a 99% chance that you’ll get the “Where do you want to be in ten years?” question, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a well thought-out answer 🙂

Now, I’m NOT saying that you should focus yourself so tightly that you give up on all other skills. In fact, employers appreciate a well-rounded designer. I’m not saying that you should turn away jobs that ask you to do more than one type of design work, and I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be willing to branch out and learn new things when your employer asks you to. I’m not even saying that you have to stick to your plan.

Step one is really just meant to give you a good solid structure (a direction) for the remaining steps: the cover letter, the resume, the portfolio, job hunting and the interview — it’s not meant to be life-altering or opportunity-stifling. Hopefully that will become more clear as we progress through the steps, because I do agree with you — you can’t plan your life out like a roadtrip. It wouldn’t make sense, and it wouldn’t be any fun. I’m just recommending that you have a destination in mind 🙂

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Arbenting's Weekly Inspiration and Best of the Web #6 | Arbenting May 24, 2009 at 5:47 pm

[…] How to Land a Design Job – Part 1: Choose your Path – As a design instructor, I get asked for advice about one thing more than anything else: how to get a job in design. So, I’ve decided to put together a series of posts for all of my past students, and for all of you other graduates out there, to help in your quest for a job in graphic or web design. […]

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Rayna June 1, 2009 at 4:13 pm

Thanks for this article Manda, It really helps, personally I just want a job that allows me to be creative and come up with ideas and problem solve, but I can see how that would hinder me. I thought by not being too picky it would increase my chances of getting a job in the creative field but by knowing exactly where I want to go will increase my drive to get there, thanks a lot, I have a lot of digging to do.

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Rayna June 1, 2009 at 4:14 pm

Rayna :
Thanks for this article Manda, It really helps, personally I just want a job that allows me to be creative and come up with ideas and problem solve, but I can see how that would hinder me. I thought by not being too picky it would increase my chances of getting a job in the creative field but by knowing exactly where I want to go will increase my drive to get there, thanks a lot, I have a lot of digging to do.

Reply
How to Land a Design Job – Part 2: Get your Ducks in a Row | Creative Opera Design Blog: Creative Advice and Inspiration for Graphic Designers and Web Designers July 7, 2009 at 10:23 am

[…] missed part 1 of the How to Land a Design Job series, you may want to go back and take a look at: How to Land a Design Job — Part 1: Choose your Path.) […]

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Arbenting's Weekly Inspiration and Best of the Web #6 » Arbenting - The Act of Being Creative March 24, 2010 at 6:05 am

[…] How to Land a Design Job – Part 1: Choose your Path – As a design instructor, I get asked for advice about one thing more than anything else: how to get a job in design. So, I’ve decided to put together a series of posts for all of my past students, and for all of you other graduates out there, to help in your quest for a job in graphic or web design. […]

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