As spring approaches and my Facebook feed fills with graduation photos the familiar sounds of ‘pump and circus’ echo in my head. In May of 2014, 4 years ago, I graduated with a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts with a concentration in Graphic Design. I made it through the rigorous obstacle course that is known to many as the senior thesis. A year long process for visual and performing art students demonstrating what they have learned during their journey. I was ready to graduate and begin my career as a graphic designer filled with much hope and joy. At the time I imagined I would hit the ground running and jump right into a 'forever job'. That was not the case and after four years of treading water I finally feel like I’m starting to progress in my career. It goes without saying that there is still much to learn and achieve but here are some things I learned along the way that I hope can help new designers and creatives entering the field.
Take your time
You will hear this over and over but it's story time so listen up. About 2 weeks after graduating I was in contact with a recruiter working to find me a job. After a few phone calls and interviews I landed a 6-month freelance contract working with a notable brand. This meant I had a paycheck, I could start paying off my student loans, and moving out of my parents slowly inched closer.
Looking back on it now though, I wouldn’t have taken that job. Not because it was terrible work or I disliked my team. That was completely the opposite, I learned so much during this campaign and I made some really great friends along the way. Jumping right into a job after school immediately sped up adulthood. This meant that I was obligated to make payments on my student loans, car, cell phone, etc. Sure this sounds great but jumping right into a job also meant that I had to put things like traveling to the side.
Do your self a favor and take the time to do something other than what you have been doing the last year in school. Travel, practice yoga, work on a farm, do anything but what you just did for the last 3-4 years. Give your mind and your body time to refresh before jumping into something that could potentially mean you won't have a break for a while.
Rome wasn’t built in a day
While at school I learned about so many amazing design studios and firms all over. I repeatedly tried to get my foot in the door for an internship at one of these places but had no luck. New York is really competitive but now that I was graduating I thought for sure I would have a chance of getting a job at one of these places.
That was not the case. Again I was met with rejection and sometimes no response at all. It sucked and this cycle went on for a while but ultimately I didn’t let it get me down. I continued sending emails to studios and even started setting up coffee dates with other designers in the area. I wanted to learn as much as possible from anyone that would take the time to talk with me. Over time I learned that if this was something I truly wanted I was going to have to stick with it and forget giving up. I would have to work harder than other designers that were also looking for the same breaks. If that meant late hours and long nights then that's what it would take.
Take the sh*tty jobs
My definition of a 'shitty job': A project or request that you would normally deny due to a lack of budget or creative freedom. Not sure if that is good enough but I hope it suffices.
Yes. Take the shitty jobs especially if that means a little money in your pocket. I learned this very quickly after graduating but there will be a ton of boring jobs before you see one 'good' project and in my case thats all I got for a long time. I was getting referrals through Facebook and family friends that saw I had just graduated but they weren't the kind of projects that I really wanted take on. I wanted the big shiny identity projects but who would hire a young kid like myself from a small town in New Jersey to handle their bussiness’s identity?
I could have easily said no to every message or email that came in but what else was I going to do? Buy an Xbox and achieve the 10th prestige in some FPS? Buy sneakers I didn't really need? I wanted to be a kickass designer like Paula Scher and Michael Beirut and neither of those things were gonna help me get there. You could say these 'shitty jobs' haven't helped me get there either but I would disagree. Taking on every small project that came my way taught me a lot. It taught me how to manage my time, how to communicate with others, and sharpened my skills.
Don't be afraid to Freelance
In my first point I mentioned I was ready to graduate and jump into my forever job that would lead me through the rest of my life until I was retired and old. I was born in the 90s and growing up I became familiar with parents that would hold down jobs for a long ass time. Of course times were different and my parents were raising a family with three kids. Naturally I had grown to think that after graduating I would get hired at a job and stay there forever.
Let's just say that I learned the term freelance very quickly. I thought I was 'supposed' to find a job that would offer me benefits and job security so I avoided freelance gigs a lot. I would work with recruiters occasionally who would have freelance roles open but I would turn them down because it wasn't 'secure'. What I realize now is that I should've taken more of the freelance jobs. Freelancing is a great opportunity to network and gain experience on a wide variety of projects. If I think of how I have gotten my last couple of full-time position or side projects. It is almost 90% from my network of which I met at other jobs. As long as you are in good favors with the people you work with and prove that you are reliable and talented. More than often the community around you will take notice and support you.
As the saying goes 'Hindsight is 20/20' and as a designer graduating it can be a very exciting time but also a very stressful time. I hope this helps you along as you begin to make the transition and grow as a creative in this wonderful field that we so much love.