20 Ways to Prepare For a Career in Graphic Design

Many design students have a hard time transitioning from student to employees simply because of a lack of preparation. With the graphic design industry being so competitive, it’s important to make yourself stand out from your competitors. Graphic design is a fast-growing industry that requires a lot of skills from employees. Many students struggle with a real graphic design job because they don’t know what to expect and become overwhelmed. No matter what stage you are at in your career progression, we have complied a list to better help you prepare for your career.

1. Go to School

There are very few young graphic designers that have such a good combination of skills and awareness to be successful right out of the gate. Having a graphic design degree is a great accomplishment and many employers will weigh more heavily on the fact that you have a certificate compared to someone else. You still need a strong portfolio, but having a graphic design degree under your belt will be impressive.

2. Work Hard

Getting your first job out of graphic design school will be hard work. There is plenty of work out there, but you have to be proactive about your future and search for it. If you do the proper research and connect with the right people in the industry, it will be easier for you to chase down people who will be in the position to offer you a graphic design job.

3. Figure Out Your Specialization

There are many faucets to graphic design – logo design, business card design, brochure design, identity and branding, magazine and book design and advertising. Find out which channel you enjoy the most and work best in. Having a specialization will help you stand out when you’re preparing for your career as a graphic designer.

4. Plan Out Your Courses

Plan out your courses for what will best fit your schedule and lifestyle. If you want to start working sooner, work with school counsellors to fast track your graphic design program so you can start working sooner. If you wish to get more classes to expand your design knowledge (which never hurts anyone), you can also work this into your program.

5. Be Nice

Being nice will get you far in the industry. As you prepare for your career as a graphic designer, remember that many employers are extremely busy. When calling, e-mailing and interviewing with possible employers, remember to be courteous because they are taking the time out of their day to talk with you. Treat people with respect and you’re more likely to get the same in return.

6. Network

Networking is one of the most important things you can do as a graphic design student and the sooner you start, the better. #5 and #6 are connected – if you’re nice to people they are more likely to refer you to someone for a job. Keep in touch with your network of contacts and genuinely be friendly.

7. Master Your Software

Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign are tools you should be familiar and comfortable with. Most employers will expect you to know these tools once you graduate.

8. Take Advantage of Resources

Many of these types of services are not taken advantage of at college. The services are there for a reason – to help you. If you are looking for a job, help with a resume, interview skills, etc. they will more than happy to help you.

9. Do Side Projects or Freelance

The best way to get experience when you are young is to create your own personal projects or freelance on the side. This is also a great way for students to make some extra cash while attending graphic design school. Side projects are a good way to add work to your portfolio that is completely yours. Freelancing is a great way to work on real-world design projects with real clients. Use these experiences as a way to refine and sharpen your skills.

10. Look for Criticism

Nobody’s designs are perfect. That’s why seeking out other people to search for your mistakes is a good way to develop your skills. It may be tough receiving feedback at first because it can feel like your work is being personally attacked. Remember to differentiate yourself from your work and to use it to improve.

11. Find Graphic Design Internships/Placements

Experience is one of the best ways to make yourself stand out. Experience is what will put you on top of the resume pile at graphic design agencies. E-mail or call graphic design agencies you’d like to get the best experience from. Many agencies will take interns without advertising for them (and they may even pay you).

12. Read

Reading is one of the best skills you can inherit when preparing for your career as a graphic designing. Many elements of the design industry change so fast that you’re going to need to be able to keep up with the latest standards. Professionally speaking, reading books and internet articles will make you a smarter designer.

13. Learn Business

Being knowledgable in general business terms will prove to be valuable later in your career. If you ever want to go full-time freelance, you’re going to have to know how to run a business. Taking classes such as economics, marketing, advertising and business communication will be beneficial for you.

14. Be Original

You need to have a personal style. Without you, you can get lots within the hundreds of graphic design students that might be applying for the same jobs you are! A good way to differentiate yourself is to brand yourself. Brand your portfolio, your e-mails, your resume and cover letter and your social media presence. Be consistent across all of them.

15. Have a Portfolio

Not having a portfolio won’t get you very far in the graphic design industry. Portfolios are a way to brand yourself and promote your services. If you don’t have many portfolio pieces, create side projects for yourself, work for friends and family or freelance with real clients.

16. Have a Resume & Cover Letter

Even through some say the resume is now dead in the design industry, it’s still good to have one. If a graphic design job exceeds a number of applications, they won’t have time to look at your design portfolio. Rather, they will just look at your resume to see if you have the minimum requirements for the position. In your cover letter remember to include who you are, why you’re contacting so-and-so and why you want to work at that graphic design
agency.

17. Follow People That Inspire You

Following people you admire is important because it can be a constant source of inspiration. Twitter is a great community for graphic designers because you can easily follow all the “leaders” in the graphic designer industry.

18. Make a List of Places/People You Want to Work For

If one of your goals is to work for a specific agency, do your research before you even graduate. Are they looking for designers? How big is their company? How many employees do they have? What type of work do they normally produce and is it your style? Is the company environment somewhere you can see yourself fitting in?

19. Attend Events

Being active online is great, but meeting others and attending events offline is a great way to connect with the community. Although many of these conferences are rather expensive for graphic design students, if you can attend one, take advantage of it.

20. Do Research on Job Requirements

Job requirements for graphic designers will change slightly from one company to the next. This is a good way to prepare for your career because it lets you know what you should expect on the job. If you don’t know what your employers will be demanding of you, it can be a nerve-racking experience transitioning from student to employee.

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