As with every industry, getting your first design job can be quite a tough and stressful time. You’ll inevitably face several obstacles, both from companies you’re applying to and from within yourself.
Maybe I’m not good enough for this job? Hmm, do I really want to do this? What if I don’t like UX design after all?
These kind of doubts and questions are all normal, so don’t worry. This good news is that you're not meant to know the answers to these types of questions. You simply have to discover the answers over time as you build up your experience in the design industry.
However, in order to land that first job, there are certainly a few things you can do to increase the likelihood that you attract the right sort of attention. We put our heads together, took advice from other graphic designers, web designers and creative directors that we’ve interviewed, and came up with a step-by-step guide to landing your first design job.
While there aren’t any written rules around the ways that you choose to go about applying for your first job, you obviously want to put yourself in the best possible position to catch the eye of your potential employer.
Don't forget the basics, like showcasing your experience in a resume and cover letter. But in addition to those materials, take the following points as a template and feel free to adjust as you need based on your requirements and preferences.
The optimum employment matrix (if there is such a thing) will probably revolve around the idea that mixing your skills with your interests will result in a job that you thrive at. It’s a simple principle, and for someone applying for their first job, it’s not a bad approach to take.
That said, if you’re unsure what you want to do don’t panic, but you have to actively think about it - only you can figure it out after all. Write down two lists, as long as you can, of skills you have, and then of things that you enjoy or that interest you.
Sleep on the list and gradually whittle it down to the top three interests and skills that you currently have - this will be your starting block from which you determine what jobs you can initially research and potentially apply for.
Yes, the job that you do is important, but finding a company that aligns with your experience and interests, and reflects what you care about or what you consider important is also crucial. You might land the ideal job, but if it’s for a company with employees or a culture that you don’t fit in with, then you’ll struggle to last more than six months.
Therefore, it’s a wise idea to put the hours of research into the companies that align with the skills and interests that you listed. Ensure that the positions fit what you're looking for in your career and the workers align with the environment you want to work in each day. If you're looking for specific agencies, there are resources that all of their information all in one spot, like DesignRush's agency listing.
For example, if you’re considering UX design for the gaming industry, what gaming companies work with clients or projects that you particularly enjoy? Are there any gaming companies that you have an affinity with? Which companies in that industry seem to offer the most opportunity for growth and development in your career?
Creating the perfect portfolio is a dream that most designers hold, but in reality, the catch-22 of the situation is that the “dream” portfolio doesn’t really exist. Your portfolio is a reflection of you and your skills, and there’s no better way to grab the attention of a potential employer than with a beautiful design portfolio that showcases your work history and projects. Take a cue from digital designer and graphic modeling expert Etienne Godiard, who designed an easy-to-navigate portfolio with subtle animations.
That said, creating a portfolio isn’t easy, and it can take time - a point that often puts students or young designers off the idea before it’s too late. Get your portfolio in order before you even begin lining up applications.
You might not have that much in the way of completed project work, but that’s OK - showing off what you’re capable of through your work is a close second, and any potential employer will recognize that you’re only beginning your career so they don’t expect 10 long-term project samples.
When applying for your first design job, you are essentially pitching your potential and enthusiasm to would-be employers. They’re looking at much more than just your grades and academic performance to date, they’re considering:
The best thing you can do in the months (ideally years!) before you apply for your first job is to start getting involved in forum discussions, get active on social channels like Behance, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and participate in community events or publish some of your ideas or work for free.
That’s right, we’re talking about networking - the dreaded ‘thing’ that you apparently have to get good at because… well, in truth it’s because it can seriously help you land a role that you might not ever have had a chance with otherwise.
There’s definitely some truth to the saying “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Much like your online social presence, attending regular networking events as a student is a superb way to showing that you’re actively interested in the industry and are keen to venture into roles that offer more than just a nice pay packet.
Building relationships that last will not only help you on your initial job search, but they’ll hold true throughout your career.
Practice interview questions and get familiar with the recruitment process
Last but not least, don’t forget to practice interview questions. Yes, it’s pretty dull, but ultimately these questions are the part of the process where your potential employer and managers will have a chance to dig deeper than your portfolio or application.
Don’t be afraid to speak to recruiters - they can be a useful aid when it comes to the interview preparation. Also, keep in mind that all those designers you met at your networking events have all been through this. Find out what they experienced when applying for their first, or most recent job, and see if you can learn something (hint: you definitely will learn at least one thing!).
There are a few key steps any budding designer looking to land their first big role should follow, including:
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