As the end of my senior year loomed, I began to agonize over what would happen after I walked across the stage on graduation day. My spring internship was ending the same week as school, so I would be going from frantically busy to worryingly complacent in a matter of days.
Fast forward to now. It’s the end of August. I’m thrilled to be part of the kickass team here at Shatterbox. My dream of working for a design agency is bafflingly already a reality.
But here’s the thing. The mindset of the worried student is so fresh it’s the perfect time to offer as much advice as I can about transitioning from student designer to working designer.
1. Figure Out Who You Are & Embrace It
We’re going introspective right off the bat. I love professional wrestling. (Yep, the one with the men in spandex.) I loved wrestling when I was younger, but rejected it as “kid stuff” in middle school. Then in college, I rekindled the passion. I mention this because it was a part of me that I had to learn to embrace. The rediscovery impacted my design, and that bolstered a unique side of my portfolio.
This applies to more than personal identity; it impacts your identity as a designer too. If you love branding, take on some projects outside of school. Same goes for illustration, motion graphics, web, whatever. If you’re interested in something, and it has design potential, go for it. The worst thing that can happen is you learn something new. Motivation to hone a new side of your craft almost always shows a drive that employers find compelling.
2. Get Better at Talking to People
People like people. In an industry that luckily isn’t super stiff or annoyingly professional, it’s good to know how to have simple conversations. My best interviews have always gone conversational at some point. My interview here at Shatterbox was an hour, and we talked so much my lips were chapped by the end of it. That’s a great sign because ultimately part of the decision isn’t just based on your portfolio. It’s based on you.
So, when you do get an interview, remember that it’s not a test. Interviewers are likely to ask you questions just so they can get to know you. Don’t freak out when they ask you what your favorite movie is or what you like to do on the weekends.
3. Make a Legitimate Physical Portfolio
Oh man, I would not have said this two years ago. I would have emphatically contended “everyone has a computer now, they can just pull up my website!” While that may be true, interviews I’ve done with a physical portfolio have been leaps and bounds more successful than those without. And I have a few of guesses as to why.
First, you look prepared. There’s nothing better than confidently walking into an interview with something other than your resume in tow. Second, flipping through the pages of a well-crafted book creates a tactile experience for the reviewer, which sets you apart from the screen-jockeys. Last, a physical portfolio is another piece of work that showcases your talent.
4. Have a Passion Project
There’s a piece of work in my portfolio that gets more attention than anything else…and I didn’t create it for a class. It’s branding for my Twitch and YouTube channel, DormStreams. When it comes to passion projects, employers appreciate both the ability to carry a project through a long development and the desire to create.
5. Build A Personal Brand
Most students will have to do this at some point during their curriculum, but put some effort into it now, no matter where you’re at in school. Your brandmark doesn’t have to be your initials combined in some clever way. My logo is my first name, all lowercase with a period at the end. My brand is larger than that though: It’s a shade of pink. It’s a picture of me shirtless as a kid in front of an early 2000s PC. It’s Futura Bold set on pink gradient-mapped images. (My Thank You card is “Thank You (for being a friend)” over a picture of the Golden Girls).
Your brand isn’t just a logo. It should reflect you, your personality, work ethic, whatever. Just make it you.
Getting from college to employment isn’t easy. But if you make it far enough to graduate, then you have all the resolve you need to make it in a tough job market. And we’d like to help.
Send Shatterbox a link to your portfolio. We’ll review it and offer feedback on what we love, what we don’t need to see, and ways you can improve your first impression before a potential employer sees your work for the first time. Simply email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.