About to leave or left education?
Have you worked really hard?
Final show coming up?
Thinking about exploring a career in the design industry?
Excellent! Then this may well be the blog post for you.
All that you are about to read is my opinion, and my thoughts. I feel I am in a position to write this post having run a small design agency for almost 28 years, I have been approached by many design students over the years. I have learnt to have a pretty good eye for what makes me reach for the phone, or aim for the bin….harsh but true!
I have three areas for you to think about :
· Your end of year show
· Your prospective application letter (yeah, ok, email)
· Your portfolio
End of year show
You’ve just finished your course, three years of hard work, so you want to kick back and let your hair down … but this is a real potential for you to set yourself up for the next few years, make a real impression and get some proper experience. Think about it as the final leg of the race … this is the REAL ‘getting over the line’ part.
While preparing for your final show think about WHO you’re showing your work to. Rather than waiting to see who wanders in to look, or who your tutors invite, why not think about where you would really like to work. Do your research and list out the top 10 places you like – whether it’s their ethics, their work, their clients, their benefits, their location … spend a morning researching them, Google them, get the details for the people who can make the decisions. The studio manager, the creative director or the managing director – get their full name and job title. If the details are not on the website, pick up the phone and call them. This will make all the difference! Trust me.
THEN invite them. Send them something that makes them remember you. Deliver it in person if you like; even if it’s a hand-made invite … so long as it’s clean and clear and memorable – by which I mean not the same as everyone else’s, easy to read and understand and gives them the info they need – as well as hinting at your talent.
Give them a reason to come along. Promise them a cup of tea. A biscuit and a chat? A beer? And ask them to let you know if / when they are coming. Always provide contact details including an email address – as they might not be able to commit immediately.
Don’t be disheartened when not all of your ten respond. Maybe have a B team too … so you deliver twenty invites. But also remember even if they can’t commit to coming to your show, you have planted the seed and you are on their radar!
If you can, book times when you can be at the show to meet and chat with them – show them through your work, this will reinforce the personal touch and most importantly allow them to meet you face to face.
I know that not everyone will take this advice. It means extra effort, it means extra thought, it means going an extra mile. But that is what a potential employer really wants from you. You are graduating with thousands of others up and down the country… you need to stand out from the crowd. It’s only the dedicated and the exceptional who can be bothered.
And do make sure that there is something at the show for them to take away. At the VERY LEAST a business card. Best case would be a short folio of work – just a couple of pieces that will remind a busy Creative Director who you were in two weeks, after they’ve seen sixty talented ex-students’ work. They NEED to remember you, so make sure they do.
This advice could also be easily applied to the invitation above.
When the show has been packed up, and you’re probably back at mum and dads on the hunt for some work experience or a job; you’re going to need to smash it with your covering letter.
Get your facts right. Get your spelling right. Get it checked by someone who is 1) not you and 2) thorough!
Address your letter directly to the person that you want to read it. By Name.
‘Dear Sir’ or ‘To Whom it May Concern’ is impersonal and appears lazy and might even be deleted without being read. If you’re emailing – then ensure that you send an email to the person. Again, if their details are not on the website, give them a call!
DO NOT, and I cannot stress this enough – send a blanket application mail with the recipients BCC’d.
It SHOWS that you’re lazy and not targeting the reader. They want to know that you WANT to work for their company. Ideally you want to customise each mail to show that you’ve read their site / their blog / their Facebook page and ideally you include something that refers to their likes, their company culture or work that they have done. Anyone who receives something from you should feel a little bit special. Flatter them. I know, it sounds silly, but it’s TRUE. If you communicate directly with someone in a personal way, you’ll get FAR better results – and that’s more responses or more visitors to your show.
Tiny details go a long way to starting a conversation, finding your mutual interests and moving forward with them.
The layout of your letter (and your CV) is important too. If you’re a Graphic Designer – then ensure that your letter layout is excellent.
It doesn’t need to have every design cliché or trick in the book on it; in fact, quite the opposite. The best design is invisible. Your document needs to be clear, flow properly and say all that it needs to – and ideally include a little bit of ‘you’ in it. Be that in the writing, or the layout. Do something that’s you. And DO send a small sample of your work, or a simple URL where it can be viewed (C’mon – you MUST have an online folio).
Your Portfolio (online and for the meeting)
You got a meeting! Well done
Your portfolio doesn’t need to show ALL the work you’ve ever done. Quite the opposite.
It needs careful consideration as it DOES NOT just want to be another showing of the same work that you have online.The work you has to represent what you have done in teams, work you have self-generated, hobby work and even favours for friends. Things that encompass who you are and what makes you tick.
Ten pieces of work is pretty much ideal, but they NEED to be GREAT! Not just great, but your favourite work that shows off who you are, because it has to do the talking when you are not there! And those projects, and the enthusiasm that you have for them, will make them easier to talk about.
If you have ten pieces in your online folio, and ten in your physical (be that a big folder, or on an iPad – whichever is your preferred delivery method) – and providing that at least four of these are different in each, it allows the interviewer to be surprised by something new and awesome, and then the six pieces that they have seen can be talked through thoroughly.
To talk confidently through your projects, you need to know what the brief was, how you approached it, why you made the decisions you did, and what the results were. And if you can show sketchbooks, notes and working – or early versions of the project in progress – that all helps understand how you think (and a creative director will be looking at how that can fit, expand and develop their team).
So – you need to have approximately sixteen pieces of work to show and talk about! And they need to be superb. But that’s okay – you’re good! Take a look back at the work – would some of it benefit from polishing? Remounting? Remaking? Re-photographing?
Now is the time to start thinking about it … because the truly motivated designers, who really want the good jobs and are prepared to do what it takes to get them are doing these things already.
I hope that this has made you think, maybe even prompted you to start thinking about this as a springboard to start properly looking at the next chapter.
Personally, I’d LOVE to see your work! But show it to the people you want to work for. Those that inspire you. Those that make the world better.
Go on – what’s stopping you?
PS – had a really great addendum from Robyn at Bobo Design :
1 – design your portfolio. Don’t just plop the work in. Make the page a piece of design as if it was a coffee table book of art- all nicely spaced. Seen too many folios with nice work be ruined by bad layout in the folio itself.
2- when applying for a job – do what is asked on the advert. Seems obvious – but If it says you must send a pdf of work – do just that. don’t just send a weblink to you folio.
I often ask candidates to read a page on our website BEFORE applying. That page has much of the advice that Dean says here …. but it also says very clearly that as the first line of your application email you must tell us your shoe colour. This tells me the people who have good attention to detail and can follow a brief.
It also tells me their shoe colour.