Advice for Graduates

  • Know your work inside and out. Re-remember why you made specific typographic considerations or chose a certain format. An interested employer will want to discuss projects that caught their eye: they want to make sure you can do it again. Focus less on describing what the project is and more on the process by which you conceptualized the final outcome. Bring up that brick wall you ran into and then show them how gracefully you scaled it.
  • Have questions to ask back. A new employee is an investment; design studios are banking on your dedication to their company. Expressing genuine interest in their work culture, project schedules, client presentations and concepting process are all indications that you’re going to hook them up with some serious ROI.
  • Consider and determine your start-date availability, future travel plans and willingness to relocate prior to the interview. In the time that you’re “getting back to them on that,” the hawks are already circling another meadow.
  • Trash the trash. Weezer’s Blue Album had maybe ten songs but, let’s face it, they were all solid. A small portfolio of immaculate work trumps a mega-site that begs you to sort out the mediocrity from the gems. This is true every day of the week, ten times out of ten. It only takes a few bad projects to rust the chrome off the good stuff. Think of it like those mixed bags of Halloween candy: you don’t want to be the kind where you’re digging through six pounds of lemon drops to find the last piece of chocolate. You’re 100% cacao or you’re on clearance come November.
  • Be versatile, be original. A brief scroll through Dribbble will yield a hundred logos for coffee shops, letterpressed typographic slogans and movie posters that have been predictably deconstructed into vector objects. Even if your iterations of these things are leagues better than the next guy’s, you still have a site full of the same stuff. As a student bound to the curriculum of your professors, there’s admittedly a certain degree of inevitability regarding what you produce. But: those limitations only reach as far as the classroom door. If there’s a project you want to do, that you know will diversify your body of work and give you an edge over your peers, then do it. Having a (good) project under your belt that none of your classmates do is like bringing a shotgun to a knife fight. Pull the trigger on those ambitions.
  • Photograph your work (and not with your iPhone). As pervasively simple as it is, a JPEG comp simply doesn’t hold a candle to a real image. Not only does a photograph add visual tactility to a piece, it proves that you actually made the thing and offers you a chance to supplement the work with a little photo art direction. Just finished an illo for The Economist? Cool. Prop the image with a briefcase and black-rimmed glasses and shoot it on your coffee table. Suddenly, it’s a piece of a narrative. Keep in mind that you don’t need a 5D or pro lighting equipment. A few drawing-board size sheets of newsprint and any SLR camera will do the trick. Shoot RAW and fix everything in post. You can absolutely do this while watching Mad Men.
  • Consider a physical self-promo. E-mails get deleted, inadvertently skipped, relocated to spam folders and just plain ignored — all the time. If you have a creative idea for a mailed promotion piece, by all means, put it together. You’re going for inexpensively creative: something that won’t leave you out of pocket but will shout over a stack of Pizza Hut coupons. Skip a bar night and re-appropriate the beer money for printing. Remember: it’s an invitation, not the party itself — you’re only selling them on the idea of checking out more of your work. Don’t pass the whole bottle, just offer a sip.
  • Lose the moniker. You’re not a brand, you’re a person. Just a guy or a gal with a first name and last name. Don’t go by anything you wouldn’t want someone shouting across the table at a client meeting. No one wants to hire “Luke B. a.k.a Digital Design Prophecy.” Same goes for your e-mail address. BabyCakes69 is getting an internship at Hooters, not Apple.
  • Bold that “Contact Me” button. Seems like common sense, but you wouldn’t believe how many designers hide their e-mail links in places that no one’s going to look. Even if it’s drowning in a sea of RISD accolades, if an employer can’t figure out how to get in touch, you risk getting left behind.
  • A place that does great work is not, by mere definition, a great place to work. It’s easy to distill the entirety of a studio’s worth into what kind of projects they’re pumping out, but if you’re seriously thinking of joining the ranks, their portfolio is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot more to creative fulfillment than cranking out award-winning work, and at the end of the day, that’s what you want: a place that fills you up without spilling over or leaving you half-glassed. Getting a handle on the inner workings of a place can be tricky, so consider contacting a few current and former employees to solicit a candid opinion of the studio. They’ll be honest, trust me.
  • Try and define the kind of work you think you want to do. It’s tough as a recent grad — and you don’t want to pigeonhole yourself before you really get out there — but if you know for damn sure you don’t want to work with layouts, you probably want to steer clear of studios known for their annual reports. Similarly, if you know you absolutely want to be involved with branding, don’t get your hopes up on a place with only a handful of identity projects. Larger studios typically dabble in a bit of everything, while smaller firms often compete in relatively specific arenas. Find your sport and track down the teams you want to play for.
  • Don’t write off the in-house lifestyle. Graduates always seem to look these opportunities over, and although they may sometimes lack diversity, that’s a blessing in disguise to someone eager to work with a specific, defined range of projects. You know what you’re getting into up front and there’s at least a modicum of comfort to be had in knowing your job security doesn’t partially depend on new client acquisition.
  • Trust your gut. In the end, your own intuition is the best map you have. Let it lead the way.

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This girl I used to like almost kissed me once on accident

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Matt Chase

Matt Chase

This girl I used to like almost kissed me once on accident

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