After finishing design college, it can be hard to know what to do and where to go next. Suddenly you are out in the big wide world of work on your own, often with little direction about how to approach the next stage in your career. Firstly you need to identify which path you would like to take: freelance, agency work or in-house – then be open for your decision to change! I have put together a short list of tips to help point you in the right direction:

  1. Experience > Qualifications

After graduating, it can be tempting (and often an easy option) to jump straight into the next level up of college or university. Whilst I do believe that there is a lot of value in spending time to learn and experiment at college, I know from personal experience that it is more beneficial to get stuck into a job or internship. Work experience counts for so much when applying for jobs, and will quickly acclimatise you to the ‘real world’ of the workplace, working to tight deadlines and client specifications. When I first graduated from college I faced this decision – further education or work experience. I chatted to a few established designers who all said the same thing: experience is invaluable, and a portfolio of real work will count for more than college projects.

  1. Portfolio

Your folder is such an important part of your career at this stage. Remember that whoever you are showing it to is likely to be viewing hundreds of options so it is important to make yours stand out from the crowd, but also show that your work is adaptable and of a professional standard. Consider a few variations – digital, printed/packaging and something physical to leave behind at an interview is always memorable. Invest some time and go for quality over quantity. A few creative and well presented projects will be more effective than loads of small projects.

  1. Personality

Showing personality and enthusiasm will go a long way in your career. It’s best to start off in the way that you mean to go on… phone or drop a portfolio into a possible workplace – emails get overlooked and deleted. Do some research and find places that you would be happy to work in and work hard to impress them. Confidence and a positive attitude show that you will be an easy person to work with and if you win people over with your personality, you are halfway there! It is great to show that you are full of interesting ideas but also willing to learn, and happy to help out wherever possible. Try to be proactive and thick skinned, there will probably be a lot of rejections and non-replys – just remember that this happens to everyone and that your hard work will eventually pay off. I recently read an interview with a designer that said ‘talent is meaningless without focus’. You can have an amazing and inspiring collection of work, but it has to be backed up with drive and personality.

  1. Reliability

Particularly with freelance work, designers often have a reputation of being unreliable and slow to respond. You can use this to your advantage by making sure that you are on the ball, delivering well considered projects on time, asking relevant questions and just general good communication. If you gain a great reputation in this way and go the extra mile, clients will often recommend you to other people.

  1. Pricing

This is a subject that you are given very little, if any, direction on in college. It is a tricky subject and will probably take a little bit of trial and error to get right. If you are applying for junior or intern positions you will probably have to start off small and work your way up, but getting your foot in the door is the important part at the moment. Freelance pricing can be trickier. Have a look at what other designers are charging and work out at what kind of price level you fit into – it’s important to get a balance between not undervaluing your work, and not losing projects from being too expensive. Be prepared to have a lot of requests for free work and to hear the line ‘you can use it for your portfolio’. Use your discretion on this – pick and choose carefully and determine which work will be beneficial to your career and who is trying to take advantage of you. Most importantly, be transparent in your pricing. When quoting for work it is a good idea to explain your hourly/day rate and how many sets of amends will be included.

Whatever way that you choose to approach getting into the design industry, remember to work hard, keep your options open, be reliable and make sure that you keep loving what you do.