Graduates, here's how to get your big break in the creative industry

Top tips for getting your big break

We’ve all been there, fresh out of uni, full of ideas, desperate for that first role as a junior…but you’ve got no experience! Who’s going to want you? Well, I was there myself a while ago, so here are my tips for nailing that first job…

Firstly, in today’s multimedia world an online portfolio is essential as well as your hard copy. Even if you’re not a web designer, make a simple, clean and clear website. It’s the cheapest, quickest method of showing off your work and can be passed on at the click of a button.

Only present your best work in your portfolio – the stuff you’re most proud of – not your first project at uni. A lost cat poster won’t impress an art director…unless it’s unusually good.

Get a second opinion on your book – it’s hard to critique your own designs, especially when you’re putting together your first portfolio – try to get feedback from your lecturer, or ask for an honest opinion from agencies you send your work to; for goodness sake don’t ask your mum or dad!

Agencies understand that coming fresh out of uni you probably won’t have worked on many, if any, ‘real’ jobs. But this doesn’t mean you can’t make up your own briefs and show them what you would do if you were given a particular task. Steer clear of nightclub posters or flyers for your best mate’s band – all students do this. You’ve got to be different. You need to be able to confidently explain the concept behind your designs. Maybe include some sketches to show how you got to the finished stage and include some designs that didn’t quite cut the mustard and be prepared to explain why.

If you’re serious about a career in design and you’re in a position to do so, try offering your services for free. Work placements are great for your CV and also a good way of getting to know the industry you’re about to start your career in. I went through painful and sometimes disheartening months of living at home or staying at a mate’s flat in a city where I had a placement, and working for nothing. But my first job was a result of a two-week unpaid placement. Don’t be put off if you’re thrown boring tasks that the other designers don’t want to do – one day you’ll be in their position. A positive attitude goes a long way so be prepared to showcase your tea-making ability with a smile.

Between you and me, harassing design firms was my best method! I found being politely persistent gets you remembered and shows how keen you are. I went in to see one firm twice, and then kept emailing and phoning till they gave me an invaluable placement. Don’t be disheartened if they don’t have a position for you; remain courteous and ask them if they will keep your portfolio on record. You never know, in a couple of months you may get a call. My tip is to go in on a Friday when they’ll be in a good mood, it won’t come as a surprise then that Mondays should be avoided.

However, the late, great, Paul Arden recommended that you should always pitch on a Tuesday. So this could also be true for a student harassing an art director – but you might find they’re taking Arden’s advice and out pitching themselves!

Get ready for major production time differences… you may have a month or so for a project at uni, whereas in the design studio, the client is often demanding your work by lunchtime.

Whether it’s just something you’ve printed off on your own old Epson Stylus, or an imaginative work of art, business cards are a superb way of leaving your mark. Just search the web for some inspiration and try and come up with a concept that makes you stand out.

I hope you’ve found this advice useful; it’s mainly drawn from my experiences and the paths I took in getting to where I am now. It can be tough, as there’s plenty of competition out there, but if you’re resilient and focused, you’ll get there in the end.

Good luck!

John Harfield is a senior designer at Line Digital and a mentor to design students at Edinburgh College of Art

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