A guest post by Steph Pickerill, from Jeenia Ltd who offers her advice for design students and graduates looking for their first design jobs

student or graduate portfolio
Getting opportunities to expand your portfolio is tough. Landing that dream design job is just as difficult – but whether you’re going it alone after uni, picking up the odd job while you’re studying or preparing for an interview, here’s some stuff to consider.

1. Design your presentation

Everything that represents you – your website, portfolio, blog – should represent your work and your talent. A CV that claims outstanding typography skills should work as evidence for it. Be clever with the content. Don’t put everything into your portfolio, select only your best work that you’d be prepared to discuss and that you’re happy to have scrutinised. And don’t leave out the messy bits. Design is about process and a client or employer may appreciate an insight into yours – show brainstorms, alternative ideas and sketches, as well as the end result.

2. Take the right opportunities

Working for free for long periods of time is tempting, especially in the climate we’re in, but it is important that you don’t fail to appreciate what you have to offer to an employer or client. Particularly once you’ve graduated, taking on too much for free may lead to you undervaluing your work. Take your skills seriously and know their worth, if you don’t, others won’t either.

Similarly, don’t over do it. Respect every job, even if it’s small. Showing you’re keen and efficient may lead to future work.

3. Welcome ALL feedback

A project doesn’t stop with the finished design; always ask for truthful feedback. Praise is good but it won’t always help you improve. Make the most of criticism and get used to it, learn how to handle it and apply it to your next project. Equally, recognise unconstructive criticism and move on!

4. Knowledge is power

When you’re pitching a job, the only ammunition you have is your portfolio and yourself. Once you’ve made the first look it’s best, the second has to be pretty impressive too. I’m not talking about how you scrub up but the knowledge you bring to the table. Be resourceful. Thanks to the internet, you have a load of information just waiting to be used and most of it is free.

5. Be online

Having an online presence is more than constructing a ‘self-brand’ or a good website; it’s about making sure there is a personality behind your portfolio. Read blogs and eBooks, keep an eye on industry news and what other designers are doing. But stay critical, have an opinion and be professional in the way you express it.

6. Sharing is caring

The years you spend studying are the ones when like-minded peers will be most accessible. Professionals spend years building contacts through networking- you have yours right there. Make use of an environment filled with young designers by sharing ideas. These people will be joining you in the industry; having a readymade support network will be invaluable.

7. What’s your style?

There’s nothing worse than uninspired creativity. As a designer, you will have a style – find it, know it, don’t be limited by it and be prepared for it to evolve. Think about how that style stands out, reflects your values and may fit in the wider creative industry. Knowing what you’re good at is an asset.

8. Practice makes (closer to) perfect

Practice practice practice. And don’t stop designing for personal projects, it’s the only way to work out what you’re good at, make those inevitable mistakes and stay in tune with your own creativity (and can fill time when projects are quiet.)

9. Be a good communicator

Just because you work with a computer, doesn’t mean you have to hide behind it. Employers and clients want to know they are dealing with a human so communication skills are essential. They are looking for more than an artwork machine. Especially when freelancing, a satisfied client has had their ideas realised; to get to those ideas, you must communicate well.

10. Beyond artwork

Be prepared to go further to understand the project you are taking on, beyond the brief. Engage with the business and the way that your work will fit in with their wider marketing plan by taking the time to think your ideas through. Do your own research, particularly if the business works within an unfamiliar industry and imagine you are the Creative Director. Don’t rush into your first thought, walk your initial ideas around in your head for a while, it’ll help develop them. If you take only a surface interest and rush in with a half decent idea, it’ll show. Get involved, and they’ll want to use you again.

11. Beyond the call…

Likewise, work hard. Too many employers and clients are able to talk about the ‘poor work ethic of the next generation’. Make sure they have nothing to justify this; work hard, stay off Facebook and be prepared for long hours.

12. Have fun – it shows!

Don’t treat any job like it’s dragging (even if it is). The project isn’t complete until the client’s impressed/amazed/bowled over. Being merely ‘satisfied’ isn’t the same as being impressed.

Steph PickerillSteph Pickerill is Founding Director of Jeenia Ltd, design and student employability company that helps young designers, graduates and those still studying within creative and computer services to gain real work experience. The students are given invaluable opportunities to work within practical business scenarios, expand their portfolios and make contacts while, crucially, being paid for their work. In return, the clients enjoy an innovative, youthful and exciting approach to their marketing. www.jeenia.co.uk Twitter: @JeeniaStudents