When starting out in a new career or career path within your field it seems like everyone is looking for someone with years of experience. It’s always a big question, how do you get experience? Whether you are a college student who hasn’t worked, a print designer moving into their first web experiences or a web designer getting into illustration or book cover design … this guide aims to help you get the experience you need.
For all of you working graphic designers, how did you start out? Share your stories in the comments!
There is the always option of starting out with freelancing for graphic designers of any level. This is something much more common in graphic design than most anywhere else. Imagine that you’re a working graphic designer, but you’ve only worked with Quark and have been wanting to add InDesign to your resume and portfolio. Freelance is a pretty good way to get a working project in the new program. If you’re new to web design, flash design, book design, etc it’s great to take a test run before you dive in full time. You may find out that the area you were interested in is less appealing after you have a few projects under your belt. You’ll be much more confident on that interview.
Individuals and small businesses are often more willing to take a chance on you for their projects. Be honest with them about your level of experience and the possibility of rookie mistakes, but emphasize your willingness to learn. If the idea of freelancing for a stranger is too daunting considering you that are inexperienced, start out with a friend.
No matter how well you know the person, use a contract. The Graphic Artist Guild has a sample agreement you can adapt and start from. This is a business and you want to show business savvy. This is standard. When trouble arises, the contract is backing you up. If things begin to go wrong, you can’t just make up late fees on the spot. The contract is necessary to keep both you and your clients on track. The contract should at the very least: define the project, provide limitations on how the work may be used, describe the terms of payment and artist credit, and describe procedure in the case of a dispute.
If an oral agreement is made, writing a simple letter of agreement which puts the project in writing might be sufficient. After the experience, keep in touch with the people you’ve freelanced with, let them know if you are accepting more work, and ask for a letter of reference if necessary. For more information on this topic including a ton of sample contracts, check out the Graphic Artist Guild Handbook.
This is a great time in your career to proactively establish good business practices. It becomes much easier to communicate with clients when you have an established policy that you can quote. Simply saying “It’s my policy to work only after a written agreement is made” can save a lot of trouble. Know ahead of time that clients who have a problem signing an agreement are probably ones who don’t want to follow the terms that protect you. Having policies also helps the client better understand their role and can really make it easier for them as well. Some example policies include:
- • to only work with a written agreement
- • to not accept work-for-hire freelance projects
- • to not work on spec
- • to not quote estimates without time to fully consider the project
The Graphic Artist Guild provides these suggestions and in addition, they emphasize the importance of not signing a clients contract the moment you see it; read over it and consider the terms carerfully.
On your resume, make sure to cite your freelance experience as a professional job. Show why it is relevant, that it is business, and what relevant skills you have used that directly correlate to position you are applying to. Remember that your resume must be tailored to any position you will be applying to.
Volunteering is a great way to work with various organizations and try new things. You may consider doing a project for your school, church, softball league, a friends wedding, your brothers band and any other ideas you can come up with. Volunteer Match is also a great way to search out volunteer experiences to fit your wants and needs. These create portfolio worthy projects, resume worthy experiences, interview ready stories and networking opportunities. Make sure to consider your ultimate career goals and think ahead about how this fits in. Search out projects that will be exciting and will fill in the gaps in your resume. Follow professional career procedures and a letter of agreement outlining the project should still be used to make things flow much smoother.
You’re going to have to emphasize how your old skills transfer into your new position. This is true whether you’re a nurse who wants to be a graphic artist, someone who has been doing newspaper layout and now wants to design web sites or even if you’re just moving from one company to another in a similar role. There are skills in nursing, for example, that designers use. The organizational skills and people skills you’ve developed are still just as important.
Ask yourself your strengths and weaknesses. Find examples and stories that prove that you have these skills. Mention them where applicable in your resume, cover letter and ultimately the interview.
Coroflot has an article called Landing Your First Design Job with some great tips. Here’s a summary of the process they describe: Research the geographic area that you’d like to work in, check out the ideal companies and learn everything you can about them. Contact the companies including a cover letter and work sample of the type of work you want to do. Make sure to find a contact name of the hiring manager. Make sure to follow up. Ask if they received it and if they have any questions. Read the full article for more details.
Also check out AIGA’s article How to find your first job. They recommend showing only your best work in your portfolio, if there is anything that’s not the type of work you want to do don’t show it. If you’re a student, present your portfolio and resume to your trusted professors for their honest feedback. Just as Coroflot suggested, AIGA suggests identifying the companies, organizations and leads that you are most interested in. Your resume should reflect simple, typographic design. The full article goes into much more detail on the job process.
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Trying to put your best foot forward in your portfolio is a task all designers strive to improve at. Here's a guide to get your started. photo credit: Unhindered by Talent Select the best of the best The number of pieces in your portfolio will vary from person to person. However many pieces you decide to include, make sure they are all great work. The order counts too, make the first and last pieces the best ones to start and end on a good note. The first and last impressions are the ones they'll remember most. Don't put in work ... Read more
Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.