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2019.08.16

Creative Review: Seven Tips for Landing (and Surviving) Your First Design Job

A guest blog by design + animation intern Lauren Kittle

Soon-to-be design school seniors, it’s about that time. In just a few weeks, we’ll be headed back to our colleges and universities to embark on our final year of classes, workshops, and conferences — learning as much as we can to strengthen our skills. Then, in the blink of an eye, our senior projects will be finished, and it will be time to go our separate ways and really start *adulting.*

For a lot of my friends and colleagues, the transition from design school to the professional world can seem like a daunting one. Design is a competitive field — and there are a lot of different ways to find success in it, from motion graphics to user interface design to experimental design, or interactive practices. In advance of my final year of design school, I got to team up with some of the top talent here at Trollbäck to gather their best advice on graduating and getting a job.

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Tip #1: Master Your Portfolio
CCO Alex Moulton

My biggest piece of advice is to use your senior year wisely. It’s important to take the time to build a number of pieces that speak to the art that you think is really exciting. You need to put work in your portfolio that you would want to do after school. If you’re not making the kind of art that you want to be doing in class, take time after class or on the weekends to make the art that you want. But remember when it comes to your portfolio that LESS is MORE. The kinds of projects I like to see in a student portfolio are projects that show process of thinking — whether it’s showing work and then describing the process of things or showing literal design process frames. Make sure that you are always showing work that somehow speaks to your personality. Also, always remember that if you are showing your portfolio to anyone don’t apologize! The piece is what it is.

Another thing I’ve learned most from my job is that I have to keep learning. If at any moment I feel like I’m the smartest person in the room or that I always have the answer, something is wrong. As soon as you feel like you are an expert, that is a dangerous place to be. You want to have a beginners mind, to always be in the place of “I don’t know how to do this,” always asking questions.

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Tip #2: Know the Flow
ECD Elliott Chaffer

Be organized and keep your files clean. When you work in a team, you will need to constantly pass your file on to other people and also use theirs. Make sure that you learn how to work in a way that does not hold up that flow. Learn the balance of having a strong voice and where it crosses the line into being cocky and annoying. The more you use your voice proactively, the further you will go. There is no one way to the top. Do your time, but always work above your pay grade so you naturally get promoted.

Design students should also learn fast that our work is often commissioned at the last minute in a huge chain of decisions. Everyone has different opinions and priorities, so feedback in this industry can often be surprising and a letdown. But that should never bring you down. Learn how to move on, or push back in a constructive and creative way but don’t let it break your soul. Nobody is dying here, it’s just pixels. If you need to vent your creative energy outside of your day job, GO FOR IT! Then bring some of that vibe back into the studio.

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Tip #3: Be You First, a Designer Second
ACD Erin Kilkenny

My advice is to do it whatever you want to do, and to do it while you’re young and have no attachments. It gets hard to do things once you get older and you have a career. If you want to take a year off to travel and explore, do it. No one in this industry is going to care if you took a few months off after college. Mess around with whatever kind of art you like. Do the experimental stuff and do crazy art stuff! Just make things… a lot of things… and do it quickly!

Also, learn how to talk about your work. The better you can talk about your work, the better you can sell it to a client or a potential employer. Once you do get a job, make sure you go out for drinks. Some of my best connections and friends were made around drinking beer. Also, if you’re coming out of school and you’re going to try the freelance route, make sure you have a good accountant to help you with your finances!

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Tip #4: Work Hard, Speak Up
AD Nadia Husain

When you’re in school, make sure you are collaborating with others, because that is all you will be doing once you graduate. Once you get out of school, don’t be afraid to take an internship because sometimes that internship can help you make connections and set you up for a job. During your first few years, you need to be hungry and try to learn everything that you can. Often, you’ll need to put in the extra hours, stay late, and go the extra mile. But don’t be afraid to give your opinion while you’re doing it. You should be speaking up and giving your opinion whenever you can — even as the intern. Also, make sure you’re exploring new technologies, this is another way you can find out what you are really interested in.

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Tip #5: Learn the Little Stuff
AD Sarah A. Cohen

Don’t be upset if you start working and you don’t get the most glamorous projects. First, you need to learn the little stuff, the process, and the organization. You need to learn how the projects are made before you can make them. You often have to work your way up to the big projects. Sometimes, young people come off pompous because they don’t ask questions. Do not be afraid to ask questions because no one expects you to know all the answers! Be outgoing, learn everything, and grind for the first few years.

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Tip #6: Build Your Network
Senior Animator Eli Guillou

Don’t be afraid to reach out to people that inspire you. Most people in the industry are super nice and are totally open to giving feedback on projects or sharing more about how they got to where they’re at. Everyone’s path is different, so it’s tough to give specific direction, but if you love what you do, you will find your place, even if you don’t get connected to something right out of school.

It can also be super challenging graduating and falling into the trap of comparing yourself to other classmates, since you and your peers are all at the same starting point. A large coastal city is no better or more successful than a smaller town, so follow where you feel led, stay motivated, and trust yourself!

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Tip #7: Diversify Your Skillset
Creative Director/Strategist Bo Bishop 

Keep adding to your capabilities. It’s very easy to get pigeonholed in this industry; “Oh, she’s a great X, but can’t really do Y.” The people who thrive are able to pitch in on projects in multiple ways — animators who can write, writers who can design presentations, etc. Swiss army knives do really well and tend to get paid more and advance quicker.