How do you land a graphic design internship or job fresh out of college (AKA with no prior experience?) I am here to help you with some tips and advice to make the transition from school to office a little less bumpy.
Let’s face it: your portfolio fresh outta college won’t be that awesome. You’ll have a few pieces here and there that you really like, but overall, employers will not be impressed.
The art, design and illustration field is fiercely competitive, and employers can notice a “college portfolio project” a mile away. You need real life projects from real companies to make your portfolio shine against your competition. That’s the edge.
But how do you get hired at an internship or job if you have no experience? And how do you get experience if no one will hire you?
1. Take unpaid (or scarcely paid) projects.
Design pundits on the web hate this idea. They say that you should never take unpaid jobs. You’ve worked so darn hard, why do you have to do pro bono work? You are better than that, right?
But really, you MUST in order to obtain a solid enough portfolio to compete with those who have a few years working experience. You’ll also have amazing recommendations when the time comes to apply for a job – these people will be more than appreciative that you helped them out. You won’t have to use your best friend or your manager at Applebee’s as a recommendation, which never looks all that great.
2. Seek out non-profit organizations that you believe in, contact them, and offer your services.
They will be falling over, sobbingly appreciative. Non-profits, especially small ones, have a budget of like zero for design and marketing. Love animals? Contact your local humane society or no kill shelter. Love kids? Contact your local community center or little league teams. Love nature? You get the idea. Guidestar is a comprehensive site for nonprofits and you can browse by industry and location. Catchafire is a great nonprofit community specifically for creative people, too.
3. Get a decent website, and only put work on there that you feel completely confident about.
Do you have $20 a month? Use Squarespace. Do you have $0 a month? Use Wordpress. Even if you have no web design experience, you can still customize a header, background, colors and template to give it your own feel.
I’d avoid having your web designer friend make you one for free. Because you may not be friends forever, and he may move to Austin, and in no time flat you will be stuck with an outdated site to which you have no idea how to access.
4. Put your portfolio on a creative site, like Behance.net, or DeviantArt.com.
It may be slow going at first – I mean like, you’ll have 1 view (and that will be your mom), but over time you will gain relationships and amazing feedback, especially if you ask for it.
Also, this will help with your Google name search results, as these large sites will rank higher in relevancy than your brand new baby website. So don't make your username WeedAngel4Life
5. Make sure your social media does not include anything you wouldn’t want your potential boss to see.
Employers will do their research on you, I promise. Even photos you have commented on will somehow appear in Google image search, and they go back years. Ever looked up your name in Google Image Search? Do it now and see what comes up.
6. Visit your college employment job board OFTEN.
Like, every day. Or three times a day. Be on it, seriously - especially during the beginning/end of the semesters. Because if you aren’t, someone else is, and they will snatch that internship/job right out from under you. Sometimes job postings are only up for a few days before the employer becomes inundated with resumes and cover letters.
7. Find people on Linkedin, Behance, Deviant Art or other creative online communities who you think are freaking awesome, and email them for advice or general props.
It may seem intrusive, but it’s not. Most people are flattered. You in turn receive priceless advice and networking. I did this and received advice I still carry with me often in my creative process.
8. Work with your college or Alma matter on projects.
Email old teachers, advisors, groups you were a part of. They are much more likely to throw you a bone and choose you for miscellaneous creative projects, over others who are not part of the institution.
9. If you really are in a bind for work, simply find a project/design that inspires you, and make your version of it.
Create an imaginary brand for an imaginary company. Design flyers for a band you adore. Yeah, you won’t make any money off it, but you will keep your skills sharp, grow your portfolio, and you truly will never know when that project may come in handy.
10. Buy your software when you are still a student.
It costs way less! Don’t pirate it – believe me you will regret it.
Let me know your thoughts below, and hang in there. The design industry is fickle, but rewarding.