Thursday, 16 May 2013

A creative graduate - one year on

Find my illustration portfolio here

With so many of my friends graduating from university in the next couple of weeks, I thought I'd pop in with a post all about it. I can't quite believe it's been a year since I finished my course, and I miss university so much. It's one of those age-old adages, where you don't know what you've got till its gone. Yes it was definitely a lot of hard work, especially in the notorious final year but when I think back, after having been a graduate for a year, it seems like it was so easy. University can be controversial and a lot of people say it's a waste of space when you're not guaranteed a job at the end of it, and yes it is a huge amount of money. But I loved university and it definitely changed me as a person - I went in a quiet, extremely shy 17 year old who couldn't hold eye contact, and came out as someone who is confident in their ability and can do things they could only have dreamed of at the start. Yes I still have confidence issues but I can't imagine how much worse I'd be without the challenges at uni. Anyway, enough about me! I came here to tell you about life as a graduate now, especially to all the other students out there about to enter the creative industry. (As a bit of background on myself, I graduated June 2012 with a first class honours degree in Graphic Design.)

1. Apply now and apply constantly. I really really advise you all to look for jobs now, even before you've finished perhaps, and certainly before you get your final results. I didn't get my results until July, but I put an expected grade on my CV and explained to the employers that I had finished/was due to finish soon. I started applying for jobs I saw around March, because creative jobs are few and far between if you're not based in London, so if you're in a similar situation, it's worth looking asap. I managed to get a job offer ready for when I finished, in graphic design which was perfect. Unfortunately it wasn't quite what they had promised and turned out to be a part time job, and minimum wage. But I took it because experience is a massive factor in the creative industry and I know I wouldn't have got this job I am in now without it. So don't be picky, experience is super. If you can afford to do internships then definitely do! It ties in with what I just said - experience is a huge factor and some employers might write you off before they even interview you if you don't have any despite your talent. I didn't do any internships - I had just signed the contract for my very first flat with my boyfriend and had rent and bills and everything else to pay. Sadly, most internships are either unpaid or minimum wage and you have to pay for cost with travel. A lot of them are in London, and if you have parents who will support you financially whilst doing so, or live in the area and living at home, then take the opportunity to do as many as you can because that's a advantage a lot of people won't have.

2. If you're limited, don't be picky (Don't be picky fullstop.) Like I said, being Southampton based wasn't a great start - but no matter where you are there will be creative jobs. There won't be as many, and you can't be picky but they will be there. My advice is to apply to them all. Even if they are asking for experience and you've just finished uni and don't have any - apply anyway. It doesn't hurt and you never know, they might just take a risk if they like your portfolio.

3. Learn from every interview. You may go through hundreds of interviews, or you may be lucky and only need to have one. Either way, make sure you take away everything you can from your meeting with a potential employer. Don't see it as a missed opporunity, or a waste of time. If you don't get the job, it's an opportunity to improve your techniques in the next one. Write down what you think you could have done better, think of better answers to questions that keep being asked. Always email the employer after you've heard back from them (or if they don't contact you at all) to thank them for the opportunity and ask them if they have any feedback. Never badmouth them just because they didn't take you on. They might keep your details on file for future jobs *, and if they do an internet search on you, your badmouthing tweet might be top of the list.

4. Get a part time job if you need to. I worked in a supermarket after I finished uni so I could afford to pay my rent whilst I was jobhunting. Don't be ashamed of getting a job so you can pay your bills, even if it's not a job you wanted to be in. But it's important not to get stuck in a rut. Don't forget why you're there, and that it's not a permanent thing. I stayed part time and picked up extra hours where needed, and that allowed me to work on my portfolio and other things instead of being too tired from a full time job. That leads me onto my next piece of advice;

5. Work your butt off. All your spare time should be spent making your portfolio the best it can be, or networking or learning new skills. You won't get anywhere if you don't work hard, and I truly believe that it pays off in the end. I highly recommend getting yourself a website to showcase your work - and I personally think it looks better if you have your own domain. Hosting and domain names are pretty cheap if you do your research and it looks so professional. I built my own website by teaching myself from the internet, but if you don't have the programs or know how, then you can get a website like cargo collective that makes thing a whole lot easier. Behance is another good one too. Plus, you can always put your own domain name on these websites too so it's win win. Having a website has been a big factor for me and it gives potential employers a quick and easy way to scope out your work. I should add in here, that it's important to have it well designed or there's not any point having it all!

6. My final piece of advice is the most cliched of all. Don't give up. Yeah, I said it. It's cringy but it's also true. Both myself and my boyfriend (who also graduated with a degree in Graphic Design at the same time) have both struggled at one point or another. There's always going to be days where you'll think there's no point trying anymore because there are no jobs out there, or that you're not good enough because you're not succeeding. The right job is out there, and it will come up at the right time for you. Hell, *the job I am in now (as a full time graphic designer) wasn't even advertised - they rang me. I'd applied for the job 6 months prior but the demands in the company had changed and so after the interview process, the job didn't appear anyway. But they'd kept me on file and I was the first port of call when the position came up again. So it really is important not to give up, because you never know what could happen tomorrow.

That's all folks! I've really enjoyed writing this, it's quite different from my usual blog posts but I hope it's been helpful. Hopefully I don't sound too preachy, just trying to pass on some advice. Good luck to all you that are graduating, currently and in the future.


  1. I never went to University, I was always undecided and what I wanted to do but I would have love to have gone for the experience alone, moving to a different city etc. There is some really great advice here and I'm so glad you managed to get a job in chosen field. I'll have to agree on you with the experience is everything, I used to go to a creative college and that was all they use to say to us!


    1. Thank you Hannah, glad you enjoyed it :)

  2. Really interesting and well written post! It's great to hear you managed to get a job, I think patience really does count and never giving up on what you love!

    I graduated last year with a fine arts degree and I've had a few odd jobs just within retail but I long for working in the creative sector. I went through a period of resenting my degree, and I still do in a sense because it wasn't me. I wish I went into graphic design/illustration so now I feel a bit helpless not knowing how to even attempt to get my foot in.

    I'm trying to pick myself up though and develop some skills that will hopefully benefit me in the long run, I know nothing happens overnight but I hope with learning more of the adobe suites it'll be worthwhile and I'm really enjoying illustrator. I wish I learnt at university but with fine art you never use creative software, it's all about 'talking the talk' from my experience anyway which is the main reason I didn't fit in. They just could not grasp my drawings, My lecturer said 'whats the point of drawing it when you can take a photograph?' they preferred seeing a piece of paper being screwed up for instance. That to them was art.

    I was thinking of setting myself some sample briefs to help bulk up my very lacking portfolio. I'm also in two minds about looking into a graphics course at college which may help but that does feel like I'm going backwards and those courses are eyewateringly pricey. If you have any advice on the matter then that would be properly ace!

    Keep doing what you're doing!

  3. Hey katie, thanks so much for your comment. Sorry to hear about all your frustrations in the fine art world - it's such a shame that art is so subjective especially when it comes to education and your lecturer saying that - how ridiculous! I've been following your blog for ages and love your work a lot so definitely don't get discouraged because you're super talented!

    It's great that you're learning the adobe creative suite - that is a huge deal in design and once you've got an understanding of the programs then you'll be much more desirable. In terms of advice I would say that you don't necessarily need to take a course and certainly not a degree to get into graphic design. It's great to teach you programs and industry terms about things like typography and colour etc (such as kerning/leading) but you can find this knowledge in books and the Internet - you just have to have the motivation to learn it. I'd really recommend you learn adobe in design if you want to go for graphics jobs - most projects are laid out in this and although its daunting at first I use this program probably about 70% in my job as a graphic designer. I'd recommend practicing in this with a project like copying a magazine layout you see and recreating it yourself - that's how I was taught it in university and you can use YouTube and tutorials to learn all the tools.

    Setting yourself briefs for your portfolio is a great idea and definitely one I'd recommend you do. Because I'm a passionate illustrator, a third of my portfolio was illustration and so if you do interview for design jobs, don't leave it out because its not 'design'. They'll be able to see you are creative and give you the illustrative jobs in the future. Not only will the briefs look good in your portfolio, it will help you become more confident in adobe creative suite and show them that you work on design in your own time too. Things like creating a business card for your friend, or creating a brand identity for a business that is existing or one you simply made up is good too.

    For illustration experience, create work that can be used for editorial articles and apply to all the magazines (both online and in print) that take artist submissions. I think the most important thing is to just keep creating your work, practice your skills and build up a portfolio. The main thing about the design industry is the portfolio and creative eye, not the fact you have a degree in it so don't be discouraged about that!
    I hope this massive essay of a comment is even a tiny bit useful and if you want to chat some more about it, feel free to email me :) x