CR Reader Survey: I Wish I’d Known That

We’re in the midst of degree show exuberance here in the UK, but with more graduates looking for fewer jobs than ever before, we want to know what advice you would give the new grads setting out? Colleges, how do you help them adjust? Employers, how do you help recruits get up to speed?

We’re in the midst of degree show exuberance here in the UK, but with more graduates looking for fewer jobs than ever before, we want to know what you wish you’d experienced before you left college? What advice would you give the new grads setting out?

According to new figures published this week, on leaving university there are now as many as 70 graduates for every job. To say it’s competitive out there is something of an understatement.

But we’d like to ask you, our readers, about what you now wish you’d known as you left college for the world of self-employment, start-up collectives, studio or agency work…

If you’re a recent graduate – what do you wish you’d had more help with? What was the structure like at your college in preparing you for the next step? Did you get much advice and support either about setting up on your own or finding employment – were there things in place to make the transition from academia to life after college easier? What’s been the hardest part of going from college to working life?

If you’re an academic – what facilities does your college have in place to support students after graduation? Do you offer desk space for start-ups, for example, or do you have a unit to provide support for graduates? What experience of working practices do students get to prepare for post-college life?

We’d also like to hear from employers – what do you do with new recruits in order to help them get up to speed? Do you have any programmes in place during their first month’s employment, for example? What training do you give new recruits?

More generally, how best can institutions balance academic teaching with the provision of experience of working in the industry on real jobs?

Let us know your views in the Comments below.

This instalment of the CR Reader’s Survey is produced in partnership with London’s School of Communication Arts 2.0.


  • I’m currently still a student, studying Graphic & Communication Design at the University of Leeds and have opted to take a year out now my second year’s finished, to work in industry. I’m currently working at Exposure in London and also have a 6-month placement at a small studio in New York called The Wilderness starting September.

    Despite having been at Exposure for barely over 5 weeks, I can quite honestly say this has been the best decision I’ve made as a student so far. I have learned so much in these first few weeks and will no doubt learn a hell of a lot more in this year out. I’m not expecting the pay over this year to be great, but the experience will no doubt be invaluable and aside from preparing me for what it’s LIKE to work in industry, I hope that having a year’s experience under my belt from the word go will help me get my foot in the door when looking for jobs after I graduate.

    So I guess my advice (although I’m not sure that I’m the right person to be giving any!) would be to definitely go for the year in industry, if it’s something your university runs/is willing to allow. First-hand experience is always a good start.

  • I interned throughout my final year at university at a studio. By the time I graduated I was luckily invited to work full time there. So I would say be enthusiastic and hook up with the right people.

    Also agencies love to get interns/placements/graduates in, take this video for example from advertising agency; EHS 4D Group:

  • Tom

    It sounds a simple one but… Show innitiative.

    I’m shocked and surprised by the amount of students who come in on placements and just sit waiting for projects to fall on their desks. It doesn’t mean sitting on a designers shoulder asking them 20 questions in 20 seconds, but to get up and ask if you can contribute to a project, get involved in studio life means you will leave much more of a mark and get a lot more from a placement.

  • Chris

    @ Alex. V — I went to Leeds University and wish I had taken the year out in the industry, you learn so much more on the job. You definitely made the right decision, and you will see the benefits once you return for your third year and further into the future.

    If you don’t have the option of a year in the industry then placements are a enjoyable and involving way of gaining experience. If you get a placement I would suggest working hard (not leaving at 5/6 on the dot), showing enthusiasm, involving yourself and socialize (after works drinks etc). Remember you are not judged entirely on your work, your personality, work ethic and ability to get along with people is important (more-so in smaller companies).

    I would never expect a position at the end of it but being remembered for the right reasons is important. Even though they might not have seen a fit for you at their place there is always a chance they could recommend you on elsewhere.

  • Rob

    Students should question everything, be enthusiastic and engaged with every project and go beyond expectations.

    My advice would be to get stuck in. Industry experience is invaluable and a massive step up from what is taught at University. I learnt more in 2 weeks on placement then I did from my first 2 years as a Graphic Design student.

  • Dan

    The vicious circle of no experience = no jobs / no jobs = no experience was the biggest wall I came up against when trying to get my first job.

    I think placements and internships are key to bridging the gap. There are some great schemes out there that offer students the chance to work on live briefs (voluntarily) in return for commercial work to add to their portfolio and hopefully some industry experience and contacts. is one example near me.

    Ultimately though, I think it comes down to persistence. As down-heartening as it may feel to get rejection after rejection, you can never give up. Eventually you’ll get there!

  • I think doing placements as soon as possible, rather than waiting until you graduate is a really good way to boost your confidence and prepare you for the real world. You learn a lot more than you do in the classroom, even if it’s a small unknown agency or you’re gettin paid next to nothing.

    Also, network and keep in touch with everyone you meet and then don’t be afraid to ask them for advice – most people want to help.

  • For fine art graduates, it may be a little different than graphic design, etc., although work placements etc. are still an excellent idea. I like the advice I heard a singer say that her mother gave her (someone featured on Woman’s Hour in the past month, possibly Judith Owen but I’m not sure, excellent advice regardless of who it’s from) – ‘Bloom where you are’. And I would also say, use the same level of creativity that you put into your work, to find opportunities to show your work.

  • Keith

    Specialise, that would be my mantra, get a production internship, learn to slice and code wordpress blogs, anything at all that sets you apart from the swathe of graduates.

    Even given that, it took me 11 months to get a steady job when I first graduated a number of years ago, and at the time I had web and 3d to offer.

    So yeah, specialise.

  • Alex

    currently a student at camberwell….yes placments provide industry experience and that gives you a foot in the door…but how do you survive in unpaid internships?

  • @Alex – if you do a placement taken during a year out you’re still covered by student loan. For some reason, the Student Loans Company consider any placement that isn’t in a specific field (e.g. nursing, engineering etc) as paid, even if it’s unpaid, so you generally tend to get the minimum maintenance loan, but it still helps. You can always take on briefs outside of your placement for money, or get an evening/weekend job at a bar/retail store. And of course the closer you are to home the cheaper it (generally) is.

  • Dave

    My sister rang me the other day.

    “Hi Dave. Jordan wants to be a designer, just like his Uncle Dave. Could he come to London and spend his two weeks’ work experience with you guys?” Blimey, I thought, is he that old already? Have I really been working in the design industry that long? Feels like I’ve only just left Art School myself. What advice should I give him?

    Should I tell him to commit himself to four or more years of expensive design education, where he will rack up thousands of pounds of debt, emerge clutching his design degree and then realise he now has to compete with tens of thousands of fellow graduates for just a handful of Junior positions, most of which will offer little more than travel expenses as a starting salary?

    Or do I mention that, if he’s lucky and talented enough to get his big break and stand on the bottom rung of the design ladder, he’ll then become involved in a modern design procurement culture where, rather than appointing designers on past hard work and merit, any (small) possibility of work will be simply tossed into a scrum of 12 or more agencies in a free for all pitch process? Then, akin to German guards who have just tossed a piece of stale bread into a heaving throng of starving Russian POWs, they will stand back and watch the designers savage each other for survival.

    Or worse, as has recently been seen with the Thomas Cook debacle, when the battered, bloodied and bruised designer finally emerges, weeks later, triumphantly clutching his tiny prize, the guards then present HIM with a £1,000,000 bill!

    Maybe I’ll tell him that if you have to work in an office environment, a vibrant design studio is, I feel, still by far the best and most interesting place to be. That you still can’t beat the buzz when a brief is answered and the creative solution well received. After all, that solution was a part of you, you conceived it, you loved it, you fought for it and helped it grow, you feel personally responsible for it and you are proud of it. I can’t think of that many professions that can still offer that. After all, none of us became designers to get rich, but being creative every now and then and earning a modest living (with a bit of security) would be nice.

    But, I’ll probably tell him to concentrate on his maths, rack up his student debt getting a BSc (Hons) rather than a BA (Hons) and pay the whole lot off with his first month’s salary in the City. An environment where, his success and hard work will be rewarded with unimaginable wealth and a huge bonus, and his incompetence and laziness will be, well, rewarded with unimaginable wealth and a slightly smaller bonus.

  • Adam

    I graduated from college in 2008. It was the beginning of what was then the credit crunch, and soon followed by a full blown recession. It has most certainly been a very very hard time for graduates like myself. I have kept busy on internships, short and long, at very good design companies.

    I have come very close to jobs several times now. However it is either the wrong time, “if only I was a couple of months earlier”, or another intern seams to be in the job que just before me. I wonder if anyone else has had this kind of luck, or is this to be expected in what is an overcrowded industry at junior level?

    In the two years since graduating I have only had around six months off all together in between placements here and there, waiting for the next to start, when one ends. At my most recent internship I was there for just under a year. But had to move on due to a lack of studio income. It seams just as everyone thought things were picking up they seam to have taken another stumble.

    I now find my self at make or break point. I have been living like a student for the last two years, and working at weekends to make up the rent. Can anyone else relate to this, and tell me it will get better, that as long as I keep trying there will be an opportunity around the corner. Or do I lower my sights and just join the first place that will take me, no matter what their reputation. Or like so many others, do I give up and say design just wasn’t my break and turn my hand to something else? (I could never imagine being able to do this!)

    What is the time scale in this kind of financial market to expect to continue at placement level? Will people still take you on as long as you have internship experience, or does everyone expect you to have a job by now?

  • Dave Cuvelot

    Hi Mark,

    I was very interested to see you post in my inbox this morning. It resonates with a project that I have started at the beginning of this week, asking a similar question to design professionals via my twitter network. The response I received was incredible and included contributions from Erik Spiekermann, The Design Council, YCN and Emerge amongst many others.

    The project is still in early development and will continue to evolve, but I have begun to archive the twitter results obtained so far using Flickr, which you can see here: hope this proves insightful in some way.


  • Learn to use your programs really well. Or learn how to use the ‘Help’ function when no-one is looking.

    Really learn and understand print. And know about typography. Not everything is on the Internet.

    Understand what “attention to detail” means e.g. don’t spell my name or company wrong when writing / emailing me. And bother with punctuation and capital letters. It’s important to some of us.

    Do some research when you apply for a job. Tailor your letter. Generic ones go in the bin. Along with CVs with errors on them.

    9-5 does not exist, be prepared to work later. And earlier. Often.

    Now is not a good time. So take rejection in the best possible way. Come back fighting (or at least make us laugh).

    Offer skills we don’t have – a good example I read was knowing how to skin a WordPress blog.

    The world does not owe you a living. So you’ll have to fight for your place. As a graduate you are pretty useless to us in the ‘real world’. So make yourself less useless :-)

    But if you are good, stay positive, are hard working, and prepared to slog it out doing the ‘boring stuff’, if you can learn (really learn) from your mistakes, you will make it. Cream rises to the top etc etc!

    Good luck.

  • I would say – the more work experience the better, In my experience when a youngster joins a company its the ones that have a basic awareness of how a company works and a general understanding of what to do and what not to do, these are the ones that start strong and stay long.

  • Clare

    Check out Although there isn’t a lot online, Gemma and Paul who ran the project have produced a publication that is definitely worth a look. They’ve also produced a Melbourne edition, anyone interested could always pop them an email for a pdf.

  • I Forgot to add… and observe silently – 2 ears 1 mouth 😉

  • Big Dave

    I graduated last year and now I work in-house for a manufacturing company. If you’re not that fussy about the type of work you’ll be doing and you just want a job, you can do plenty worse.

    It gives you time to brush up on your software/technical skills ready for your next job a few years down the line. Plus, if you’re the only designer there, then everyone thinks everything you do is amazing.

    My advice – don’t turn your nose up at a job or a placement – any experience, good or bad, is valuable.

  • Carlo

    How to letter space type – judging by your illustration.

  • Carlo

    How to letter space type – judging by your illustration.

  • Jack

    I graduated last year from Reading University and was fortunate enough to get a job as a designer for a large publication company.

    The job i applied for was a junior role in August last year, therefore was inundated with applications from fresh graduates. Having asked my boss why he gave me the job, he said that from looking at my portfolio its was clear that i had good layout, typographic and design skills straight away, the rest of the interview was more finding out what i was like and if i would fit in with the team.

    My advice for graduates is be strict with what you put in your portfolio and do not over fill it otherwise the interview may get a bit dull. Put work in which you think shows the key design skills, and be passionate about what you show, as this will demonstrate good presentation skills. With so many design graduates around these days, most of them (i would hope) can design. So i think it is important to show what else you can do, and that you are easy to work with and most of all up for a laugh.

  • I graduated in July 2009 and left London with hopes to find work in Oslo. Though I had heard things were going to get difficult, I don’t think I could have been prepared for how difficult it actually was.

    After four months of contacting various studios, printers, even non-design related companies, looking for ads, I was lucky enough to get an interview with a studio that actually was looking for a freshly educated designer. I do think it was the only job available at the time.

    To colleges: provide help for those who seek it, and use your contacts and influence to provide what is best for the graduate. At some point, the college probably needs to let go of graduates to take care of next years’.

    To graduates: it involves a lot of frustration and waiting, research and phone/email activity, looking through ads. My advise would be to aim to find a job that actually pays you for what you do. Do not start asking for internships, because that is what you will get. Ask for paid work, then if someone offers an unpaid internship (I think most companies will) in stead you can choose to take it or not. If noone offers money, it’s probably better in the long run to work with something unrelated to design, and set up a freelance business in your spare time. When it comes down to it: a job is a job no matter where you are. The job could be temporary while you look for more interesting (paid) work.

    Be thorough, patient and friendly. Luck also plays quite a big role.
    Never stop looking. Try networking when possible. It seems the UK provides benefit for recent graduates.

    To employers: Be strict, but take chances and dare to employ even the unexperienced. See it as an investment. Then, PAY THEM. If you can’t afford it, don’t employ, as you probably don’t need another set of hands. Even for a short-term intern, give them something. Not just lunch and expenses, but enough to not wear someone out, so that they will continue wanting to work within design. Just because it’s more than normal not to pay, doesn’t mean it should stay that way.


  • Get plugged in! I recently graduated and landed an internship at a nice place in Shoreditch, they offered me a job after 8 days and gave me a pay rise on my 9th day. The main reason was that I could answer the problems they were having, thats because I have a great list of sites I troll through first thing in the morning to make sure I know whats up and coming.

    Also try your hand at a lot of different projects, if you want to succeed as a graphic designer you need to learn fast, if you have a good idea but don’t know how to execute it, don’t through it out but research the best way to make it. In this day and age the only thing stopping ideas from being made is how much and what you know.

  • I echo the general feelings here; any job placement is well worth it! Why work in a local supermarket during your college time off, when you could get a design placement. Yes you will not get paid a lot, if at all, but the experience you gain is worth it.

    Like Big Dave, I did a placement in a manufacturing company during the summer of my 3rd and 4th year. I can honestly say that I learnt so much extra about the capabilities of Illustrator and Photoshop, that it was worth it for this alone.

    Get out there, let people know about you, get your website up and running! Dont wait for opportunities, if you worked well with someone in college set up a partnership. Or try setting up with someone who has a totally different skill set, and something you can offer as a business.

    Do NOT be afraid, its not that bad out there, the perfect job and the best opportunity will come along. It will work itself out. And if you feel like its not, go travel and experience the world. Who knows how you may feel when you come back.

  • It’s tough. Very tough. And there is a truth in the fact only the toughest survive. The lazy ones fail. You need to be proactive, no one is going to call you. You have to make your own opportunities, make your own destiny. Your success is in your hands. As is your failure.
    But here are a few tips. Most are based on the very basics of marketing. Many are common sense. Sometimes you just have to think like a CD and then you’d wake up to what motivates them.
    • Never send out blanket ‘Dear Sir’ emails. Total waste of time. Personalise all communications and do your homework. Know about them and their company and work. Quality is better then quantity.
    • Do something that will get a Creative Director (or senior) to really want to see you. They are time short so can’t see many grads. Like any good design or advertising, it’s all about impact. They are looking for the ones that stand out.
    •You are not God yet. Never tell them how great you are, “hot talent”, you aren’t. Not yet. You are fresh but green and making claims you are great makes you look arrogant and deluded. They already have great people working there, so why will they hire you? Mainly because you are cheap, work hard and have potential.
    • Be different. So many books are all the same. Colleges turn out sausage factor students with the same work. Blame the bean counters in Whitehall. Bin it. Start afresh and make the work yours. It should reflect your values, approach and style, not your tutors. Be employed for who you are not who the college wanted you to be.
    • Work hard. Really hard. You’ve been in cotton wool land for 3 years doing no real work with no real pressure by our standards. This is the real world. You need to work harder, faster and all hours. And never use Facebook at work. Friends, socialising all comes second.
    • Forget money. If you land a job, great. Most will spend months, maybe years doing unpaid or poorly paid placements. It’s not the money but the work that really matters. Get a job in a bar or pizza joint. You’ll need it.
    • It’s not just about the work but about people. You need to engage future employees, be nice, listen, be humble, take advice. Never argue (as an employee the bosses word is king) or be arrogant. You need them more than they need you – the pool of talent for employees is very big. Make them like you. We want nice people with potential talent. Once you’ve seen someone try and keep the connection going, come back, build a relationship.
    • Think of yourself as a brand. You need to be remembered. What will they remember you for? What defines you? If you have it in you, do something that defines you. Invent something, develop a unique skill, get noticed for something – it creates a talking point.
    • Action. Try and get a second interview, ask to come back when you’ve renewed your folio. Ask about work experience. Ask for honest feedback or how you could make the grade to get a job there.
    • Remember, it’s a very subjective world and some will love the folio, some will hate the folio. The better it is, the more polar the response. If everyone just likes it then it’s average.

    Chris Arnold
    Founder & CD – Creative Orchestra.
    (Former CD Saatchi & Saatchi, Draft, STH, Feel, Alliance…)

  • Tristan

    What is the longest period of time you should do internships for before landing your first job? 6 months, a year, 2 years… 5 years? Is there a limit to when you should call it a day?

  • In my experience studios are very receptive to new graduates coming in for twenty minutes – provisionally just to get advice and show their portfolios – and you never know what this might lead to.

    Showing initiative is really important – as is being persistent. Don’t be afraid of following-up emails/letters with a phone call – designers are busy but if they have a few minutes free in their schedule when you call, they’ll more than likely arrange to see you.

    Take real care and attention with how you present yourself, in both your correspondence (get the name of the person you are contacting right etc) and with your portfolio. Quality rather than quantity is important with your portfolio because time will be limited and you’ll feel more confident knowing that there’s no ‘fillers’ in there. It’s important that print-outs are immaculate (as a graduate I was chastised by a big branding agency simply because one of my sheets had a bent corner) and I personally find that loose sheets or boards are best. It’s more engaging for the interviewer if they can pick-up and hold your work, and it saves the faff of you having to unclip sheets from a ring binder. During the meeting, be enthusiastic but don’t over explain your work and give the interviewer the time to ask questions!

  • Simon Dighton

    This is an extremely tough industry to get into, as I found out. I graduated from Norwich School of Art and Design with a B.A in Graphic design in 2008. After 2 years of Internships, Graduate placements and Freelancing I finally found a full time job beating over 300 applicants.

    To find out more about my transition from Internship to a full time job please read my blog

  • You’ll spend more time “on your face” than “off it”!!!!

  • David

    In response to Adam,

    Sorry to say things don’t get much easier when you get offered a junior position on a very basic salary living in London (probably) unfortunately. However don’t give up! The problem with the industry like alot of media world there are thousands of people fighting for the same positions and it seems the ones that can get through this period are the ones with financial backing from else where. Or are willing to undercut others and work for free. And yes I seemed to have more money at art college than my first three years on being a junior, and living like student when you’re dying to become a professional isnt much fun. And sometimes it feels like there’s no way through.

    But the trick is too be clever and resourceful. And I have fond memories of this period of my life – its makes you stronger. I decided to not do studio placements for free and instead built up a portfolio of screen prints and free lance work while working a horrible shop job 4 days a week – that was me being resourceful you may choice to do something else. It worked because it illustrated that i was passionate and had morals (apart from the shop job bit). And of course do the all the important stuff don’t cut and paste the same covering letter to everyone with the wrong studios name in the email etc etc

    So in short my advice is if you want it hang in there – remember why you joined the queue – those who can’t please leave and make it easier on the guy next to you – and be passionate you’ll stand out.


  • It’s simple…

    Take all of the surprise out of the leap to work and stick your fingers into as many agencies pies as possible… as early as possible.

    My current job came out of a work experience module (but don’t wait for one of these to come along), if you’ve got an eye for design then one thing will inevitably lead to another.

  • Julie Logan

    The hardest thing about life as versus school is that once you get out of school everything gets really sloppy. When you’re in school you’re handed a recipe. Do this + do it well = a grade. Real life doesn’t work that way. There isn’t an automatic quid pro quo. Sometimes you’ll do a good job on something and get stiffed. Sometimes you’ll do a good job on something and be resented for it. And though it happens less often, sometimes you’ll do a mediocre job and get paid way more than is reasonable. But virtue is its own reward and think of life as a percentage game. Over a life time if you do a good job most of the time, most of the time you’ll get rewarded. Life is easier if you actually enjoy being good at what you do. To expect any more than that is folly.

  • When I began in Graphic Design it was a profession with a reputation. Today we are always in competition with every jerk with a keyboard and a piece of pirated software. Most small business would rather get the recepionist to do their design rather than use someone with real knowledge and experience. We are up against all the nephews and sons and secretaries and friends of mates in the whole world. If you can deal with that then there is hope. “Graphic Designer, sorry I can’t afford it” Time to become a Design Consultant I think.

  • I’ve been making a list for a while now, copying bits and bobs from here and there while adding a few tips of my own. I hope it helps!

    In General there is no such a thing as a bad placement and it is possible to turn a placement into a job, even in this currently climate. Placements help to motivate you but it’s up to you what you learn/get out of them.


    Ring up or find out the name of the person you need to contact.

    A two week placement is not long enough but a month is just right, but what ever is offered make the most of it!

    Find out as much as you can about the company.

    You know nothing about the industry so don’t act like you do.

    Get your portfolio ready.

    On placement:

    Get there early on your first day and take some deep breaths.

    Make sure you talk to everyone during your time even if you think you will annoy them.

    Take everything in.

    Work hard, harder, hardest.

    Keep Focussed.

    Don’t eat crap for lunch as this only makes you crash in the afternoon.

    No Facebook/twitter/msm and keep mobiles calls to a minimum.

    Always make notes of what your asked to do.

    Don’t be afraid to ask for help, it’s better than spending hours doing it the wrong.

    Take your portfolio in everyday just incase people want to see it.

    Take on any brief that is given and make the most of them.


    Buy biscuits.

    Make tea.

    Offer to do anything. (well almost anything)

    Try to enjoy yourself, it is allowed.

    If you do leave before others, ask if they need help before you go.

    Try and spot the people who may have time between briefs to talk to you.

    Try and spot the people who don’t have time between briefs to talk to you and ask to help.

    Get used to people not using your name when referring to you, ‘Oi’ or ‘Erm’ may be your new name.

    You find that everyone knows everyone else in the industry, so ask for email addresses of people in other agencies.

    Be careful who you beef about, it could be a mate of the designer sitting next to you!

    Go out for drinks after work if asked.

    Buy a round.

    Try not to come into work hungover unless it’s the bosses fault.

    Become a networking whore.

    Believe in yourself but be humble, no body likes an ego maniac.


    Keep in contact.

    Ask if you could go back.

    Say thanks.

    Remember You haven’t made it even if you are offered a job.

    You’re only as good as the last brief you did.

    You’re never untouchable.

    Enjoy the ride, you’re getting paid for something you love.


    My placements never really taught me anything apart from how I though/would have like to have been treated, but then again what the hell did I know. My first real life experience as a designer was being thrown in the deep end on my first job. I was very lucky, I’d worked my arse off for 7 years after leaving school and as a result landed a decent job in a well known studio in London.

    At the time I thought I’d made it, I had a job and I was now a proper designer, how little did I know. On my first day, it went so bad that I offered to hand my notice in, but my then bosses saw something I couldn’t and told me to stick it out and keep the faith. It wasn’t easy, in fact it was probably the fight of my life. But I knuckled down, grew stronger everyday and with many a set back, started to slowly build faith in my own ability. 5 years on and the day came to fly the design nest and move onto pastures new, yes 5 years, and I still didn’t know everything or anything really. What I did know was that I didn’t know everything and that’s the first step to becoming a good designer.

    Design college teaches you the design vocabulary but doesn’t always teach you the best way to use it. A one year foundation and a three year degree course isn’t really long enough? Becoming a designer takes a life time of learning, there’s always someone ahead of you and there’s always someone behind you, the trick is not to get ahead of yourself, know where your at, listen to those who are wiser and pass on to those who aren’t.

    I’ve always believed that there are no rights or wrongs in design just opinions. However some opinions are more respected than others, and that respect has to be earned.

    The best of luck

  • I’m a recent graduate from an art school. I studied graphic design and in the second year specialised in Animation.

    During this time we got to work on some fantastic live projects, had a great tutor and also took on work experience and various freelance opportunities, all great experience.

    The disappointing thing was our final show and how badly exposed our work was compared to other graduates from the Graphic Design course. With them receiving plenty of exposure through exhibiting in London with the school, which was very well deserved as their work was fantastic.
    We on the other hand were lucky if our films were shown at our degree show twice a day.

    I know this sounds like a bit of a moan and what I’m saying is quite obvious, but the thing I have learnt and advice I would give to undergraduates would be to get exposing and don’t rely on your degree show or college too much, get out there blogging, posting your work and networking before you graduate, start doing this in the first year!

    Just as a note the problem with our degree show was the college’s fault and my tutor was excellent and plagued by the bureaucracy of our institution!

  • I’m sure a lot of graduates will already be aware of the existence of this book (I believe there’s a revised second edition out now), but just in case:

    How to be a graphic designer, without losing your soul
    Adrian Shaughnessy
    ISBN-13: 9781 58669 410 0
    ISBN-10: 1 85669 410 0

    As with any advice you’re given, it’s best to question it all and compare the author’s views with your own. I’ve found the ideologies in the book align with mine, and continue to use it as graduate, cross-referencing it with my intuition and common sense. There’s a shedload of advice for graduates on all sorts of matters.

  • Don’t forget you are a Designer. Think, make, do what people need.

  • Take time out and travel the world for two years. Be a free spirit, work, develop your ideas, think conceptually, do something different…. then think about the future… Bip

  • Joey

    Interesting read. Very Helpful.

    Wish me luck at Bucks this year!

  • I wish I’d known how helpful it would be to publish a blog — not just for the insightful reader comments and constructive criticism, but also for search engine rankings and client acquisition.

    Had I known of the importance, I would’ve started mine much sooner.

  • I wish I had known that I was a master in perhaps the worst personality trait for the business world — shyness. One can survive school, and university, and even graduate school alone behind a desk, but in the business world you’re going nowhere! It can be an immense challenge to learn how to be outgoing, to make contacts, to be political, to network, and generally to be liked and respected. It’s bloody hard, but it’s the most important thing you need to master in the early part of your career.

    Also, pay close attention to typography, that’s where you can improve a great deal.

  • Joe

    Don’t bother!

    If you end up in a place like where I am, doing the same old shit, day-in, day-out. You find yourself looking for a career change working on the bins where I can still work with shit but get less hassle!

  • My overall advice is to get some commercial experience and then go freelance or start your own practice and build up your own clients and reputation. At the higher end of design, the creative industry thrives off reputation and one job will lead to another. Try to get some awards under your belt as this will get you noticed, even if it’s a collaborative project. If you have contributed as part of a team make sure you get your name put to the work!

    Agencies will use you. Make sure you use them too! You need to be intelligent and assertive to survive this industry or people will take advantage of you. Get the salary rises you deserve and line yourself up another job before you make any major demands on your current employers.

    Placements are crucial. I did two week’s work experience for a small studio whilst still at school and it taught me the importance of time and project management. This directly lead me into the design industry as they invited me back for the summer. I then went onto to study graphic design and did a BTEC National Diploma, so I actually did things the other way round.

    Don’t ever do ‘freebies’… never! This underines the value of design and all that creative thinking. If you do a job for a friend make sure they at least buy you a bottle of wine for instance. Believe me, you will not feel good working for free, for anyone. Enjoy every challenge and enjoy learning for your mistakes as you will be better prepared for the same task the next time it arises.

  • My twopenneth worth would be to say angle your work to the commercial world rather than for your imaginery dream job of designing a new record label identity and record sleeves. Most designers graduate to an agency that produce every day stuff like a solicitors A4 mailing etc. Prospective employers are going to want to see the ‘boring’ stuff in your portfolio to know you can deal with the sort of clients they work with, and you have demonstrated in a small way that perhaps you can hit the ground running

  • Unless you’re a super-designer in the making, and about to start working for top aspirational brands, make sure your design has function as well as form – man on street wants to absorb his info without the design getting in the way of the message.

  • Torben

    Placements are a really good way of getting your foot in the door of this industry. As well as offering a solid insight as to how a studio works, peform well and you will definitely be more front of mind as and when opportunities arise. All our recent junior positions have been filled by placements who have stood out from the crowd.

    That said, it’s really important that you do your research first – getting a great first job is as much about what is right for you as it is for your potential employer. Make it personal – find an agency whose work makes your socks go up and down and approach them in a bespoke and engaging manner – your passion, knowledge and enthusiasm about what they do will help open doors.

    Beyond that, it comes down to ideas, ideas, more ideas…oh and talent, hard work and attitude

  • adam o neill

    Hello as a recent graduate I have struggled to find new work/internship, is there any decent sites for design graduates that aid the process?

  • @Adam
    I am also going through exactly what you are! I graduated in 2007 and moved my whole life for a job. After almost 2 years of service they kicked me out just like it was nothing at all. REALLY sucked. I hadn’t done anything wrong they just ran into issues because a huge web project we had worked on fell through and they didn’t have any financial backing at all. Since then I have been living on less than $50 a week doing what I can to pay my rent and trying to land as many interviews as possible.

    I’ve also come so close to a design job but then at the last minute something will happen and someone else will get it. Really is hard to stay motivated when this happens. I also don’t want to lower my standards and live unhappily doing a job I hate. I have a lot to give as a designer and person, this just has been SO frustrating.

  • christopher

    I took a job straight from College (rather than going to University) it was crap, setting B&W ads for Auto Trader, pay was rubbish, hours were terrible, but it got me on the ladder and gave me knowledge of how things worked in the real world.

    Don’t expect every job you do to be a design classic, there is a lot of ‘bread an butter’ work to be done in Agencies, but do the best you can with the brief you are given.

    Become commercially aware and learn what will work for what client and what the objective of the brief is.

    Act like a sponge and learn the good and the bad from your colleagues.

    Be very diligent with grammar & spelling and try minimise mistakes as these usually cost money. Double check your work!

    Gain knowledge of the print process (if you are designing for print!) it can be invaluable.

    Learn how to deal and communicate with clients, and remember they are paying you.

    and last but not least, enjoy!

  • Eleanor

    I finished my Illustration degree a year ago and i currently still looking for a job. I have taken on being a freelance Illustrator but i would like to work within the design industry. It is not possible for me to take on a unpaid placement as i have to work to pay for my rent etc. I am looking to move to London and there is no way of taking on an unpaid placement and working to pay to live there. This ultimatly means i can’t find a job in my sector as i do not have industry experience. I don’t want to moan about finances but i am utterly cluless!

  • I think my course has prepared me the best it could of for the ‘real world’

    I have just graduated with a first for the University Of Central Lancashire. I did a year out after my second year. Working at 6 different agencies in London – Ziggurat, The Partners, Turner Duckworth, Bloom, Landor and Williams Murry Hamm. I had a fantastic year and felt like I learnt a lot.
    I found that learning about how the industry works, what they expect from you and how you should act were the most important aspects, rather than how my actual skills as a designer improved.

    Our course decided not too take part in New Blood this year, due to several different reasons. Some of us decided to do our own small show instead. This worked out much better for us as we got to meet back up with people we had worked with in our year out, meet students currently doing the year out, and meet lots of new useful people also. I spent the night talking lots of people through my portfolio, which I dont believe I would of had the chance to do so at a bigger exhibition. Several of us have bagged more placements, and in some cases jobs….from the evening and our previous experience on our year out.

    So to sum up. I would tell all current students to do a placement year. It much more affordable to do it while your at uni, as you still get loans and gives you an advantage in your final year.

    Still though, Im not expecting to get a job right away. I have a few more placements lined up and have my fingers crossed that I will impress the people I work with and be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

    Best advice I would give – Work hard and be nice to people…..oh and make lots of tea!

  • Be creative
    Be persistent
    Be realistic
    Be flexible
    Be friendly
    Be eager
    Be happy

    Be yourself

  • Natalie

    i’m only going into my second year at university, but already i know i’ve made mistakes. throughout the ucas process, we were always being urged to “go for the course! not the university or the place!” i took this advice, and ended up at coventry university studying fine art and illustration, as it’s one of only three universities which offer the combined honours. coventry isn’t for me. as an art student, and especially an illustration one, i feel we have to be inspired by where we live. i don’t feel motivated being in the city or at all inspired and have hated my first year. i nearly transfered at christmas to u.w.e., a place i could really see myself at but let peer pressure take over and listened to all my new university friends who urged me to stay put. and i regret it everyday. i can’t imagine restarting university all over again as it would mean wasting about £6000 and i’ll be taking a year out in order to reapply next year…
    not only do i not feel right being in coventry, it isn’t a very well established art school… i have friends at other universities – nottingham trent, manchester manc, falmouth – and all are offered placements and kick starts into the art world. they’re offered placement years or months and coventry simply doesn’t. the place IS important. well established art schools equal connections, and i never realised this.
    so if any prospective university students are reading this i urge you to trust your gut instinct. sometimes it’s the place, not the course, that can get the best out of you.

  • There will never be a perfect method to find the perfect job, suited for your needs. Experience is the most important thing that you can ever experience; University only prepares you for the BEGINNING of the experience known as real life.
    Specialise if you are particularly passionate about a certain field, if you feel you are an all-rounder, then work hard, persevere and become the jack of all trades. It’s however YOU feel the most comfortable that you will be able to walk into an interview and be confident about your own work.
    I can’t say that I’ve been through it all, as I am a fresh graduate myself. It’s a tough world out there, but you will never know that you have tried your hardest if you never tried. Good luck to all!!!