Just graduated: What next?

If you’re asking yourself the same question, don’t worry. Creative studio Shellsuit Zombie and its collective of writers and illustrators are here to help. Opening our Grad Guide is their very own ten point plan to the next steps in a creative career

1. Prepare for the shitstorm

You’ve graduated. Yes! Your Instagram is full of photos of your parents looking proud and you looking bloody ridiculous in that stupid hat, but now things are about to get serious. We’re not going to sugar-coat it, the first year after graduation isn’t an easy ride. In fact, if it were a ride it would be something like Nemesis on a full stomach whilst on a first date. Naked.

It’s going to be challenging in all sorts of ways and there will be times (a lot of them) where things don’t go the way you’d hoped. That said, if you manage to stick with it you will come out the other end with a wealth of experience (and hopefully a job), having learned a lot both professionally and in terms of getting a clearer idea of what exactly you want out of a creative career. Think of yourself as Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redeption, covered in shit, feeling a little bit like throwing up but, ultimately, with the rest of your life ahead of you, full of possibilities.

2. Stop talking about tea

When you apply for a job, you’re not being asked to prove how similar you are to everyone else who is going for the same role. You’re being asked to stand out, to be different, to give them a reason to choose you rather than Dave. Sorry Dave.

So why mention the things that everyone else can do too? You wouldn’t put on your CV: has arms, legs, can breathe oxygen and occasionally likes eating crisps. That could apply to anyone.

Making a mean cup of tea is just your way of saying you don’t stand out at all. Your potential employer will have read hundreds of other CVs in their time that all say something along those lines. What they won’t have read is the thing that will get you the job.

Apply the same rule to portfolios: the best portfolio is one that can’t be made by someone else.

3. Big up yoself (but don’t be a dick)

So, your work is so good it makes seasoned tutors weep. So what. This won’t help you a damn bit unless anyone gets to hear about it. You need to channel your inner Beyoncé and work it! We’re talking networking, social media, business cards. Networking can seem quite scary – we like to think of it as having a chat with some likeminded people. It’s actually quite fun when you look at it that way.

So show your face at some of these creative socials/talks/exhibitions and get chatting and dishing out them business cards like entrées – you may feel a bit too much like the dude from American Psycho (minus the bloody murder) but it’s the easiest way to give someone your details and have them check out your stuff the next day. Just remember to keep it humble; be Beyoncé, but never Kanye. When you get home from the event, you can continue the networking on Twitter with your local design community.

Another key site to make an effort with is LinkedIn – set up your profile and let the employers come to you.

4. Do whatever it takes

Much like Meatloaf you’ve got to be prepared to do anything for the love of it (except obviously “that”). This may mean a 90-minute commute, doing some work for less pay than you’d perhaps hoped for here and there (but not for free, see over), brushing up on some skills, and working your balls off whilst continuing the Tesco Value lifestyle as your flatmates gorge on Waitrose with their new fancy careers in their fancy offices.

Obviously the temptation is to take the summer after university off – you’re exhausted to the point of jetlag after a year of all-nighters, but you’ll already be falling behind those more ambitious than you, missing opportunities and racking up employment gaps in your CV. Apply for all the jobs you can and above all start NOW.

5. Starting your own business doesn’t have to be scary

Most graduates leave university with the same plan: apply to all the half-decent studios; get a job. However, with everyone else having the same plan, combined with the fact that most studios are asking for a minimum of 12 months experience, it might be time to draw up a plan B. Freelancing is a great way to gain some professional experience whilst showing initiative, although some people are put off by the ‘scary’ business side of things.

Well the good news is it’s not as daunting as you may think and help is available. Your university may offer some business training, or there are various places that provide free business advice to start-ups and can help you with all that tricky stuff you’re less familiar with. You may just want to freelance as a stop-gap or you may even find that the freelance life is what suits you. After all there are a number of perks – being your own boss, having creative control, interacting with clients directly and greater flexibility with regards to schedule and location.

6. Don’t be afraid to ‘settle’

You may find yourself debating whether to apply for that job as it wasn’t anywhere near the amazing role you’ve been dreaming about, and you don’t want to ‘settle’ – but should you hold out for the perfect job?

In short, no. Staying on the dole or in a non-design job for too long will only serve to put off prospective employers. Getting that first job is difficult; the key is to make sure you get your foot on the ladder. Some of the top people in the industry had a rough, unsteady start. So apply for all the jobs – the amazing ones first and the less-than-amazing ones after that.

You can use this first job to develop your professional skills, build on your weaknesses and step it up for what comes next, whilst keeping your creative juices flowing with personal projects. Remember: this job is just the beginning.

7. Comfort zones are for losers

Your comfort zone is a dangerously cosy place to be. Good thoughts live there, happy thoughts, memories of those times you spent with your friends doing the things you enjoyed, having a happy life, feeling content. So why would you ever want to leave?

Well, if you don’t leave now there’s a chance you never will, and all the time you’re spending relaxing and feeling content is time other people are racing ahead of you. For example, you may have noticed that most design jobs advertised are those in the digital sector, and even print studios are listing basic coding skills as an asset.

So get your ass on Codecademy and learn yourself some HTML and CSS, ASAP. Brush up on your digital design knowledge and finally answer the age-old question that has troubled design students for centuries – or at least the past 12 months – what the fuck IS UX anyway?!

8. London ain’t no thang

So the summer approaches and the mass grad exodus to the capital begins – but is it really necessary to move to London to improve your employment prospects? Not necessarily. In fact, staying in your university town can sometimes afford the most advantages, offering opportunities to grads who stay local – some offer paid internships, free business training and other sorts of support. The Liverpool School of Art & Design at LJMU, for example, offers free studio space to creative grads under their Hunting in Packs scheme, as part of their wider Enterprise Fellowship Scheme, which also offers a mentor and a start-up bursary. Lovely stuff.

Other advantages to not being in London include getting to know the local scene easier, less competition, and a cheaper lifestyle. There are thriving creative scenes across the UK, and if you can’t find something that appeals to you, instigate something yourself. London is grand, and definitely brave it if you think it’s for you, but never feel like you have to move there to succeed as a creative professional.

9. Do it all. And then do some more

You can apply this notion of the extra mile to pretty much all aspects of the job hunt. First up: applications. You can’t just expect people to want to read what you send – do something a bit different. Talk to people you want to work with, send them work you think they’ll enjoy, build up relationships, stick your fingers in their pies. Shit like that. You’re more likely to get in if you’ve already got friendly.

If you’re lucky enough to get an interview, go there with the intention to make a lasting memory. Be confident, be bold, be the kind of person you’d want to employ. You need to prove yourself as an asset, and give them reasons not to let you run off to competitors. In the words of D&AD: “Work harder than the guy next to you. Have more ideas than the girl on the right.”

10. Don’t get a reputation for being cheap and easy

If someone asks you to work for free, ask yourself what you are getting out of it that you couldn’t get from an alternative means. Free work is ultimately a con, especially if you’re doing the work of someone on a full salary. Work experience is an option if you find yourself on the dole, whilst you apply for the paid stuff.

The decision to work for free is entirely yours but, in the words of Walter White, “tread lightly”. You don’t want to get stuck in a cycle of doing free work because people expect it from you. Look into the alternatives, such as freelancing (try e-lance if you’re short on clients) or paid internships through your university or graduate recruitment agencies.

Ultimately, the creative industry is one of the fastest-growing in the UK, and there are always opportunities out there to be found by those who can hustle, and if you can’t find them – create them.

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