Here you are freshly graduated and ready to tackle the next phase of your design career. But where do you begin? How can you maximize the coming weeks and really launch yourself into the career you want? Here are my 5 post-graduation tips to get you started.
1. Believe in Yourself
This is so important and there is a reason we are starting here. When you believe in what you can do (even if you're new) you are ahead of the game. You boost your confidence, get prepared and are ready to tackle anything that comes your way. When I first started out, I was so nervous that I wasn't up to par with anyone else in my field. How could I be? I was brand spanking new! The thing is that you must start somewhere and while I may reflect on my newbie self now with a laugh, it was the belief in myself and my ability to learn, try and grow that kept me going.
How to Apply It: Truly access your abilities. What makes you different? What can you do faster? What do others value in your abilities that you can use to boost that confidence? Then remember that being prepared is a huge motivator for confidence. Next time you are preparing for an interview, come prepared with a few of your own questions, practice answering frequent questions with a friend and know how you will talk about your work. If you are giving a presentation, run through it a few times, use the slides as hints to what you are going to say and speak to what you know.
2. Practice, Practice, Practice
Your days in a classroom may be over, but that doesn't mean you're done learning. Every new project is an opportunity to learn something new about design and grow your skills. You should be challenging yourself with projects that ignite your portfolio outside of classroom work.
How to Apply It: Don't have any real-world experience yet? Create a fake company (or your own) and design their business cards, logo, brochures, etc. Not only will you get some great items for your portfolio, but you'll also learn more about creating cohesive designs for future clients.
3. Look for Opportunities and Take Them
If I didn't say yes to opportunities, I was unsure of, I wouldn't be where I am today. When you are just starting out, it's unrealistic to think you'll be at the top right away. You may have to work a few jobs that aren't your end game or even worse, completely nonrelated to design! Yikes! However, you'll always take away something whether it's a new friend, potential colleague down the line or freelance client.
How to Apply It: Look for jobs that will boost your skills and keep your eyes open at all times to opportunities that will benefit your career. Remember that it may take some time before you get to where you want to be, but the journey is worth it in order to build those skills and your abilities.
4. Find Your Community
I spent a lot of my early days as a one-woman team. As the years went by, I realized how influential the right people can be and I started exploring new ways to meet people offline. Wait no social media? It's true. While social media has been a great tool, it's the face-to-face relationships that have mattered most in building my community. Not only is my business today a reflection of that, but I have also acquired a sweet little army of resources and connections.
How to Apply It: If you are shy like I was, find a connected friend and go with them to community events. Your friend can introduce you and break the ice by sharing what you do. 95% of my business comes from referrals and this is all made possible by the network I've built over the years. Work can come from anywhere at any time. Make sure you are out there and present. Bring those business cards and don't be afraid to talk about what you can do. You're the driver in that realm so push fear aside and get out there!
5. Be Realistic
It took me a good 8 years before I really was ready to venture out solo away from a steady paycheck and full-time job. I always knew I would end here, but I didn't know all the details of how and when. Timelines shift as do goals and opportunities come and go. It's important to be realistic about what you can do, where you want to go and who is going to be with you on that journey.
It takes a lot of hustle, commitment, and strategy to live the design career you want, but it's very possible. Be open to the possibility and understand that change is inevitable, especially in your early years as a designer. Continue to practice those skills, look for every opportunity and build your tribe to support your goals. Good luck designer!