You can do it!

The economy will always have its ups and downs, but graphic designers can still find their way. Here are some tips for the new graduates for 2010.

Time to make lemonade.
When you are given lemons, make lemonade. Finding a job right now isn’t easy for anyone right now, but it is a little harder for graphic designers than for some other fields because graphic design is usually one of the first industries to see cutbacks.

In February, I was laid off. I saw the industry I was in changing and design was becoming less and less important, so luckily I was expecting the layoff, and I was already feeling like it was time for a change. So I embraced my layoff and am now successfully freelancing and will most likely take this time to get my MFA. Graphic designers are lucky in that we have the option to freelance, where other professions don’t have that luxury.

No matter how wonderful you are, employers won’t be pounding on your door, so shout to the world online and in-person that you are looking for a design job. They do exist, but a lot of jobs are filled before a job post is even published.

I am a freelance graphic designer, and the majority of the work I have been getting is from me telling people that I was available, not from answering job postings.

Interviewing is a lot like dating.
You set up a meeting (the date). You converse to find out if you like each other, and then you go home and anxiously wait by the phone or check your email waiting for THE call. Chances are you will have to go to many interviews before you find a job that is a good match for you and the employer.

When I have a meeting with a potential client, I prepare. I look up the person and organization I will be meeting with. I select what I think will be the best designs to present, and I think about what questions might be asked of me. After the meeting, I evaluate what I could have done better. View each interview as practice and revise your answers and your portfolio constantly. Even if you feel the interview went great, try to not let it bother you if you don’t get the job. Move forward and look for something else.

You are not a rock star (yet).
You have worked hard for four long years and your professors rave about you, but you need to remember you are just beginning. There is actually still a lot for you to learn. And guess what? Once you learn it, it will change.

When I finished my Bachelor’s degree from SCAD, no one was thinking about being sustainable, designing for good, Web 2.0, iPhone/iPad apps or the design revolution in Asia. Over the years, I have continued to need to learn new things in graphic design, and I expect that will always be necessary.

Develop a thick skin.
Your portfolio review may be tough to hear today. Being a designer, you need to be able to take criticism daily. Your art director, your client, your client’s boss, everyone is going to have their opinion. It is your responsibility to educate these people on the design choices you made, but ultimately, you might sometimes be asked to make changes you don’t like.

When I work with clients, I not only want to provide them a design that I think is fabulous, but even more so, I want them to love it because in the end, they are paying me for my services.

It may not be perfect.
Don’t expect your first job to be the perfect design job. You have many years in the future to find that perfect job and quite frankly, your vision of the perfect job will change and evolve, so even if you find a perfect job now, it won’t be your perfect job in the future.

My first job was for CNN Headline News. I loved it…for the first few months. Then I realized I was doing the same job some people there had been doing for the past eight years. I realized if I wanted to continue to grow and develop in my field, I would need to find ways either in my job or outside of my job to keep myself current. For your first job, look for an employer you think you can learn from. Maybe there is someone that can be a mentor, or maybe you will be exposed new technology.

Value your work.
There are many people out there that want design services for free or for cheap. Make sure you are getting paid what you are worth. There will always be someone out there who will work for less than you. You need to explain to your clients or the employer what else you provide besides good design.

When I meet with clients for the first time, I find out what their needs are, show them my work, explain how I could help them, but I also describe to them the process. This way the client can understand all the work that goes into making a logo and why it will cost a lot more than $50. You need to do the same at interviews. Don’t assume they read your resume. You need to tell them why you will be the best person to hire.

There is still hope.
So, I am sorry to say, it won’t be easy to find a job in design. It is a competitive environment, but take this as a challenge and do all you can to make yourself stand out. Take time to write individual cover letters, tweak the wording of your resume for each job application, and bring the best and most appropriate pieces to your interviews. When you do find a job, you probably won’t love it all the time, but as with all jobs you should be able to learn something. Listen to your boss and your clients and try to find a good solution to the design that can make everyone happy, and lastly, love what you do.

Good luck to the class of 2010!

By AIGA Baltimore
Published May 10, 2010