How do I get a graphic design job?

Firstly let me just say that this article is written for the graduate looking for a first graphic design job. More experienced graphic designers who have already worked a job or two probably already know this stuff.

Graphic design jobs are not easy to come by. Globally— and certainly here in Adelaide—there are way more graphic designers than required by industry. I know because I receive many more graphic design job, work experience and internship enquiries every week than our graphic design studio could ever accommodate. From all over the world.

With all this competition, who do we choose?

Many students come in to graphic design thinking it’s a sort of quasi technology or art profession. But in reality it’s a communication profession. So good education fundamentals are key to being a good designer and getting a graphic design job.

There are also many different career paths a graphic designer can take (we go over this in section 5 ‘Adapt’ below). This makes for a career path that is diverse, interesting and—as long as you’re willing to be flexible and learn—a very rewarding career choice.

Our tips for developing a thriving career in graphic design are below. They are certainly not comprehensive or definite—many of the world’s most well known designers have taken very different career paths. This is a list of the fundamentals I personally think are required to succeed in this challenging profession:

  1. Do well at high school
  2. Get some tertiary education
  3. Create a great CV and folio
  4. Persist
  5. Adapt
  6. Work hard

1. Do well at high school

Education is critical to a rewarding career. The more time you spend learning and immersing yourself in your education, the better. At high school I think it’s imperative to learn the basics and begin developing great skills in English, Maths and Art.

Design is a communication profession. Language (English) classes are fundamental. I am the first to admit English is not my key strength, but I do have a strong foundation in punctuation, grammar and writing skills (which enabled me to write this post, for example). It is also important to be able to clearly articulate your ideas and strategies when presenting work to clients.

Maths is not necessarily associated with design, but I can guarantee that without a strong mathematics base to work from, you will struggle to do calculations for paper sizes, pixel sizes, project estimates and the like—all key skills in working in or running a design studio. There’s no need to be an expert in calculus or quantum physics, but being really good at the basics helps. Maths is one of my high school strengths and it still serves me well today.

Art is not essential, but handy. You’ll learn most of what you need to know about creativity in tertiary education.

2. Get some tertiary education

Ideally a degree from a reputable University, but at the very least a Diploma or similar from a quality Technology or Vocational college. Something that is at least 2 years full time equivalent. 3–4 years is better. Here in Adelaide we have two key tertiary institutions that the industry holds in high esteem. University of South Australia and TAFESA. Make sure your local industry places high value on any course before you enrol in it. Otherwise you could waste years of your of life studying something which will not help you acquire employment.

3. Create a great CV and folio

If I had a dollar for every poorly considered CV that’s come across my desk I wouldn’t need to work. Here’s a list of mistakes that will cause your resume to get deleted at light speed:

Spelling errors
If you can’t get your own CV right, why would anyone trust you with client work?

CV supplied in Microsoft Word
You’re a designer, not a word processor—show off your design skills!

Massive PDF files
This shows a lack of ability to save a compressed PDF file (a regularly used technical skill).

And here’s a list of things that will get you to the top of the pile:

A diverse portfolio
Don’t just show the same projects everyone else has completed. Show what you can do outside of that. Websites, illustrations, etc.

Online profile depth
A personal website, social media, Behance, whatever—a prospective employer will Google your name to ensure you’re committed to a career in graphic design, and it is not a fleeting whim.

Website development skills
A growing area of graphic design, combined with design skills WordPress dev skills will mean you’re worth your weight in gold!

Design Accreditation
Admittedly hard to acquire without experience, but aiming to become accredited helps to show the employer that you are very committed to the design industry.

4. Persist

This relates back to you being committed to a career in graphic design. It’s tough, we know that—graduate jobs are extremely rare. Those that last do so because they persist year after year, doing more study, professional development, work or any number of interviews—whatever it takes to get their foot in the door.

5. Adapt

There’s nothing wrong with pursuing what you enjoy, except that it could possibly limit your employment opportunities. There are already a huge number of students that graduate from graphic design courses each year—imagine half of them all want to be ‘branding designers’. The supply and demand equation is working against each and every one of them. However, if the other half of them are pursuing other careers in a diverse range of fields, there is much more chance the second half of these students will get a job.

Other such career paths include:

  • Web developers
  • Animators
  • Content creators
  • Video editors
  • Account managers
  • Illustrators
  • Photographers

6. Work hard

Once you get your foot in the door, you must be prepared to work hard. Graphic design is such a visual profession that it appears glamorous from the outside. The reality is the visual bling is just the tip of the iceberg. What goes on underneath the surface is a whole pile of hard work, sweat and tears!

Good luck!