This blog was originally published on Workamajobs!
You’ve got skills, a great portfolio, and stellar recommendations.
The only thing you need now is a design job.
As many an experienced designer will tell you, landing your first job is one of the toughest parts of building a design career. The competition for entry-level jobs is intense and since you have no prior experience, standing out is hard.
To make things easier, here’s our guide on how to find your first design job.
Part I: Understand Hiring
If you want to land the perfect first job, you have to understand how the hiring process works, what employers look for, and how much negotiating power you have.
Understand Your Situation
Recent graduates looking for their first job often have a skewed perspective of the job market. They might think that the process is heavily weighted in favor of employers, or that they have no say in the negotiation process.
That’s not true at all.
Employers work exceptionally hard to find the right candidates. In hard-to-fill creative roles such as design, they’ll often go out of the way to attract top talent.
In fact, attracting and retaining talent is the number one priority for creative agencies - among the top employers for designers.
You’ll understand why employers care so much about hiring when you realize the costs associated with it. An SRHM survey found that the average cost-per-hire for any employee is $4,129. For skilled workers such as developers, this figure can be as high as $31,970.
In other words, employers have a strong incentive to:
- Attract the right candidates, and
- Make efforts to retain them
Once you realize these facts, you’ll find that you have a lot more say in the hiring process than you realized.
Understand What Employers Want
What exactly do employers look for when hiring designers?
The easy answer would be “skills”, but that doesn’t show the complete picture.
While skills are undoubtedly important, employers care more about results and marketable skills.
To understand why, you first have to understand how employers utilize your services.
Most companies that hire you would fall into two categories:
- Product-based companies that use designers to create and sell products, such as Microsoft, Apple, etc.
- Service-based companies that sell designers’ time to other companies, such as creative agencies.
In the case of product-based companies, the exact skills the employer wants will vary from employer to employer. A company that invests little in graphic design but a lot in UI/UX will want designers who focus on the latter. Another that does a lot of illustrations will want you to have Adobe Illustrator skills.
But in the case of service-based companies (which are among the largest employers for designers), your worth is essentially tied to how much the company can bill for you. In-demand, technically challenging skills that lead directly to increased revenue for clients are worth more.
This is why a starting UX designer gets paid much more than a graphic designer. The former’s skills can lead to higher conversions for agency clients, which increases your value.
Essentially, employers want people who can bring in more money. And for that, you have to show skills that correlate directly to higher revenue or conversions.
For example, a graphic designer might create a smashing brand identity that helps a client stand out. But “brand value” is abstract and can’t easily be tied to higher revenue.
In contrast, a UI/UX designer might create a revamped version of a website that converts better, and thus, helps the client make more money. Since the UX designer’s work can be directly tied to increased revenue, his skills are more in-demand.
Thus, when you’re searching for your first design job, focus on skills that are “closer to the money”. Instead of emphasizing abstract skills such as “creativity”, target skills that help your employer bring in more money.
This will do a great deal to help you stand out.
Understand the Market
A lot of new design grads enter the market believing that they’ll get a chance to exercise their creativity and create category-defining campaigns.
The truth, however, is a lot more somber.
Unless you find work as the only designer at a tiny company, you will have to deal extensively with constraints and rules. If you’re working at a creative agency, for instance, you’ll have to create designs that fit the creative brief. For high-value brands, these briefs tend to be extremely detailed, telling you exactly what specific colors, font, and even line-height to use.
Even at product companies, as an entry-level designer, you will rarely get to create designs that go straight to market. Rather, your designs will go through various iterations before they go live.
Apart from creative rules, you’ll also have to deal with organizational rules and corporate bureaucracy. The larger the organization, the more rules you’ll have to deal with.
So when you search for your first design job, it is important to understand what kind of work you’ll do and temper your expectations. There is a clear correlation between “freedom & creativity” and “financial stability and good pay”.
As a general rule:
- Choose freelance if you want few organizational rules and can do with lucrative but unstable pay.
- Choose a small company if you want more freedom (creative as well as operational) but are okay settling for lesser pay.
- Choose a large company for a more stable job but with lower creative freedom.
Understanding this will make your job hunt, and the experience afterwards, much more satisfying.
In the next section, we’ll share some practical tips to get the design job you’ve always wanted.