How to get a graduate design job without losing your soul

e’ve all bWeen there: fresh from university, sense of achievement from a brilliant degree show, you’re talented and want to change the world. Your friends move all over the country and seem to land their perfect first job with ease. You’ve sent out countless prospective emails. It’s three months later and you’re working in a bar part-time because you still need to survive. Shy of a couple of two week placements over summer, you’ve not yet got a proper design job. What’s going wrong?

I thought it would be useful at this time of year to give you some dos and don’ts. This mainly applies to design graduates and although we’re talking graphic design, it can work with fashion, photography, architecture… all kinds of creative backgrounds.

Graduate 4

Your approach:

  • Be good, really good. Talent is a start but I’m interested in what you do with it.
  • Be positive and friendly.
  • Be interesting and interested.
  • Be curious. Keep working in your spare time. Keep creative. Keep practicing. Explore ideas. I love to see a sketchbook and doodles.
  • Get offline! You may be a millennial but most of the industry isn’t. Networking is your friend and you can even enjoy it. Join things, talk face-to-face with people, be nice, be memorable.
  • Join a club or organisation: ISTD, CSD, People of Print, Museums Association, local sports clubs… anything! In Bristol, join Bristol Media and go to events. Around the rest of the country there are all sorts of creative networks and organisations for all kinds of businesses, whatever your specialism. Get to know people in the industry this way and you might find out they’re looking for someone before they even advertise it.
  • Don’t ask, don’t get. Ask questions. All the time. If they’re not advertising, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no job going.
  • If there’s a skill you’re missing that would help you stand out, learn it. Learning doesn’t stop when you leave university. If grammar’s your weakness, learn to improve. Can’t draw like you used to? Practice and practice. If you need to learn a new piece of software, do an online course in it. Don’t know how to artwork for print? Learn! Set yourself challenges like #100daysproject. Agencies love to see people self-improve and want to learn more.

Graduate 3

First contact:

  • Know who you’re talking to. I get countless emails starting ‘Dear Sir’. They immediately get deleted. Even if I was a sir, they’re not personal and would still get deleted. It doesn’t take five minutes to find the name of the person you’re emailing.
  • You can still have personality. Show it in your cover email/letter.
  • Tailor your CV, covering letter and portfolio. Do not send more than three projects to potential employers. They don’t want your whole portfolio in an unsolicited email. Pick your most relevant projects for that agency and in your covering letter say why you’ve chosen them and link similarities to the company’s own client work if possible. They want to know you’ll fit in. Make sure you use the right person’s name, the right company name and the correct job title. Double check! (I’ve had emails addressed to me that mention another company’s team and clients in the body.)
  • List what you can do: concepts, artwork, coding etc. Don’t say ‘I know 100% of InDesign’. No you don’t, no one does. There’s a current trend in CVs with infographics showing how well people can use software packages by percentage. It annoys me. How can you possibly know how much you know?
  • No typos! Get someone else to read through everything before you send it. (Out of over 100 applications we had for our designer position last year, 80 were immediately binned for having errors in either the cover email or CV. It’s a very quick and easy way to filter applications.) Alright, you’re probably not a copywriter but if you’re accurate, it shows agencies that work won’t have to be done twice.
  • Everyone likes movies and socialising! I’m far more interested in your qualification in cat herding than hearing you like to go to the pub. But I do still like to read what people’s interests are so keep them in. You won’t be judged professionally on it but it can make you stand out more.
  • Be persistent but don’t stalk or piss people off. Follow up on your email with another email a week later. If still no reply after a couple of days, feel free to call the person. If they don’t want to talk to you, fine, but they probably just had other things on their mind and got sidetracked. It might be the start of a very good conversation.

Graduate 2


  • Customise your portfolio. If you’re applying for a junior web designer position but your portfolio is mainly corporate identity, don’t panic. If you’ve got a couple of weeks’ notice, or even a week, that’s plenty of time to work your magic and do an entire project or two to boost your folio. This is how I landed my first job.*
  • Use your experience. If you’ve had a placement, show the work you did there. Of course you need to ask their permission and be honest about your part in it but as long as you don’t put it online they should be ok with it in your folio.
  • Show your best, most relevant work. Not ALL your work. This is very important and shows your editing skills as well.
  • The core idea is more important than polished visuals. I’d rather see a sketch with a powerful idea than a worked up graphic with no real purpose.
  • Show your commercial and most recent work. It’s far more relevant to a potential employer than a second year group project. As the saying goes, ‘you’re only as good as your last project’, whether that’s through paid work or off your own back.
  • Be confident, not cocky. If you’re not a confident person, pretend. It has the same effect.
  • Be on time.
  • Be professional. Dress like you want the job. I’m not saying wear a full suit but jeans and a t-shirt might be a bit too informal.
  • Be passionate.
  • Tell them what you can bring. They want to know you’ll get on with everyone and also bring value to their offer. Sell the benefits of projects you’ve done and how they helped the end user. Everyone likes results.
  • Follow up the next day with an email thanking them and asking for feedback. It’s the least they can do.


If you do all these things – or at least most of them – and apply to the right places for you, you’ll get there in the end. You will. You’re just at the start of your journey. Let us know how you get on @thewaydesign.

I wish you the very best of luck and enjoy the degree show!


*Side story: after three months of fruitless job hunting following my graduation, I managed to get an interview for a small agency in Nottingham. Knowing that this was specifically for print/corporate design and that I’d spent my entire third year on ‘new media’ as it was called then – designing DVD menus and film credits (despite my adamant refusal to live and work anywhere near London) – my portfolio was chronically lacking in appropriate work. I picked out two competition briefs from the YCN book and set to working my creative magic. The day before my interview, I reprinted my folio with the two completed additional projects and left out all my digital work. I got the job. The reason they gave was that my portfolio showed more relevant print experience than any of the other interviewees.


Hello Howard!

We are excited to announce our new member of team Way! Howard Swift has joined us to help nurture the business, supporting and growing our clients and the studio team here as our Project Manager. He says-


“It’s a real privilege to be joining the guys here at The Way. They’re a really great team doing great work for great clients – so my first challenge is to try and maintain that certain level of general greatness!”


We’re thrilled to have him on board and look forward to achieving great things together.
You can read his biog to find out more.

We’re recruiting!

Creative, outdoorsy and want to live in the best city in Britain*?

We’re looking for an exceptional all-round graphic designer to join our small team, in a role that has the potential to become something amazing.

At The Way we specialise in engaging, useful design for print, brands and interpretation. We’re pretty new as a business, but have an enviable client list including national parks and forests… and we’re growing fast! We create everything from complete brands to magazines and newsletters, visitor guides, interpretation, signage and wayfinding systems, mapping and illustrations, marketing campaigns and reports.

In this new role, we’re looking for a self-motivated graphic designer to join us at our office in Bristol. You should have at least five years’ experience working in house or agency side in a fast-paced studio, where you’ve gained proven experience in running projects end-to-end. Being both creative and an accurate artworker, you should have the confidence to take briefs and present your ideas to clients, from concept stage through to delivery.

Experience working in interpretation, the public sector, museums and heritage – and a love of the great outdoors – is a big plus.

Must have:
• A great portfolio showing your creativity and breadth of project experience
• Expert Adobe CC skills
• Print process knowledge
• Conceptual thinking and scamping
• High standards of execution
• Excellent communication skills
• Design degree or equivalent
• A desire to get involved and push the business forward

We’re looking for someone who will help our business grow, winning pitches while keeping up with day-to-day work (and hopefully having a lot of fun too).

If this sounds like you, email telling us what you can bring to the business, plus your salary expectations. Please attach your CV and a PDF of your three best pieces of work.

Salary negotiable, dependent on experience. Benefits include 25 days’ annual holiday and CPD. Flexible working and reduced hours also considered.

Deadline for applications: 6 March, 2015.

Interviews will be held in Bristol city centre on 16 March. Only successful applicants will be contacted.

See the full ad here.

*It says so here