My definitive guide to getting a break in the design industry

 14 April 2016

What does a typical application process look like for a design career? The truth is that there is no such thing. Here's my definitive guide to getting a break in the design industry with 5 tips to help you kickstart your creative career.

"Focus on what you love and don’t be intimidated by the competition that exists within the industry."

Assuming an opening is even recognised in the first place, getting a break in the creative industries depends on many factors:

  • Will the budget stretch to employing new staff?
  • Are the existing team able to delegate tasks to junior positions?
  • Is there available talent that can demonstrate aptitude and seamlessly complement the existing team right away?

Design agency vs design industry

Design industry jobs tend to land (and end) so frequently that there often simply isn’t time to give due consideration to changing the dynamic of a team.

Design agency jobs are rarely advertised and potential employers tend to keep their own personal records of enthusiastic, available talent.

Document and share your passion at every opportunity.

Such is the nature of portfolio based work – you must be prepared to drop in and out of a project at the drop of the metaphorical hat.

Design process is uncompromising and ruthless and there’s little tolerance for those who do not pull their weight. Despite the radical changes the design industry has undergone in recent years, the old adage still rings true: you are only as good as your last piece of work.

Fortunately the same availability qualifiers are applied to juniors, interns and graduates. If new recruits can demonstrate aptitude, and are willing to cover any available opening, chances are you they may just qualify for a minor role that the latest project demands.

To succeed in the design industry, you must first grab the attention of those in charge of hiring (and firing) productive teams.

Kickstart your creative industries career

1. Document and share your passion

Focus on what you love and don’t be intimidated by the competition that exists within the industry.

Share your videos on YouTube or curate a blog on a carefully considered topic. Separate your specialism from your social life and tweet about it regularly.

Learn code if you can stomach it. Right now and forever more, design will always value creative developers.

2. Differentiate yourself

What is unique about your talents? When everyone zigs, what is your zag? This is the hardest part.

It’s often difficult for a fully-fledged brand designer to define their own values – if you can do this as a talented and hungry young person finding their feet, then you are truly worthy of a creative industries opportunity.

3. Present your talent

Define your values and unique characteristics. Brand yourself, then do something exceptional. Be different. Write a beautiful handwritten letter. Produce a bespoke showreel.

Whatever you do, target your ideal employer with a killer piece of tailored marketing that gets their attention by appealing to their design sensibilities.

4. Select a carefully considered target – then reach out

Ask your dream employer for some careers advice.

Learn code if you can stomach it... design will always value creative developers.

Flatter them on their achievements or offer to buy them a coffee if they will meet you.

Always remember that design professionals are proud of their work and they value feedback from engaged young people.

Be memorable and make the meeting count. Leverage your advocacy and passion by demonstrating your enthusiasm.

5. Amplify yourself

Creative industry openings can happen overnight, but it’s more than likely you will find yourself at the bottom of a creative director’s list of stand-out talent that is worthy of a break. Don’t be disheartened.

Maintain contact and be ready for when the call comes in. When it does, grab your opportunity with both hands. Don’t say: "I don’t see this as part of my career path."

This is not the time to be withdrawn. Be readily available and make yourself known to all key players present. Be absolutely indispensable.

Follow these five steps, but above all, never take your role in the creative industries for granted.