How can I better my chances of getting a start in the design industry?

James is doing a Design BTEC, but can't land work or experience. He is worries this will continue once the course is over.

I’m a self-taught designer and I’ve been trying to find a way to break into the industry for a couple of years now. I all most feel like I’m getting closer and closer to a wall that I just can’t seem to find my way around.

I’m currently about to enter my second year of graphic design in college. It’s only a level 3 btec course, but I thought this might help my cv stand out a little more if I had some qualifications to go along with the whole 'self taught' line.

Before starting the course, however, I tried to find some sort of work within the industry, managing to get into the last 8 for a position only to be beaten out by someone with better qualifications and more experience within the industry. 

So that was my next step, to try and get some experience. 

I’ve emailed and phoned countless companies offering to work for free to try and gain some experience within the industry. The general response is they either do not have the space or they just aren’t taking anyone on. 

It’s hard enough trying to find a job because you need x amount of years experience within the industry, but how are you suppose to get that experience if no one is willing to help you get some? 

I had also tried again over the summer to try and find a placement while I was on break from college but failed to find anyone willing to take me on again. I’m just worried this is going to continue once I’ve finished the course I’m on.

So my question really is what can I do to better my chances of getting a start in this industry? I’ve created an online portfolio that I link to in emails while trying to gain experience and have also taught myself a little bit of html and css in thinking that might help me to get my foot in the door somewhere. I’ve gone to college to get some qualifications, and was hoping I’d learn a little bit more in the process, but I’m afraid I’ve learnt nothing new in my first year.

 I’d like to avoid university if at all possible because I don’t want to pay it off for the next 10 years or however long it might take.

This is something I definitely want to do career-wise as I’d much rather have a job I’m passionate about rather than a job I don’t want to wake up to go to. I’m hoping there’s something I haven’t done yet that will help, but any tips would be greatly appreciated.

— James Lewis

Expert answers

Drew de Soto's reply:

Hello James,

Getting work experience isn’t easy because most agencies work to maximum capacity. Even if you are working without pay, the agency team will invest a considerable amount of time working with you.

So, if you can present yourself as someone who will not only give your time for work experience, but will also bring something to the company - really help out with their work - that will make your proposition much more interesting.

I’d play down the self-taught aspect and make sure your portfolio is cracking from the outset.

Focus on agencies that fit with the kind of work you do and make sure your approach is to the right person and addresses them directly. 

A good way of getting your foot in the door is to ask for 10 minutes of an agency’s time to look at your portfolio and advise you. You can pop the question about whether they have placements on offer there and then, while you still have their attention.

Best of luck.

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