Design Students: How to Get a Job

The big gap between finishing university and getting a job can be tough. It’s the part no one ever really talks about. It’s all project deadlines and end of year degree shows. But now thats over. You’ve got your degree in the bag, so what’s next? Realising you’re on your own and facing the rather daunting task of hunting down a design job can be a bit of a shock to the system. You’ve gone from feeling on top of the world earning your degree one minute, to the bottom of the working-world pile the next. What now?

Sure, spending your days watching Homes Under The Hammer and eating Wotsits is fun, but those days can’t last forever. You need to get a job. And for some reason, you want to be a designer. Self motivation is a huge factor. No one’s going to go out and get a job for you. You need to spring into action. Take off those pyjamas and put on some proper trousers. You’ve got work to do!



Your Portfolio

Your portfolio is your sword for slaying the dragon that is getting a job. A bit of a cumbersome metaphor but you get the gist. Your portfolio is going to need some tweaking from finishing uni to becoming something prospective employers will be impressed with. It needs to look refined and considered – as opposed to a mass collection of every project you’ve ever done. So choose only your best work that you want to discuss. Also, its always a good idea to include projects that vary in style and purpose. This will allow you to showcase the many many things you’re good at.


You need to bear in mind that nobody employs a portfolio. People employ people. Human beings; with thoughts and feelings. You can’t go into an interview, silently flick through your portfolio and expect a job at the end – you need to show some personality too. I’m not talking about opening with an awkwardly forced ribald one liner, but be prepared to be personable and approachable to talk to. Think about it, you need to seem like the kind of person they may want to see every day Mon – Fri for the foreseeable future.


If you’re nervous before an interview thats good! It means you care about it. You need to find a way to channel that anxiety and worry into something positive. Use that adrenaline to passionately talk about your work and ideas. You should never feel worried when talking about your own work. After all, who knows it better than you? You’re the world’s greatest expert on your own work. It could be your chosen subject on Mastermind. You should feel free to go into any interview or portfolio review and sell yourself and your work, because at the end of the day, nobody else is going to do it for you!




1. Common Sense

Never turn up at a studio unannounced. It may seems whimsical, zany or a little bit spontaneous – but 9 times out of 10 you’ll most likely turn up right in the middle of a mad deadline day rush and probably be an unwelcome distraction… Always email or phone ahead!

2. Placements

Placements are NOT a waste of time – regardless of what your parents might say. Work experience in a studio environment is of paramount importance when trying to get a job in design. Don’t be afraid of doing a number of placements in a row – even if you know there are no job positions available.

3. Make yourself useful!

Placements and internships aren’t school. So no dilly dallying! If you’re a bit of a spare part you need to show some initiative and get involved. The more helpful you are, the more likely you’ll end up doing some actual live project work. You’ve got to do your best to give whoever’s in charge the following problem – as you leave you want them to be thinking, “Crumbs! We could really do with you staying longer!” … Ding!

4. Money

Unfortunately unpaid placements happen – but if its good experience and a CV booster you should definitely consider them. It’s encouraged to go the extra mile and make an effort on a placement, but at the same time don’t let studios take advantage of you. If you feel like you’re being used for free labour or you’re still somewhere unpaid after a couple of weeks… It’s time to move on!

5. Show interest

If you’re looking for work in a city, there are usually all kinds of funky art and design events, opening nights and exhibitions for designers / studios taking place. Showing your face at a couple of these can never hurt. It’s where you’ll find the big wigs, cool cats and right kind of people you’ll want to bump into and introduce yourself to.

6. Portfolio reviews

Contacting design agencies and seeing if they’re open to giving portfolio review sessions is one of the best things you can do. If you manage to get in and have a review, try and take onboard their comments and feedback, then update your portfolio accordingly to make it more suited to the professional working environment.

7. Self improvement! 

If you find yourself with free time, instead of watching more daytime antiques shows on TV, perhaps try following online tutorials or courses to train in additional areas you may not have covered at university – such as coding, animation or illustration for example. This can be really beneficial when selling yourself to potential future employers. You can never have too many skills!

8. Luck

Alas, it doesn’t matter how talented, enthusiastic, reliable, punctual or passionate you are – you’re going to have to accept that a large part of getting a job comes down to luck; and more specifically, being in the right place at the right time. However you can increase your chances of this by making yourself available and known to studios. Get your name out there!

9. Website / Blog

Keep an up to date website or blog of all your project work. Having a digital portfolio online is standard practice these days and most studios will expect it. If you’ve made a good impression with someone, be it at a design event, interview or portfolio review – the first thing people will do is try and find more of your work online!

10. Gotta have faith

Just like the words to the legendary George Michael classic, you ‘gotta have faith’. Getting turned down, emails ignored, and having a lack of immediate placement opportunities can feel awful. It’ll knock your confidence and could leave you questioning your own abilities or even your passion for design. But it’s like old George himself sings, “it’s time to pick your heart up off the floor”. You can’t let rejection get you down. If a studio doesn’t reply to an email it’s probably nothing personal, they’re most likely super busy. It’s a numbers game. The more places you interview at and do placements with, the more people you’ll meet – ultimately increasing your chances for new opportunities to present themselves.

Good luck!