The first thing we, as new graduates should understand is that this is a new game. Since the US economy’s drastic (and most likely permanent) change, the rules have changed with it. More accurately though, the rules are still being developed. Industry professionals aren’t staying at the same job for 20-30 years and freelancing is becoming more and more common. Ladies and gentleman, this is not the job market your parent’s remember from yesteryear, this is a whole new frontier.
The design industry in particular is a small, yet competitive one. It can be quite difficult to get out there, be noticed, and get the position you want at a company you believe in. But fret not! After all, we are first and foremost creative problem solvers.
If the line to get in the front door is too long, find a side door to sneak in through. Or if you must, make friends with someone who can pull you in through a window.
So, first things first… What do you want?
If you’re a designer like me, you probably have a pretty good idea of what kind of design you want to do by the time you graduate. If not, that’s ok too. Either way, do your research. Find companies who do work you really love. Read their mission statements and find out what they’re all about. Try and find 5 or 6 of these companies that you want to reach out to and really dig in. Find out everything you can about them. It’s even a good idea to familiarize yourself with at least one specific project you like in particular that you can cite in your correspondence to them.
At the moment, I personally have 5 companies that I’m attempting to woo. One company is a clothing company where I would be doing in-house design, 3 are graphic design firms with a focus on branding, and one is an ad agency. These companies are located in Atlanta, NYC, and Philadelphia. Fortunately, I don’t have much that’s tying me down to the city I’m in right now, so I kind of have the freedom to move to wherever I get the best job offer.
Next, we need to address that pesky form letter…
First, print a copy of your form letter. Second, take said letter to the nearest vacant parking lot or fire pit. Proceed to douse it in lighter fluid, gasoline, or any other flammable liquid, and… BURN IT.
Then, go you your computer and delete the form letter file. Burning isn’t necessary, but simply drives the point home. Think about it, would YOU want to read a form letter? I know I wouldn’t. Please, for the love of art and design, don’t ever begin correspondence with “Dear Sir or Ma’am” or “To Whom it May Concern:.” Find out who the creative director is or even one of the art directors and address this person directly. As a designer, you are speaking the same language and therefore have common ground. This is a great place for a professional relationship to begin.
Personally, I like to send letters by snail mail. It’s an old school method that can hold a lot of power in today’s market. Think about it, you can’t delete a letter. You’re forced to hold it in your hands and decide to open it or throw it in the trash. It’s my belief that most people would at least open it and take a look. You can’t say the same for every email they receive.
In this first letter, I don’t talk employment… at all. I introduce myself, mention my education and maybe say something very brief about my experience. Then, tell them why they’re awesome. Be genuine. They are one of 5 or 6 countless companies that you admire the most, so it shouldn’t be too hard.
Be brief, but specific. What exactly do you like about them? Here, cite a specific project and why it resonated with you. Chances are, they will be quite flattered and much more likely to respond. Make sure to mention that you plan to followup with them in the next few days either by email or by phone.
Lastly, give them a little something extra. I like to include a sample of my own work that somehow relates to work that they’ve done or their company does. Everyone likes gifts! Make sure your work sample displays excellent craft and is nice and neat. What a great opportunity do display your awesome X-ACTO blade skills you learned in school! But really, this is what all your hard work in school has lead up to. Show them that you know your stuff! Show them that you mean business! You can do it!
Next time I’ll discuss the art of the followup and other ways to get your feelers out there in finding your dream job.
Love and Light,