Portfolio advice and finding work

Out of 3 things to send to a prospective employer – a cover letter or email, CV and portfolio – the portfolio you send can be the hardest part of this combination to get right.

A well-written cover note and a CV that shows you have the skills and experience for the role are incredibly important, but remember that you are dealing with visual people. One single, attention-grabbing piece of work could make you.

With that in mind, think about the following points when preparing your portfolio for a prospective employer:

  1. Make sure it’s user friendly.
    Make it as easy as possible for an employer to access your work. If what you are sending requires special software to view or maybe has a 500-page preface to your work, you’re instantly shooting yourself in the foot. Consider that a potential employer is short on time and make your portfolio as quick and easy to access as possible.
  2. Target it properly.
    Research the agency you are approaching and make sure you target those appropriate to your skills and experience, there’s no point approaching a digital agency if your skills lie in packaging design and vice versa. It takes only a few minutes to search for the agency’s website on Google and a few more to read a little bit about their services and portfolio and make sure your skills are a match for their’s.
  3. Make it personal and personable.
    Remember that you’re not the only one vying for work at this agency, so put a little differentiation into the portfolio you send. There’s an old business cliché that ‘people buy from people’ and the same rings true here. Remember to balance it though, you may be the world’s best snowboarder and into Napalm Death, but the work’s the first and foremost thing you’re showcasing here…

Finding work

Okay, so you’ve spent the last 3 years at one of the UK’s finest educational establishments learning the craft of design, new media, advertising, photography or whatever floats your boat.

You’re armed to the teeth with the slickest portfolio your lecturers and peers have ever seen, an attitude of exuberance and your sights set squarely on a CD’s role in a ‘few’ years time…

…but you need that first break, so where do you find it? Here are a few pointers for sourcing your first job out of uni:-

  1. Placement years.
    If your course offers a placement year, usually as the third year, it can be a good means of landing your first job after you finish your fourth year. Often the roles are unpaid, but if you go into a company and pull your weight for a year, chances are they won’t forget it. Keep in touch with them when you go back to university, invite them to your final show, just do what it takes to stay on their radar once you return to education and who knows what doors may open after your final year…
  2. Recruitment agencies.
    Back when I landed my first job in design there weren’t half as many recruitment agencies that specialise in design as there are now, so milk it. They’ll promote you to prospective employers, which means you don’t have to, and they often have good contacts in agencies. But some of the more creative agencies are turning their backs on them due to the fees they charge, so may prefer a more personal, direct approach. Therefore if there’s an agency you’d love to work with check out their attitude to recruitment on their website, but if you’re simply looking for an easier way to land your first role somewhere, a design recruitment agency can be a good route into your first role.
  3. Online research.
    Always the first route for finding any information, Google search for companies in the location you want to work in. More often than not, they’ll have some information on their site regarding current vacancies and their general attitude towards recruitment and this can be a good starting point.
  4. Network.
    Many of the UK’s cities have good design scenes with events happening tailored to the industry. Sometimes these can be informal events, sometimes not, but I’ve never known of one that’s ever excluded students and graduates from attending. Go to them, make some contacts, but remember not to be too pushy – put yourself out there a bit, but don’t harass people there and something may come about from one of these meetings that lands you your first job role. Industry bodies such as the DBA and Design Council sometimes run events aimed at students and graduates too, so keep an ear to the ground via their websites to hear about them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *