How to Get a Job in Graphic Design

I wish that when I graduated from college as a graphic design student that I had someone to guide me into the business world. They say that college prepares you for life… it doesn’t. And that isn’t a jab at my graphic design professor (because he was awesome) but there is only so much you can learn in four years. Remember, your professors graduated YEARS before you and they might not know what the industry is like anymore. They are there to teach you design skills, not to teach you how to interact.

I graduated from college three years ago and I thoroughly remember how hard it was to get a job in this industry with the way the economy was. So, I am going to tell you what I wish people would’ve told me. I am also going to give you some tips leading up to graduation.

You graphic design skills aren’t enough to get you a job when you graduate. I know you think you are good at what you do, but there are thousands, yes, thousands of other graphic design students graduating all over the country, and some of them are better than you. There are students that live and breathe design when you only have a basic knowledge of it. Not to mention the people who have worked a year or two and are looking for the same entry-level jobs as you. So what do you need to succeed?

Knowledge of Design

As I said, your skill aren’t enough to get you a job because there are too many people in the world that have your skill set. Make sure you have a foundation of design. I’m not telling you to go read every art history book you can find. That would be useless. I am telling you to read about your field. Blogs are a good place to start. There are modern, cutting edge designers out there writing blogs that can help you learn about the graphic design industry from a modern perspective.

Here are a few blogs to start with:
Typographica– Yes, you need to know something about typography. If you don’t, you should probably find a few more blogs on that.
Dexigner– This design blog has a lot of information on graphic design, web design, typography, etc. I used to read this one religiously.
Abduzeedo– This one is more for inspiration and tutorials than anything else.
Smashing Magazine– This blog is helpful in graphic and web design.

I should mention that, if you are graduating with a knowledge of graphic design, you should know some html and css as well. Our world is going digital and you have to be able to keep up.

An Awesome Résumé

This part isn’t fun and everyone has their own idea of what a graphic design résumé should look like.

This is my opinion. A résumé is a business document. Your portfolio is where you should be showing off your design capabilities.

The purpose of a résumé is to show off your capabilities and education. This is not something to be super dressed up with bold pink font and a “creative” layout. It should be short and sweet. No more than one page.

Hiring managers are looking at hundreds of résumés and by the time they get to yours they might be so tired and irritated that they might just throw it in the trash if they have to do any extra work to read it. On the other hand, maybe a creative layout will just perk their ears up. It depends on the person I guess.

A Diverse Portfolio

Companies want diverse employees and the more you know, the better. Make sure your portfolio has a range of examples. You want catalog design, advertisements, webpage design, web banners, typography, animation, etc. Make sure you tailor your portfolio for each interview. Pay attention to who is hiring you. What does the company do? Have you looked at their work yet?

Make sure you have an online version and a print version of your portfolio. Make sure the link to your portfolio is on your résumé. The first thing your potential interviewer is going to want to do is look at your portfolio. Make it accessible. Don’t make them ask. If they have to ask they probably won’t bother.


But how do you get experience before you graduate? Great question! Make sure you join clubs. There are clubs at colleges for everything. Make sure your club is active though. You want to join a club that volunteers or makes homecoming t-shirts. Basically, you want to be able to prove you are doing something that is pushing you in the right direction.

Do you have a part-time job? If you don’t, get one. Not at a gas station. Get a job that has something, anything, to do with your industry. I worked at The Entertainment Network designing posters and flyers as promotional material for bands and comedians coming to campus. Something like that will work.

Get internships. A lot of them. The more experience you have, the better off you are. They don’t all have to be in graphic design though. Maybe one in marketing, or business would work as well.


Don’t laugh this one off. Just because you are a designer doesn’t mean you think creatively. Remember how I said that you are up agains thousands of graduates trying to get the same jobs? This is how you are going to separate yourself from the rest of the students out there. Are you going to fill out an online résumé and hope that someone calls you back? Good luck. The creative directors who are hiring are looking at hundreds, maybe thousands of résumés. If you fill out a standard form, your graphic design résumé looks like everyone else’s.

So, how do you get someone to pay attention to your resumé? You need a way to get the hiring manager’s attention. Do some internet stalking. Find out who is hiring for this position. Ideally, it will be the creative director or someone directly under that person. Send them a something along with your resumé that they will stop and think about. Click the images for more information.

A combined résumé and open job application formed as a humorous "Top Secret" report, giving away information about a "newly educated and creative designer

A combined résumé and open job application formed as a humorous “Top Secret” report, giving away information about a “newly educated and creative designer

A project that required students to introduce themselves creatively and promote themselves as the right person to work in their chosen departments as an INTERN.

A project that required students to introduce themselves creatively and promote themselves as the right person to work in their chosen departments as an INTERN.

There are plenty of promotional ideas out there, but don’t copy these. People have seen these. Make sure that your idea is CREATIVE and original.

I did one of these promotional mailers when I was freelancing after graduation. I got phone calls, letters, and emails about my promos. Some people hated them and told me that I would never get a job in my field. Others loved them and offered me positions. Even after I had a job, some of the people who told me I was a terrible designer called me to offer positions with their company. If that happens, respectfully decline. I know you will want to say are you kidding me? You told me I was a terrible designer and that I would never get anywhere! Don’t do that. You will be burning your bridges. That person remembered you. And they will continue to remember you because you made an impression on them. That person is now a connection. Connect with them on LinkedIn. Show them that you are still interested in them if something changes.

The Dreaded Interview…

* Don’t go overboard in style. No one cares whether your shirt has ruffles or not. The point of dressing up for an interview is to show respect for the company.
* Make eye contact
* Shake hands firmly
* Don’t let them take control of your portfolio. This is your time to shine. Make it good!
* Be confident in yourself and your work. No one wants a designer who isn’t passionate and doesn’t believe in their own work.
* Accept criticism- this is a tough field and you will be ridiculed often. Make sure you can use that criticism to better yourself.
* Tell them that you really want this position. Make sure you have a reason why.
* Follow up. Email the interviewer(s) when you get home and thank them for their time. You would be surprised how many people don’t send follow-up mail.
* Call a week or so later to find out if they filled the position.

I could honestly go on forever about this. If you have an interest in hearing more about how to get a job in graphic design, feel free to get in touch with me. I will happily assist you.

11 thoughts on “How to Get a Job in Graphic Design

  1. This is really awesome info. I think it goes for anyone in any creative field. I didn’t go to any type of formal schooling for art, so this is great stuff for me to read too! I’m still trying to figure of my next step in self promotion. Thanks for the inspiration to revisit that.

  2. Very good of you to share what you have learned. Although I did not attend art school, am far beyond college age, & have simply been freelancing, there will likely come a point where I’ll need to actually get a job. Hopefully it will be in the creative field & if so, I can use many of these suggestions.

    • Thank you. I’m glad you will, at some point, find this information useful.

      I asked around for months and no one would share information with me that was particularly helpful. I suppose because I was their competition, which makes sense. I always feel bad for new graduates because I remember what it was like to be so excited to be out working a “real” job, but was so scared because no one would hire me. I figured, this way, I’ll give you a chance, even if you are my competition, once you get on your feet it will be an even playing field. I would rather work with, or against, a designer that knows what they are doing and is willing to work hard for what they want.

      Best of luck to you in the future. I hope this information is useful.

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