Landing Your First Graphic Design Job

Young man with tabletSome of our readers have asked, “How do I go about getting my first design job?”

Here’s some advice from a seasoned pro:

  1. Find an industry sector where you would like to work. Do your research about this sector and find companies where you would like to work. Offer to do an internship.
  2. Collect a body of work.  Every time you work on a project, try to get samples of the printed piece from the client or the printer.  If you are not able to get samples, take lots of photos with your camera as well as screen grabs of the final project.
  3. Develop a log of contacts.  Keep track of everyone you contact.  Get their business cards.  Save phone numbers and call them again every few months after you have acquired more skills.
  4. Start at the bottom.  Learn the trade and work your way up.  Years ago, I worked at a printer doing paste-up of mechanicals for books. Years before the advent of Photoshop, I created masks and knock-outs by hand using Rubylith. I pasted-up lines of type from that was output from a Varitype machine.  I then built camera-ready art using a series of overlayed transparent sheets to indicate color call-outs for the inks used in printing.
  5. Create a website of your work. Having an online presence is essential in today’s world.  If you don’t have the skills to build a website and can’t afford to hire a firm to create one for you, build a PDF book of your artwork.  You can e-mail this to your contacts and to potential employers.
  6. designofficeVolunteer for non-profits so that you have a printed piece plus it is a worthwhile way to get some very positive exposure, especially if it is for a high-profile event.  Plus you will get the satisfaction of knowing that you have helped a worthwhile cause.  When I first started out, I volunteered to design a save-the-date card,  invitation, program and poster for an American Cancer Society charity event.  From this event, I actually landed a new client who saw my work and asked me to create materials for a Hollywood talent agency.  You just never know…
  7. Apply for jobs on online services such as Indeed, Adweek, Craigslist  and Creative Hotlist.
  8. Join organizations such as American Institute of Graphic Arts, AIGA and use the job resources offered by the organization. They also offer lots of resources and a site for posting your work, just in case you are unable to build your own.
  9. Use your alma matter as a resource to connect with potential employers.  Your alma matter often has entry-level job leads to connect you with employers.  Many Universities also offer resume writing and portfolio building workshops.
  10. Be flexible—you may have to take a job that is not ideal at first just to get some experience or to “get your feet wet.”  Avoid being a “prima donna” artist type.  Don’t be inflexible and unwilling to change your design just because you are in love with it.
  11. Develop a “thick skin.”  Be prepared for criticism and don’t take it personal.  Just look at it as one more learning curve along the road to success.
  12. Get used to lots and lots and LOTS of client edits.  Make “edits” your friend. You’ll be glad you did.
  13. Be extremely organized and detail-oriented.  In this field it is not a bad thing to be somewhat anal-retentive.  Organization will help you to latter find files and to develop designs that are very consistent in look—a key component in developing and building a brand.
  14. Connect with other artists in your field. Bounce ideas off of one-another and develop an artistic “dialogue” to help inspire your creativity.
  15. Love what you do.  A very famous person once told me “Love your life.  Love what you do.  After all, you are an artist.”

Most of all, be persistent and don’t give up the search.  You’ll soon discover a job that gets you started on the road to a career in graphic design.  Sometimes you’ll just need to be creative in how you approach the search.

Good luck and happy creating!


HWDS is a creative group specializing in newsletters for effective corporate communications, branding and marketing campaigns. HWDS can be reached at  Contact us for any of your design and marketing needs for print, online and special events.

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