What Do I Need to Do to Land an Entry-Level Job in Graphic Design?

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Isaiah from Southern Oregon University asks:

“Can you tell me some ways to find entry-level Graphic Design jobs?  I apply to jobs on sites like Indeed.com, but they usually require several years of experience.  I graduated last year with a BS in Art and Graphic Design concentrations.”

Thanks for your question, Isaiah.  It is competitive in today’s job market, even for entry-level positions.  When you consider that 250 resumes are received on average for each corporate job opening, it isn’t hard to imagine your struggle.  Here’s the good news, though.  The job market is continuing to improve as the US unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in 16 years.

I encourage you to be creative to get your start in Graphic Design.  Be open to working prospective employers on their terms, not just yours.  Most individuals are only looking for one way to join an employer – direct hire with employer for permanent opportunity.  Remove the blinders to open up additional options.  Additionally, if landing the starting point in your field is your driving force at this time, then invest a full-time effort (40+ hours a week) in your campaign.

There are many things you can do to take steps forward towards accomplishing your goal.  Below are some specific suggestions that you can include in your efforts.

Use Various Job Search Methods

Most job seekers mistakenly assume employers post all jobs online through various job boards and company sites.  Employers are competing for talent similar to the way you are competing for jobs with other candidates.  Current data shows that many employers find employee referrals as a great way to fill job openings.  Recruitment by referrals are utilized for over 25 percent of openings according to recent research.

Jobs won’t always be posted online.  So, I suggest that you reverse this thinking by targeting employers.  Don’t wait for employers to post available jobs.  Develop a list of 25-50 prospective employers in your area that may have opportunity in line with your skills, experience, education, and interests.  Do some additional research and determine a decision maker to whom you’ll address your letter and resume.  This is a great way to get your value proposition into the hands of the person with the power to start a dialogue and ultimately hire you.  Companies are always hiring.  The downside is that they may not always be hiring on your timeline.  Get to the employer before everyone else.

Utilizing this strategy allows you to be proactive, rather than passively waiting for jobs to be posted.  It can make all the difference in the world to landing an interview.  Remember, you only need one job.

Target marketing and employee incentive referral programs as described above can be very powerful.  Consider adding other job search methods including:

  • Networking – Engage your network to build your own marketing army filled with individuals who can potentially provide tips, leads, referrals, introductions, job placement, and more
  • Recruiters – While recruiters work for and are paid by their company (direct recruiter) or client (3rd party recruiter), these individuals need qualified candidates to fill direct jobs or put in front of client companies. Develop a rapport with recruiters, especially those who specialize in your industry
  • Job Leads Via Job Boards Using Double-Hit – After applying online, most go into hope and pray mode as they hope and pray an employer calls them in for an interview. Be proactive with employers by following up on all your applications.  Additionally, target market your value proposition to the hiring manager as well.  Research to determine who the decision maker is and craft a strong message to this individual highlighting how you can help them.  This is a great way to get your resume into the hands of the person who is making the hiring decision.  The first step is to apply through HR, then target the decision maker / hiring manager – the double-hit.  Utilizing this strategy allows you to be proactive, rather than passively waiting for a response.  It can make all the difference in the world to landing an interview.
  • Staffing Agencies – Staffing agencies may have opportunity that is not posted online so research to find an agency specializing in your field who work with local companies in your area.

Engage Your Network

Make sure to start your search by letting your personal network (friends, family, existing connections – both in-person and online) know exactly the type of job you are targeting and how they can offer assistance to you.  Networking (or engaging the help of others) is, was, and will always be the best job search method – over 60 percent of individuals find their jobs utilizing the help of others.  Be sure to ask for assistance from your network with kindness and humility, while allowing them an easy “out” if they don’t have any leads for you.  If people like you and can help, then they’ll help.  Always offer help back to anyone from whom you are asking for help.  Reciprocate as often as you can as relationships are two-way streets.

Visit Your Career Center

Most colleges and universities offer services to recent graduates for at least a year after graduation at no cost.  Simply put, you should leverage your career center as it is a student resource.  College career centers are staffed with knowledgeable, skilled, and credentialed professionals who can provide assistance in a variety of areas including resume review, interview skills training, job search strategy, and more.  Furthermore, they likely have a job site exclusively for current students and recent alums featuring jobs posted with the institution.  Contact your campus career center to up an appointment at your earliest convenience.

Start a Portfolio / Blog Website

Highlight your past work by developing a portfolio website.  This will allow you to showcase your skills, design flair, and more to a prospective employer and / or client.  You can include past work from classes, pro-bono, or work you’ve done simply for fun.  Make sure to include your portfolio website URL in your contact information on your resume.  There are numerous free or low-cost options for you to consider including Crevado, Wix, WordPress, Portfolio Box, and more.

Consider Non-Traditional Ways to Work an Employer

Most professionals, like you, are primarily looking for full-time, permanent opportunity with an employer.  However, the world of work is changing in terms of how employers prefer to hire along with how candidates like to do the work.  Open your thinking up to considering freelance, project, temporary, part-time, volunteer, and other opportunities that would allow you to get your start in graphic design.  While securing a full-time, permanent job is the goal, these non-traditional job types would allow you to get your start, while allowing you to earn income, gain skill, build a stronger portfolio, and more.  Additionally, these jobs would allow you to get inside a company on their terms.  Once you are “inside” a company, you will be better positioned to land the preferred job type (full-time, permanent).  There are numerous websites where you can learn of freelance or project opportunities including Freelance, Behance, People Per Hour, Flex Jobs, Fiverr, and more.

Join Professional Associations in Graphic Design

Another way to build your network, reputation, and circle of influence is to join a professional association in your industry.  There are several graphic design professional associations including AIGA, Graphic Artist Guild, and others.  This is a great way to connect with leaders in your industry and learn of employment opportunity.  Most professional organizations post their available positions through the association’s website or possibly through word of mouth at meetings.  Don’t just become a member and do nothing either.  Get involved and volunteer for a board or steering committee.  This will provide you with the opportunity to showcase your skills and ability to produce results.

Use Graphic Design Job Boards

There are many job boards out there from which to choose.  Spend most of your time using aggregator websites like Indeed.com.  Also, use websites that exclusively post graphic design jobs like AIGA Design Jobs, Krop, and others.  Sites like these can alert you to opportunity in your field within your geographic search area.

Putting It All Together

Envision your job search as a pie chart equaling 100 percent.   Most job seekers put all of their job search efforts into using job boards. Diversify your efforts to include many different methods including job boards, target marketing, employee referral programs, double hit, networking and others.  Also, be sure to invest 40+ hours a week to your campaign.  Consistent effort will likely net better results quicker.  Set your goal achievement date 90 days after you start your plan, develop your job search plan, and fuel it with lots of consistent daily action.  You only need one job so keep moving each day until you get the job offer.  Good luck!

Here’s to your success,

Bob Nealon

About the Author

Robert Nealon

For almost 10 years, Bob Nealon has been a South Florida-based career coach, focused on training and coaching college students and professional-level clients to achieve success in their employment search campaign and careers. He has trained over 5,000 clients with strategies on how to best compete in today’s ultra-competitive market to land the job and advance their career. Currently, he is a career coach at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Sports Management from Indiana University, a master’s degree in Sports Administration from Indiana State University and is a multi-credentialed career coach holding industry certifications as a Certified Professional Career Coach, Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Employment Interview Professional, Certified Empowerment and Motivational Coach, Global Career Development Facilitator, and Florida Certified Workforce Professional. He is an active member of Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches, Center for Credentialing and Education, Florida Association of Colleges and Employers, National Association of Colleges and Employers, and National Career Development Association. Connect with Bob via LinkedIn and Twitter.

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