Creating Your Design Career

It seems that design careers are often the hardest hit in a bad economy. The funding for projects and jobs dries up, and creatives are left scrambling to meet financial obligations. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Proper planning ahead can help you survive a weak economy. Here’s how.

During School:

*Get to know the Career Services staff and programs. Most schools have their Career Services participate in student orientation activities. Attend career services events as soon as you can to develop a relationship with the staff.

*Get an internship. The best, paid internships are often the most competitive. Pay attention to portfolio submission deadlines and do your research on design firms. Consider a for-credit internship if you cannot find a paid one. Many students work an evening job while interning to help defray expenses. Think about pursuing your own internship if you cannot find one through Career Services.

*Collaborate. You can increase your design network by developing your own opportunities to collaborate with faculty and other students either at your own school or other local schools. Consider doing a pro bono project for a local non-profit.

*Find a mentor. School alumni can be great mentors. Participate in a formal mentor program or contact the alumni office at your school to identify alumni willing to mentor students.

*Participate in on-campus recruiting. Meet recruiting deadlines and pay attention to portfolio submission guidelines and deadlines. Show up for every interview slot you claimed. If the recruiter tells you that your portfolio is not a good fit for his firm, ask for design firm referrals where your skills can be put to good use.

Post Graduation:

*Network. Stay in touch with the people you met during your school career to find job leads.

*Collaborate. Be willing to work on cross-design projects. For example, if you are a product designer, work with photographers and graphic designers in your network to bring your product idea to market.

*Branch out. Understand that design skills can be cross functional. For example, your automotive design skills can be put to good use on environmental and shoe design projects as well. Architectural firms may also look for landscape and environmental designers to enhance their real estate projects.

*Consider a portfolio career. You can do a number of art and design jobs that together will pay the bills. For example, freelance as a graphic designer while teaching design and managing an art gallery on the weekends.

*Be willing to mentor. You will meet many people in the design field if you are willing to mentor a promising design student. Time with a student may bring you into contact with new faculty, new student affairs people, as well as new people in a particular design field.

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