From studying to studio: tips for recent graduates

With so many great companies out there it can be hard to know where to cast your net. We’ve put together a guide to help you trade in your cap and gown for your first job opportunity.

Reaching out: Do your research

Find out as much as you can about the studios you’re applying to. Is there something in particular about that studio you like? Were you inspired by a recent project you saw?

A few London based events we’d recommend:

TypoCircle hold monthly talks in London with a diverse range of speakers including design studios, typographers, animators, illustrators, and more. Plus, there is always the opportunity after the talks to chat at the local pub!

Glug Events As well as running events with a host of great companies, Glug Events bring informal networking and a range of talks to the table as well.

Nicer Tuesdays Design magazine It’s Nice That get together on the last Tuesday of every month for an evening of inspiration featuring four speakers sharing the ideas behind recent projects and more.


Stand out from the crowd – make it personal!

Don’t get swept under the rug by sending out blanket emails. Find out your contact’s name and address your email directly to them. Make sure you find out who the best person is to send your portfolio to. Is it the Creative Director or Studio Manager, or, do they have an email address on their website? You have loads of tools at your disposal (LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, to name just a few) to get your work in the hands of the right person. Getting down to design events, conferences and talks are also great places to meet people in the industry and start to build a network. Personalising your emails is a small touch that can save your message from the trash.

Think about what makes you, you

What’s going to make you different to other people who put their portfolio forward? Can you send something via post? Comment on a recent project they’ve done or a talk you recently enjoyed?

Short and snappy keeps them happy

Keep your email short and to the point; remember people are busy. Think about the time and day you send it on. On a Monday morning, it may just get lost in a sea of emails for the week ahead; likewise, on Friday afternoon people are thinking about kicking back over the weekend and might leave you hanging until Monday morning. See the pattern?

Less is more

Quality over quantity wins time and time again, so tailor your portfolio to the company you’re contacting and don’t forget to edit the amount of projects you include. It’s better to include fewer projects and personal work that you’re truly proud of than stuff your portfolio full of projects you feel you could have done better on. There’s still time to put the final touches on a project, or, if your portfolio is looking sparse, to get cracking on a personal project. Why not design a cover for your favourite book, a piece of packaging, or a brand?

Quality over quantity wins time and time again, so tailor your portfolio to the company you’re contacting.

Be persistent

You may land an internship on the fifth email, on the 55th email, it may even the 100th email; the important thing to remember is to be persistent and keep up the momentum. Looking for an internship or job can sometimes feel like a full time job in itself, but don’t lose heart. Make it your business to find your business. However, don’t always expect quick responses from people. If, after sending emails to all of your carefully chosen contacts your inbox is full of tumbleweed instead of replies, sending a polite follow up email can remind people you’re there. It also shows you’re keen to gain experience with their company.


Feedback, feedback, feedback

Always ask for feedback. Not everyone has an internship available (and it’s not always advertised). We’ve had graduates who have asked for feedback on their portfolio and also had some into the studio for just a chat. All of this can lead to work later down the line. If you don’t get the internship, job, or if there just simply isn’t an opportunity available, see whether you can gain some valuable insights that can help you in the future.


The interview: Hit the books (or blogs, or Instagrams…)

After getting through university, you’ll be used to research. Read the company’s website or blog, follow them on social media, know who they work with, what their culture is like or the recent projects you’ve found interesting. It’s always good to have thought about some questions to ask beforehand as it shows you’re interested, curious, and it will also allow you to open up a conversation more easily.

On the dot

Be on time. It may sound silly, but so many people underestimate how long it’ll take to arrive. Always leave a little extra time so that you can sign into reception, find that hidden door into the studio or even just calm those pre-interview jitters. Help the interview itself run smoothly. If your portfolio is digital, you may not be able to rely on their Internet, so have video and motion ready to go.

Dress to impress

Try to dress smart but keep Savile Row on hold! Remember you’re going into a creative industry, although it’s still a professional environment.

You may be nervous, but don’t forget to smile and be friendly and positive. A lot of the time it’s about finding the right personality to fit the studio.

Show your best projects

To print or to show a PDF? That is the question. Whichever you decide, make sure you tailor your projects to the company and showcase your best work.

Don’t have too much text on the page. You’re there to talk through the projects. Before the interview, it’s a good idea to refresh your memory and write a couple of bullet points detailing the key points about each project so you can talk through your work with confidence.

First impressions

If it’s printed, make sure your portfolio doesn’t smell! However odd this sounds, if your portfolio smells of smoke or an overly fragrant Yankee Candle (spoken from experience), it’s not the best way to leave a lasting impression!


All experience is good experience

If your interview doesn’t result in an internship, stay positive. What can you take away from this? Are they able to give you some feedback as to how you came across, improvements for projects, etc.?


Working nine to five: Be willing to learn

Communication is key. Make sure you ask for help as you’re there to learn and no one is expecting you to know everything. Be open and willing to to take on advice, get involved, and say yes. You will be surrounded by people who have lots of experience and will be able to give you valuable insights, so listen carefully. If you’re being briefed on a job or you’re being given feedback, make sure you take notes so that you can refer back to them and use them as a checklist.

Bring your A-game

You’ve got your foot in the door, so now it’s time to go above and beyond to make yourself indispensable. Show initiative and shine! When you’re working on a project, give it everything and push yourself creatively, even if it’s coming up with an extra few ideas on the journey home. We’ve cleared a desk for interns who made themselves indispensable and carved out a job for themselves even when there wasn’t a job originally. We have also recommended good interns to friends at other studios.

Be respectful

A lot of the time it’s about finding the right personality to fit in with the team. Make sure you are respectful and polite to other people and you leave the ego at home. Remember it’s a small world, and news (good and bad) travels fast.

If you don’t get offered a full time position

When you do have to take no for an answer, don’t take it personally. Sometimes it just isn’t the right fit or they don’t have enough space. If they don’t have a position themselves, they may end up recommending you to someone else.


What to take away from the whole experience

  • It’s good practice for next time
  • Advice on work life and tips for getting a job
  • New industry contacts who may recommend you to other people
  • Ask for feedback, things you can work on for next time, or things you can stop, or keep, doing
  • Every bit of experience counts.

The most important thing of all is to be persistent and not give up the search!


Michelle Noel works as a mentor to third year BA Graphic Design students at The University of Lincoln, helping them to move from education to industry.

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