Get a job. A good one.
I've been hired, fired, accepted and rejected. Here's what I've learned.
I've been wanting to write on this topic for a while now - but held off for fear of sounding like a big asshole. Or worse, a know-it-all. But I get enough emails a week from potential employees that I figure if I put it all down into a neat little package this might inspire some of you looking for work in the design field to forge ahead and not give up. And I fear a lot of you are giving up too soon.
Here's some essentials I look for when considering a new hire:
-You addressed the email to me and me only (no CC or BCC) or 'To Whom It May Concern'.
-You spelled my name right (bonus if you got my last name correct - it's a doozy).
-You wrote a brief paragraph explaining a bit about yourself, how you found me and why you want to work with me (is this starting to sound asshole-ish?).
-You have a website. WEBSITE!! No excuses for not having one in this industry.
-You've engaged with me on social media, or we've grabbed a coffee, you emailed me a question, etc. Create a repertoire when building industry relationships works wonders.
-You're humble and willing to listen, not getting defensive about your work.
-You've created a social following for yourself, allowing others to see your process (the first thing I do is Google you).
-Attach a 64MB pdf of your portfolio.
-Send me a resume that includes your Home Depot experience.
-Become unresponsive after I take the time to respond to you or ask you questions.
-Call me to ask if I got your email, or email me asking to call you.
-Please don't offer to work for free, you're worth much more than that.
Fantastic. So, no need for a resume attachment, just a quick blurb email as mentioned and a link to your portfolio.
Your portfolio should house your 'Top 10' (or less!) projects and only share the work your interested in doing. If you want to be an illustrator but your portfolio is mostly logos and websites, well that doesn't work.
There should be an 'About Me' page and a brief synopsis of your schooling and industry-related work history. Don't have any? Not a deal breaker, in fact some agencies prefer to mold newbies instead of working with designers that may have created some bad habits for themselves. Make getting in touch with you easy too.
For my business, I am technically a freelance designer with a home-based studio and I occasionally contract work out depending on the project scope. This means that whoever I hire needs to be impeccably organized, deadline oriented and a self starter. This is as important as the work my employees put out. I've worked with some AMAZING designers who are big flakes and full of excuses, and the time I spend 'checking in' ends up eating too far into my own schedule. It's a deal breaker.
With that said, and to redeem myself from sounding too brash, I've got compassion for those looking for work in this industry. It's not easy to get your foot in the door, but if you are persistent, stay humble and share your willingness to learn it'll come.
Bottom line - if you're good at what you do and your portfolio is amazing someone will hire you whether they are hiring or not - myself included. They'll find a way to fit you in, or contract you because you're an asset. It doesn't matter to me whether your work is 'actual' client work or school mock-ups, it's about whether or not it's good. And if it's school work it should be REALLY good because you're not working with client constraints or budgets. That's your time to push the boundaries and really shine.
And if you're asking yourself 'how the hell do I get good without a job?' the answer is practice. Practice every day, set goals, and challenge yourself. It doesn't matter if it's real or conceptual. In fact, some of the best designers out there PREFER to show concepts because THAT's where they have total freedom.