ikon boutique branding agency logo


Advice for aspiring graphic designers to land their first dream job

As we receive emails all the time with people looking for jobs, I wanted to give some advice on what could tip the balance on getting your dream first job as a graphic designer.

You don't have to take my advice

Some advice may not be warranted as I found recently someone who argued with me that her method was correct. My advice was to always attach a tailored pdf as she initially asked if I wanted to see her portfolio. She replied “well you asked for it didn’t you”. I definitely didn’t and advised busy Creative Directors will hit delete in a second and that’s why she should. It was met with a random bunch of links she sent back and of course I hit delete. Do not do this.

So what do you do?

Hopefully that is the minority as I would have loved to read advice on how to land a job when I was naive enough to think plenty of agencies would give me a job once I left uni.

At this stage, our branding agency model is small and agile which means we don’t have internships and we tend to work more with experienced freelancers. This is some way to give back and I hope you find it useful.

Always address the person

It baffles me the amount of emails I receive where they have found my email address that says my name at the start of the email address but start the email “Dear ikon”. If you can’t pass the first initiative test then not many will have faith you are going to be valuable. Again, your email will be deleted.

Design something exceptional

I have been guilty of creating boring looking CV’s when I started out. Everyone does it but when you are applying to a creative agency, people want to see your skills right away. Throw out the typical format.

I redesigned my CV which didn’t get tested out as much as I would have liked when I was an experienced freelancer applying to agencies.

It showed I branded myself as I had a logo. It had a picture of me which was not your typical headshot but gave an impression of who I was as a person. It gave a very condensed overview of where I studied and my experience. Not in lists and what grades I had but in short copy that was conversational. The main selling point was the clients I have worked on and that spoke for itself. All it needed then was an email and phone number.

Don't just rely on email

Sending email is too easy. Regardless of whether it's a business trying to drum up business or a designer trying to get a job. When the decision makers who are likely to give you a job sit there and another email comes in sounding and looking like every other job application that dings into your inbox, you don't have high hopes.

Do something different. Design something and send it to the Creative Director. A poster, a brochure, anything. Try send them a present or a thoughful gift, anything will get more attention than just sending another boring email.

Network, network & more networking

Whether you are looking for a job or even when you are building a business, relationships are the key to success. It's the first thing people do, as their network do you know someone who does x, y or z? So the more people you know, the more likely you are of hearing about a design job that could be perfect for you.

Take chances

Often it is the right time, right place. But you have to take chances on things that are unknown. My mate Peter Kay phoned me up (not 'the' Peter Kay, the funny Lancashire comedian) and offered me a job as a barman in a restaurant in Hoxton and free rent for 3 months.

It was an opportunity to get to London and find a job. I did after the 3 months but it was temping in the finance department in a global engineering consultancy. Within those two weeks they knew I was an aspiring graphic designer and it so happened they were looking for one in another department. That was the start of my design career.

Learn as much as you can

When you do get an opportunity, make the most of it. I was lucky working in a global consultancy as they had money to burn and no-one using the personal development budgets. I put myself on every course imaginable. I finished a Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign advanced. I did AutoCad and 3D StudioMax, even went on a short illustration course at Central St Martins. Learn as much as you can as quickly as you can and that learning shouldn't stop even later in your career.

Good luck and keep at it

Sorry ikon can't give you your first chance. Maybe one day in the future it will be possible. So good luck with making it as a graphic designer and remember it's the persistent that make it not necessarily the best. I saw it early with my passion for football, I played with some amazingly talented players but talent alone is not enough.

This article is written by Alex Colley, Creative Director of ikon | We are a boutique branding & creative agency – but not in the traditional sense. We hand-pick a team from our experienced creatives to suit each project, delivering a personal and bespoke service. Alex is always the lead contact every step of the way and our clients include the likes of Cartier, Westfield, Porsche, & F1.

Found it useful?