About 6 months ago, I had the realisation that after four long years, I would finally be graduating. Not returning to university after summer, or ever; I was being kicked out into the big wide world. And I would (hopefully) be working for someone who wanted me to design things. But who? How do I find these mystical companies that wanted to employ me? How do I make myself stand out from the sea of new design graduates? And how do I make the jump from being a student designer to being a proper designer with a proper job and a salary and all those grown-up responsibilities?!

1. Be organised

Write a CV. Build an online design portfolio. Get a LinkedIn account. You never know when opportunities will pop up, and you want to be able to easily send your information over and look professional and prepared.

2. Get some experience

Obviously, experience looks good on your CV. But make sure it is experience in a related industry, otherwise you won’t be exposed to the real-world design processes that university simply cannot teach you.

3. Network

Get to know as many companies as possible, and you never know what opportunities may arise. Speak to lecturers, family friends, go to networking events, and create opportunities yourself. I organised a mid-year exhibition where final year students could showcase their work, and companies were invited along to meet the fresh talent - and that’s how I first met Ed and Alex!

4. University teaches you the technical skills you need

But its entirely up to you to use these skills to experiment, learn and be creative. The worst thing you could ever do is limit your design because you’re not sure how to make it on CAD. 

5. Practise your weaknesses

If you struggle with sketching, follow some industrial design sketching boards on Pinterest. If your weakness is CAD, find online tutorials. Identify what you struggle with, and improve on it.

6. Time scales are different

Projects in industry may need to be turned around in days, rather than weeks or months like student projects. Learn how to work quickly.

7. Learn to make decisions

You’ll arrive at a far better design in the same amount of time.

8. Share your ideas

Collaboration isn't encouraged at university — lecturers want to see what you can produce as an individual. However, industry is all about teamwork, so find a way of sharing your ideas, receiving criticism and editing your design based on feedback.

9. Work hard on each project

You’ll only get out what you put in. You’re not going to change the world with every design, but work hard and you’ll learn something new from every project, no matter how mundane it seems.

10. Stay relevant

You might not be lucky enough to land a job before you graduate. But while you’re living back at your parent’s house with time to kill, do something productive. Practise sketching, catch up on design-related news, and update your website and CV.

Hopefully, alongside a big dose of hard work and talent, this advice will help you in landing your first real-life design job. Those tips have helped me get the most out of my university course, progressed me as a designer, and helped me get this wonderful job as an industrial designer at G2 Innovation! (And I'm still here 7 weeks on, so I'm hopefully doing a few things right!?)

Written by

Emma Hartley