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Getting a head start when studying design

So you’re a student studying a design course at a private college, TAFE or University and are a little worried about how to get a job after you complete your Diploma or Degree. This is all too common and an area that you rightfully so should be concerned about. You’ll spend anywhere between 1 to 4 years of your time, money and energy to your design course with the intention that not only will those investments pay itself off, but that you will make a living from a rewarding, exciting and creatively fulfilling career.

The reality is that jobs in the design and creative industries are incredibly competitive. Whether your interest lies in graphic design, digital design, 3D design, web design, interior design, architecture, fashion design, photography, industrial design, fine arts or anything related, you really have to go above and beyond to be employable. Look at the challenge as an opportunity to grow. Once you accept this and not fear it, your journey truly begins. 

Remember: “Successful people do what unsuccessful people don’t”.

If your studying design, like many students you most likely have a casual or part-time job. Popular “go-to” jobs to get by as a student range from working in retail, waitressing in a cafe or restaurant, bar-tending or working at the grocery store like Woolworths or Coles. This is fine for the time being as you of course need income for food, design materials, books, resources and a social life!
However, push yourself to score a job in an environment related to your design course. For instance, if your studying Graphic Design, try to find work in a design studio as an office junior that helps out 1-2 days a week or perhaps try to get a part time receptionist role. If you want to work in a studio for an advertising agency, then start in the mail room. I started in the mail room at Singleton Ogilvy & Mather on minimum wage. I delivered… you guessed it, mail over 4 levels, changed light bulbs, did coffee runs, stocked paper for printers, ordered ink/toner and also made friends with 350 professionals which exploded my networking tree with highly influential people in the industry.
The sooner you do this, the better your chances are of being hired as a Junior Designer straight out of College or University. You might even find yourself being offered a design job at the agency you found part-time work at! If nothing else, apply for a job in a printing company, at least you will be learning about different printing processes and stock. The aim is to soak up as much related knowledge as you can in a working environment. Try not be picky at this point and focus on getting your foot in a door.


If you are finding it difficult to get a casual or part time job in design related work place, the next best thing is to volunteer for work experience. This would mean that you would need some other form of income as you study, however it also means that design studios will be more open to having you come in and help out. Mainly because you are not being paid a cent and they would hugely benefit from the extra resource whether it be running errands, answering phones during busy periods, sourcing images for mood boards or even assisting with deep etching basic images on Photoshop.

Even this scenario is a win win. Look at volunteering for work experience as being paid in the currency of networking and experience because being employed in the field or not, these two are fundamental in any career, especially in design. 
Worst case scenario some small graphic design studio of 4 people at a local office are happy to have you come in every Wednesday afternoon for 4 hours. Three months of that would have you exposed to how a small studio runs, the internal process from client briefing to strategy, design, amends and final output, to work in progress meetings, to communication skills, not only the technical side of using programs. All the things you can’t read in a book, watch on youtube or learn at College or University. You need hands on experience.

Once you have had at least 3 – 6 months of industry related experience, you have truly started creating a strong foundation for yourself as an up and coming designer. There’s no arguing the fact that you have spent “x” amount of time at a real studio or agency, undertaking “x” tasks with real creatives. You’ll most likely be able to request a letter of recommendation or reference for your time there if you decide to move on and try out a different studio or agency. Keep your resume/CV up to date with your experience and proven responsibilities at a design related company and it will speak volumes when up against other candidates who may have only worked at Starbucks.

For more, pick up a copy of Ram Castillo’s internationally and industry-acclaimed book ‘How to Get a Job as a Designer, Guaranteed’.

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Author: Ram Castillo

Visuals sourced from:
MAKE Business Hub
VM Design Studio:

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About Ram Castillo


Ram is an award winning Design Director, Blogger, top ranking Podcaster, Speaker, Instructor and Author of two internationally acclaimed books 'How to get a job as a designer, guaranteed' and 'How to get a mentor as a designer, guaranteed'. He's based in Sydney, Australia and in 2012, started the blog which helps thousands of design students and graduates be employed. Ram has since been featured in Communication Arts, HOW magazine, Herman Miller, deFrost*, and Apple.

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