Note: This first-person account is part of a larger article, Job-Hunting Lessons from the Street: A Roundup of Recent College Grad Experiences.
I didn’t expect it to be easy to find a good full-time job right out of college, but I also didn’t expect it to take this long. It’s been almost a year now, and I’ve yet to find the right position.
I majored in digital arts, but I’m looking for a job in graphic design. Unfortunately, the two aren’t quite the same thing. Although I learned a lot of programs in college, the most important graphic design programs were completely foreign to me. Not to mention, I lacked experience and more importantly, a portfolio with any strong graphic-design pieces.
I found out through one of my professors that a local photography studio was looking for someone with strong skills in Adobe Photoshop to help digitally retouch their photographs. Even though it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, I thought that the experience would be good for me, and it was. Not only did I learn more tips and tricks in Photoshop, they also had me create a logo and new business cards and letterhead for them, which gave me some of my first portfolio pieces.
While holding the job at the photography studio, I also continued to work as a cashier at an office supply store I had been working at since I graduated high school. The two jobs together left me tired and with little time to seriously look for jobs. Since I was beginning to feel like I had reached my peak at the photography studio and gotten what I could out of it, I decided to move on.
I also decided to take a class at the community college next to my house where they offer graphic-design courses. It was only one night a week, so I figured if I were to find a job, I could still continue with my class. I am now in the second semester, in an advanced portion of the class and by the time I am done I should have another five or so portfolio pieces along with a lot more experience in the graphic design programs.
It wasn’t long after I quit the job at the photography studio that I found another part-time job where I could gain further experience and also learned another valuable lesson. I learned that sometimes it really is who you know that can help get you places. It was my friend’s sister that got me the job. I told her what I could do, and they hired me as a contractor/freelancer without even an interview.
While I am grateful for the jobs I’ve had, the experience I’ve gained and the people I’ve met, my situation is frustrating. Being a freelancer means that their need for me could expire at any time, and my tolerance for the retail world quickly waning. I want a full-time position and I want to like what I do. But it’s not going to be easy. I will still take any opportunity I am given to gain experience, I am constantly sending out resumes, and I’ve recently created a website that showcases my work. So far I’ve been on a couple interviews and have learned a lot from them, despite not getting the job.
At my most recent interview, I found out just how important a portfolio is for such a creative field. I went on an interview for an entry-level graphic-design position at an advertising company. I brought what I had of a portfolio with me, but it was not much more than the logo and business cards I had created the photography studio. The first thing the interviewer did was take a look at it, and told me flat out that what I had was not enough for him to hire me. But he was nice enough to give me some advice and an opportunity to show him what I could do. He told me that my portfolio didn’t have to be full of designs I had created for actual companies for actual use. He understood how difficult it was to get experience right out of college and said that I could make my portfolio look as if I had more experience by creating advertisement and such of my own. He challenged me to create 3-4 ads on my own over the weekend and send them to him. He wanted me to look at actual ads and try to create new ads that were completely unlike the originals, aimed at a different audience or taking a different approach. I did as he asked and he said that I did a great job, that the ads I created are the type I needed to have in my portfolio. For one reason or another, I haven’t heard from him since, even after sending a “just-so-you-know-I’m-still-interested” e-mail. But at least I have four new additions to my portfolio and now realize that I can add new pieces anytime I think of an interesting idea.
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