Graduating from university is a gut-wrenching experience. It’s the thrill and relief of finally putting your exams and your university career behind you mixed with the terror of stumbling out into the world and trying to find a job.
There are so many unknowns. How do you get started? What’s it like to work for a boss ― and a client? How can you possibly make the deadlines? How long till you become a world-famous graphic designer?
To help quell your anxiety and get you some answers to (most of) those questions, I went straight to the experts. And by experts I don’t mean the really top-level seasoned veterans ― we’ve talked before about what agencies are looking for in new graphic designers .
In this case I talked with five graphic and digital designers here at Moskito Design. They’re all recent graduates (from no earlier than July 2015) who still have a very fresh perspective on what to expect your first year in an agency.
For some, this is the first job; others have different experiences under their belt. But they can all look back on a year of solid work and significant learning.
From what to put in your portfolio to working with clients and colleagues they’ll give you insight into what you’ll learn (and even forget) your first year into your graphic design career.
Getting the job
Be honest with yourself ― and with your future employer
CHIARA (Graduated July 2015): At first when I was putting together my CV I had to include experience and skills that I didn’t know if it made sense to include. But I’ve always followed my intuition, which has taught me to be sincere and straightforward about what I can do and what I like. If I make a good impression on a potential employer it’s for who I really am.
FRANCESCA (Graduated July 2015): Be honest and don’t lie about what you know or don’t know how to do. You’ll be found out sooner or later.
GIADA (Graduated December 2015): I learned that honesty is the best way to go, always. I’ve learned to deal with everything with more self-confidence and peace of mind by comparing my experience to that of others, and never letting myself get discouraged.
The portfolio: choose quality over quantity
RICCARDO: (Graduated July 2015): You should only choose projects that have the biggest impact and really show off your skills. The whole point is to impress the people who are looking at it. It seems obvious but it’s not, as with so many other questions related to design. Just like the fact that when you put your portfolio together you’ve got to remember that less is more.
FRANCESCA: If you’re a graphic designer, a boring old European format CV just isn’t going to cut it. Your portfolio’s got to include the work you’re proudest of. And it should evolve, just like you evolve in taste and experience.
GIADA: Your portfolio is like your passport ― it’s how you introduce yourself. Don’t underestimate its importance. One thing I’ve learned about putting together a solid portfolio is that it’s not the quantity but the quality of the work that matters. When you create your portfolio you should think about how to grab the attention of the person looking at it in a fraction of a second.
Delivering successful projects
Briefing and brainstorming are your new best friends
GIADA: I’ve learned that if you start with a thoughtful, well-planned brainstorming session you’ll end up with a project that’s smart and complete ― but if you start badly it’s impossible to finish well. Every step is important and has its reason! Feedback helps you to open your eyes and think and pushes you to do your best.
RICCARDO: From the beginning I realized that, as opposed to at university, the brief is the designer’s best friend. It the first step in every project and if you don’t think through it you put everything else at risk. When you’re studying it’s one of the things you pay the least attention to but at work it’s an essential instrument. When you have a moment of creative block you’ll be grateful for having it to fall back on and reread for creative inspiration.
You had time. You need speed. Learn the shortcuts.
RICCARDO: When it comes to any graphic design program, the keyword is shortcut. I used them at university, but since I started work I’ve learned even the most obscure combinations of keys. Here, the deadline is king, and you’ve got to speed up your pace of composition. If you’re a graphic designer you should have a picture of whoever invented these shortcuts on your bedside table so you can thank them every day of your life.
CHIARA: The main difference between the projects that you do at university and those you do in the agency is basically the time that you’ve got to do them. Now I usually have to do the same work in about a tenth of the time I had then. You’ve always got to have a concrete idea in your mind of what you want to do along with enough skills at the software to get the maximum result with the minimal effort, or at least try for it. There are lots of ways to get the same result but you’ve got to learn to recognize what’s the fastest way to do it.
DIANA (Graduated July 2016): One thing I’ve certainly learned is to work faster, and to do that I’ve learned all the keyboard shortcuts. My advice is to learn as many as possible to really cut down on the time it takes for many processes.
FRANCESCA: I’ve learned more functions in one year of work than in three of university. I used to think I was fast, by now I’m twice as fast as I was. It’s amazing how much there’s still to learn just when you think you already know almost everything. The key is to push yourself to find new solutions.
But sharpening your focus may mean narrowing your range
DIANA: You may find that after a year on the job you start to lose things that you’d learned at university, because at work you may end up working in the same area (only web, or only print or only video). You’ll forget things or become less skilled in other areas you don’t practice much in.
Working with clients is often a compromise between your vision and their reality
FRANCESCA: Often the client knows next to nothing about your job or the time it takes to do things, so you can’t take anything for granted. You’ll find some clients are more open than others, but in general you’ll need patience to explain your point of view and accept the fact that the client might not share it. Whatever that great idea of yours was, you can always keep it for another occasion.
DIANA: Working with clients is never easy: sometimes what they choose doesn’t fit with your taste. But the important thing is to always deal with them politely and professionally and try to find some middle ground, find a compromise, or in some cases you’ve just got to live with it. But this doesn’t mean you deliver work badly done. You should always do your best to transform the client’s request into something that makes you both happy.
Getting on with (and learning from) the people around you
Be straight (but respectful) with your boss
FRANCESCA: Not every boss may let you establish a dialogue the way we do with Giulia and Evelina. Generally speaking, what I’ve learned is that you should speak honestly but with respect. I’m truly convinced that with the right means and intention (almost) nothing is too difficult to say if there’s transparency and trust, both on your end and your boss’s.
You’ll get by with a little help from your (work) friends
CHIARA: At school I almost always worked in a group so I wasn’t new to team dynamics. But since starting at Moskito I’ve had another demonstration of how important it is to listen, be helpful and flexible. I think the advantage of not working alone is that you can all identify the gaps in your experience and fill them in with strengths of the others. But this only works if you do it with humility and without criticizing the others around you. I think the environment that’s created with the people you work with is more important than anything else because it has a big impact on how you think about your day and every step of the project you’re working on.
DIANA: I learned that it’s important to build good relationships with your colleagues, especially with those you work with most closely. Obviously it’s not always possible, but good relationships means the work goes well. There’s not always a positive side of competition. It could help you to grow, but conflict is counterproductive in a job where collaboration is so important (in our case, interaction helps us make sure we all have the same idea), where two heads are better than one. It’s important that there’s always respect, also with those in other departments, so that you have a pleasant work environment.
FRANCESCA: Luckily I’ve always had great colleagues! Both at Moskito Design and my previous work I’ve always learned a ton from them! They’re there for you, they teach you what teamwork is all about and how important it is, and they’ve taught me how to face problems and deal with them in the right way. Often these relationships can turn into real friendships, which makes going to work every morning that much better!