Firsthand Advice on Transitioning Into Your First Graphic Design Job

As you are nearing the end of your journey towards earning a graphic design degree, you’re probably experiencing a multitude of emotions. The feelings of pride, accomplishment, excitement and anticipation are also accompanied by a bit of worry and apprehension.

Though this mix of emotions is completely normal, it helps to have a little encouragement from someone who has been there. That’s why we caught up with Sara Carter, a former Rasmussen College graphic design student who parlayed her degree into her first graphic design job.

One student’s journey

sara carter headshotCarter was always interested in design. As a young girl, she loved art and wanted to focus her future on that passion. She used to declare to her mother, “One day, I’ll bring my drawings to life!”

When it came time to think about starting a career, she knew she wanted to be a graphic and web designer. She decided that a design degree would help prepare her with the practical knowledge and technical skills she needed to get started on her journey.

After interviewing with several different schools, she enrolled in the School of Design at Rasmussen College in 2008. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in digital design and animation from the New Port Richey Campus (Fla.) in 2012.

“I fell in love with the staff, the school and the courses after my interview,” Carter said.

Carter appreciated that Rasmussen offered face-to-face interaction with her instructors, most of which had professional experience in the field. She valued the personal connection she felt with her instructors and found their hands-on learning approach extremely beneficial.

The practical skills she was learning in her classes were helping her build a foundation of knowledge for her future. While she enjoyed her instructors and courses, she knew this was simply a stepping stone for reaching her ultimate goal—landing her first graphic design job.

Life after graduation

Carter began job-hunting during the semester before her graduation. Like many soon-to-be grads, she struggled with the fact that most employers required a degree and preferred some sort of job experience.

“It was hard because everyone wanted you to have that degree under your belt,” she said. “Businesses would say they were thrilled with my work but to call them back once I had my degree in hand.”

Experience was another factor employers looked for. While she developed an impressive freelance portfolio while in school, she hadn’t yet held a full-time graphic design position.

But eventually, all of her hard work paid off. Her freelance experience, combined with her bachelor’s degree, was enough to help her land her first graphic design job with Florida-based Designer Golf Company.

While serving as a web designer and product photographer for Designer Golf, Carter continued her freelance business on the side. She has designed websites, logos and motion graphics and edited photos and video for bands and local businesses in the area. This plethora of projects has made her a well-known designer in the Odessa (Fla.) community.

“The more portfolio work, the better,” Carter says. A self-proclaimed busy body, she enjoys working on a variety of projects to illustrate the diversity of her talents. This shows prospective clients that she’s flexible and able to juggle multiple initiatives.

Learning from Carter’s experiences, it’s never too early to start bulking up your own graphic design portfolio like she did. After a few quarters of graphic design courses, you should have enough tools in your belt to offer quality work to local businesses or non-profits that may benefit from your designs.

When it comes time to sit down with a prospective employer, any real-world work you can display will speak much louder than your best class projects.

Her advice for you

Carter has been a professional graphic designer for almost a year now. But remember, not long ago she was in the same exact position you are in. She participated in the same practical training you are currently receiving, which she says helped prepare for the real world.

“The skills and training I received at Rasmussen directly apply to my current position,” Carter says. “I learned how to be motivated and disciplined, which are necessary to succeed in this industry.”

Since graduating, Carter has learned that project management is no joke. When working for a client, it’s imperative that you meet their criteria and work within their time constraints.

“You can kind of relax on your projects in school,” she says, “but now you’re in the big leagues.”

Lucky for you, you’re already used to having a lot on your plate. You’ve been juggling your schoolwork on top of carting around your kids, maintaining a clean house and maybe even working a part-time job. So the overlapping projects and tight deadlines in the graphic design world shouldn’t faze you one bit.

Another piece of advice Carter has for future design professionals is to always be adaptable. “If you don’t know how to do something, show that you’re willing to learn it,” she says.

Considering the design industry is constantly in flux, you should be able to leverage the fact that you’re a new face in the industry. Your fresh attitude and student mentality can make you a great asset to employers looking to hire skilled designers who are open to new training.

Don’t underestimate yourself

If the anxiety of finding a job continues to increase as you approach your graduation date, take a step back to reflect on how far you’ve come already. Scores of students just like Sara Carter have gone on to pursue their dreams of becoming a graphic designer, so there’s no reason you can’t do the same.

Instead of fearing of the unknown, harness that energy into excitement for what the future holds.

Your graphic design degree will qualify you for nine times more jobs than those with a high school diploma. That fact alone should be enough to help you rest a little easier.

Having a polished portfolio and an adaptable attitude to compliment your formal education will put you in a great position to obtain your first graphic design job. The hardest part is nearly behind you—putting your skills to work in the real world is the fun part!

So as you work hard to reach the finish line, remember Carter’s final piece of wisdom: “Don’t underestimate yourself. You’re probably already better than you think you are!”

Do you have a success story to share? Visit our Facebook page and tell us about your Rasmussen College School of Design experience. You may be featured in an upcoming article!

Callie Malvik

Callie is the Content Manager at Collegis Education, overseeing blog content on behalf of Rasmussen College. She is passionate about creating quality resources that empower others to improve their lives through education.

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