28th November 2017 |
Futureheads: Getting ahead as a digital design graduate

Originally popped up over on the Futureheads blog, our newest recruitment partners! Words by Toby Thwaites.

How do you stand out and get ahead as a digital design graduate? My 3 years at University flew by, and my time at Futureheads has gone even quicker, but I have experienced both the graduate and design graduate market in recent years. Having met both graduate designers and working with (and for) companies who hire them, I believe the key to getting ahead is preparing early and making the most of the opportunities that you have during your time at university.

Generally the first two years of digital and design related courses are varied, and that is a great thing; it gives the opportunity to learn about multiple disciplines, and project based work gives you the chance to put that learning into practice. The final year often consists of the design equivalent of a dissertation; a yearlong project that could be an excellent door into the industry if done well. Throughout the 2nd and 3rd years there are a number of things that can be done to ensure you are getting ahead in the market:

Find your direction early

The sooner you know where you are heading, the longer you have to prepare – This is first mover advantage.

Re-visit all of the modules and projects you have completed – from video editing to website design, and think about what you have and haven’t enjoyed.  Once you have a sense of what project you enjoyed the most, think about what elements you enjoyed the most.

For example, if you delivered a website as one project did you enjoy the UX or visual design elements more than the other? What about any project management or coding responsibility that you had? The answers to these questions will be extremely helpful in focusing your third year and planning your next steps.

Map the market and know where you fit

 Once you know what you want to come next, it’s important to understand whether this type of work is catered for in the market.

For example, if you have decided that you’re most interested in mobile UX and UI design then it may be worth thinking about:

- What kind of mobile projects interest you (Advertising or products?)
- Who are the mobile specific agencies and companies in your market?
- Do they employ UX/UI designers or do they hire as separate disciplines?
- Speaking to recruiters who specialise in that area

If you get the impression your chosen type of work isn’t available or overly buoyant in the market you’ve explored, then think about whether relocation is an option for you, and whether this work is available elsewhere. If relocation isn’t an option then think about whether you would be happy to compromise, and what you would compromise on.

Be proactive

When you know what you want to be doing next and you’ve identified potential employers, you are ready to start reaching out and making relevant industry contacts. Doing this early means that they are less likely to have been inundated with emails and clever self-promotion in the post, which means you’re more likely to get a response.

Always remember to make any contact relevant and personalised – It should be clear that you’ve done your research and have a clear rationale for getting in touch. Whilst your ultimate aim here is to get a full-time job at the end of your course, you should be approaching suitable employers for internships or part-time work experience throughout your holidays – the commercial experience will swing heavily in your favour for future applications.

Leave with a solid portfolio and at least one killer project

When you’re starting to think about applying for jobs you are going to need a way to present your work, and having a portfolio is vital. The aim here isn’t to offer advice on putting together a portfolio, but we would advise reading Rob Woods’ piece on what makes a good digital design portfolio as a first step.

It’s likely that you’ll want to put some of the broad project examples covered in your first 2 years into your portfolio, but if you’re doing a final year project as well then this is a great opportunity to create a killer project to impress employers.

If you know what role you want to be doing, and know the types of companies you want to be approaching, then you have the basis to develop a highly relevant project that will open lots of doors. With 100+ applicants for a graduate role, it’s fairly obvious that employers will interview those with the most relevant experience.

If for example you are looking to apply for digital design roles, then projects which demonstrate core graphic design competencies, coupled with a clear understanding of current trends and technical feasibility will really stand out. Think about responsive design and current visual and technology trends for example, and make sure it’s actually feasible. Remember, you need to understand how the wheel works before you re-invent it.

If you would like to arrange for myself to talk to your students, or if you are a soon-to-be design graduate looking for further advice then please say hello on

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