contributed by Jena A. Tiedeman [commercial designer / recent graduate / networker extraordinaire / resident spy]
Good design skills aren’t everything. In fact, your astounding creative talents mean very little if you are not willing to go the extra mile to expand your industry experience and then package your accomplishments as to appeal to future employers and clients. The following are examples of five completely different emerging designers with a wide range of capabilities, accomplishments, and career results. Just as there is more than one way to design an awkward space, there are multiple paths to reaching your design career goals.
Student Example #1: Stacy
Stacy is a wonderful designer with a talent for using color creatively, but she goes through school doing the bare minimum. She spends her weekends throwing the best parties and is often absent from classes. While still in school, Stacy is a bartender at the local pub. She occasionally attends interior design networking functions, but only when cocktails are being served, and then she mostly spends the evening chatting it up with friends. Stacy spends 12 weeks, just prior to graduation, working at a design firm for her mandatory internship.
Where is she now” Stacy still bartends part-time on the weekends but works as a drafter at a small design firm that is “good enough for now.”
Annual Salary: $19,500
Student Example #2: Lori
Lori is an exceptional residential designer while in school. The stunning designs radiate from her gorgeous presentation boards. But like Stacy, Lori drifts through school doing the bare minimum. She spends her weekends with friends and works at a store in the mall while in school. Lori doesn’t bother with professional association functions because she “never has time.” Her only work in the design world when she graduates is her program’s 12-week mandatory internship.
Where is she now” Upon graduating, Lori remains at her position working at the mall because she was unable to find work in a design firm. Two months after graduation, she finds an opening working for a fabric sales company. Six months after graduation Lori finally lands the residential interior design position she was hoping for at a local firm and is thrilled.
Annual Salary: $25,000 + sales commissions
Student Example #3: Jeff
Jeff is an ideal student and an extremely talented designer. Students and teachers alike “ooh and aah” at his design process, his creative and original ideas, and his ability to present his work brilliantly to the class. He doesn’t have a job during most of his time in school, but after his 12-week mandatory internship at a local design firm, he continues his internship for an additional three months until graduation. Jeff never misses a class, and in his senior year he becomes active in the school’s Student ASID Chapter. He doesn’t, however, participate in the many design competitions offered because he feels too loaded down with homework. Jeff graduates with a perfect 4.0 grade point average and wins the school Portfolio Show.
Where is he now” Immediately after graduation, the company he interned with hires Jeff on as a designer for hospitality projects. He loves the company he works for and the type of design work he is doing.
Annual Salary: $27,000
Student Example #4: Susan
Susan is another talented up-and-coming designer. She creates polished residential designs presented through stunningly beautiful renderings. She is a fairly competent student but often turns assignments in late and is often in a rush. Like Stacy, Susan spends a lot of time outside of school partying and only attends networking functions when cocktails are involved. After her 12-week mandatory internship, Susan remains with the same firm for an additional six months before graduation. She dabbles in a design contest here and there and manages one 2nd place win, but she does make a concerted effort to put her best foot forward in her portfolio for potential employers and at the school’s Portfolio Show.
Where is she now” Immediately after graduation, Susan is hired on by the company where she did her internship. She is not excited about working there, but she feels the position is good enough for her to accumulate her mandatory experience before she moves on elsewhere.
Annual Salary: $30,000
Student Example #5: McKenna
McKenna is a middle-of-the-road designer who pushes her own limits, but often she takes on designs that are overly challenging for her experience level, so she finds it difficult to complete them successfully. She has a laissez-faire attitude towards class, often slacking in the classes that do not interest her. She spends a great deal of time and effort with ASID, IIDA and other design associations, volunteering to help set up events for them. She also participates in every contest she can find, bringing in six contest wins before graduating. McKenna began interning at small design firms, working her way up into larger design firms starting her first year in school and working part time until graduation. Like Susan, McKenna meticulously creates her portfolio and a professionally printed marketing package for potential employers to present during interviews and Portfolio review.
Where is she now” Immediately after graduation, McKenna is hired by a small design firm, but later accepts and even better position at a larger, more prestigious firm she wanted to work for originally. She loves her job and the company she is employed by.
Annual Salary: $37,000 +bonuses
These five student examples are real. They are based on real students and what become of their lives as a result of the decisions they chose to make and their level of design talent. Being a talented designer is wonderful, but if you don’t put yourself out there and if you don’t know how to sell your designs as well as yourself, you will never reach your full potential.
Tips from someone who’s been there, done that:
• ALWAYS have a business card ready. Year one, first semester, have professional printed business cards printed. VistaPrint offers 250 cards for free, and all you have to pay for is shipping.
• It isn’t what you know, it’s who you know. If you are not already familiar with ASID and IIDA – at the very least – then you are already behind. (Refer to P&C’s ever-growing list of professional groups here.) Get involved. Leave the comfort of your shell and talk to new people in the community. And don’t think that your professors don’t count. They know more people in the design community than you, and when you are out there interviewing and networking, the people you talk to will go back to your professors to ask about your character in addition to your design work.
• Volunteer consistently. Obviously there is the great experience you’ll be getting, but you will meet influential individuals and learn valuable tidbits along the way that you never expected. The doors of opportunity open themselves often to volunteers.
• You can’t win if you don’t play. As many designers in the professional arena already know: contest wins are a great marketing tool. You can parade your accomplishments on your future résumé and use the awards ceremonies to your advantage to meet new industry contacts when you are shining most brightly.
• Know what is ultimately important. While I would never suggest that you let your schoolwork slip, do know what is important in the end game. Missing the occasional class (when you aren’t missing any major lessons or tests) to balance an internship with homework and a contest or two isn’t going to hurt you as long as you maintain your grades and the level of your design work for school. Two contest wins and one year of design firm experience will get you much farther ahead than the perfect attendance award or even graduating on the Dean’s List.
• Where there is a will, there is a way. If you want anything bad enough, you’ll figure out a way to get it. So figure out what you want and formulate a plan to get it.