Class of 2014: Tips for Pursuing Creative Careers

Attention recent and soon-to-be grads: Want to break into the creative industry? If so, consider these job search pointers.

I recently attended a panel discussion at the College of Arts & Media at the University of Colorado where several members of the Denver TCG team offered advice to students about navigating the workforce and launching creative careers after graduation. The students, who are studying everything from digital design and animation to illustration, participated in a candid discussion about what employers look for, and how to stand out in a crowd and leverage your network.

With graduation only a few short months away, I'd like to share some of the main takeaways from the discussion.

1. What should I be doing now to help me start my creative career after graduation?

Network, network, network – both online and in person. You've heard it before but "who you know" can be the key to landing a job. Talk to your friends, family members, college professors, high school soccer coach – even your roommate's parents. Ask for informational interviews with people who are in positions that you aspire to have one day. Join MeetUp groups and design associations and create a LinkedIn profile to connect with others in the creative industry.

Let people know that you'll be graduating in a few months, briefly explain your experience and be specific about what kind of job you want. The bottom line is that people want to help; just make sure you're professional in your outreach.

2. What do hiring managers look for in a portfolio?

There are some basic yet key elements designers should be cognizant of when putting together their portfolio:

  • Be selective. In general, your digital portfolio should include seven to 10 pieces that showcase the breadth and depth of your skills. Because every company is different, do your research about what kind of work they do before you submit your portfolio.  
  • Show your process. It is critical to identify your role in each project. One effective way to do this is to take photos throughout the project so that you can visually explain your concept, process and product.
  • Simplify. Hiring managers often have to review hundreds of applications, so you want to give them a clean, organized and visually appealing snapshot of your accomplishments. 

Want more portfolio tips? Learn how to stand out from the crowd and create a portfolio that pops.

3. When I do get a job interview, how do I prepare for the meeting and follow up?

Do your homework. Review the company website and ask people in your network what they know about the position and company culture. If you know who you'll be interviewing with, check out the person's background on LinkedIn. Come armed with your resume and portfolio and be ready to answer the typical interview questions.

If you'll be presenting your portfolio, practice with friends and family before the interview. You want to be able to effectively articulate your concept, your process, what programs you utilized and the final product.

Follow up with a thank-you email as well as a handwritten note within 24 hours of your interview.

4. I don't have any real-world work experience but have a great student portfolio. Will that help me land a job?

Having a strong portfolio is important but having real-world work experience is invaluable. It not only makes you more marketable to employers but it will give you a sense of what type of business environment you want to work in. If you haven't completed an internship yet, see what you can do in the next few months to gain some hands-on experience and enhance your student portfolio. Volunteer to do some work for a local nonprofit or community organization, offer to complete some projects at your part-time job, or join a local marketing club and offer to assist with any campaigns.

5. What's one piece of career advice you would offer new grads?

You and only you are responsible for your career path. It's not just about applying for a job online and waiting for the hiring manager to call you. It's about making connections, educating yourself about your options, preparing yourself and making it happen.

I hope these tips will help launch the creative class of 2014 on the path to career success!