How to Get Your First Job: 5 Job Search Tips for Creative Grads

College student looking at job posting.

Graduation is on the horizon for the creative class of 2016. While it’s an exciting time — no more late-night study sessions or purchasing ramen noodles in bulk (we hope!) — the post-college employment search can feel daunting. But do not fear. Here’s how to get your first job.

It’s a big, professional world out there, and there is no shortage of opportunities for recent or soon-to-be college graduates looking to enter the creative field. At the same time, getting your foot in the proverbial door can be challenging if you don’t know how to sell yourself to hiring managers.

So, what matters most to employers today? In a recent survey by The Creative Group, advertising and marketing executives cited previous work experience as the single most important thing they look for when hiring entry-level creative professionals. Interview performance ranked second; resume came in third.

So how do you showcase “experience” if you have little of it?

One way is to highlight real-world skills and abilities you’ve gained through internships. You also can beef up your portfolio by volunteering to do some work for a local nonprofit or community organization. Get more hands-on experience by offering to help out with some creative projects at your part-time job, or quickly sign up to assist a student group at your college with an upcoming creative campaign. Here are some more tips on attracting the attention of employers:

5 ways to get your first job

1. Cast a wide net when networking. Start spreading the word about your job search both online and off. You’ve no doubt heard it before, but “who you know” can be the key to landing your first job. Talk to friends, family, college professors, alumni members, neighbors — even the parents of your friends. Take advantage of professional networking sites such as LinkedIn, and join MeetUp groups and industry associations. Request informational interviews with creatives in positions that you aspire to have one day. Briefly explain your qualifications and be specific about the kind of creative job you want. The bottom line is that most people will want to help; just make sure you’re ultra-professional and appreciative.

2. Target your application materials. Tailor your resume and cover letter to every job opening you apply for. Research each employer so that you can customize effectively. And again, emphasize your real-world experience. If you can, try to track down the name of the hiring manager so you can further personalize your pitch. Also, make sure that every piece of written communication, including thank you notes, is error free.

3. Only show your absolute best creative work. Polish and (potentially prune) your portfolio. Some recent graduates make the mistake of trying to show employers their range by including far too many samples in their portfolio. Stick to sharing your very best pieces. Showing eight to 12 samples is generally a safe range. If you’re not sure about a particular piece, that’s a cue that you should leave it out. Also, understand that many employers still like to see a digital portfolio and a printed portfolio. For more tips, check out our post on how to put together your first professional portfolio.

4. Do your homework before interviews. 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, review the person’s background on LinkedIn. Come armed with your resume and your printed portfolio, and be ready to answer common interview questions. If you’ll be presenting your portfolio, practice with friends and family before the interview. You need to be able to effectively articulate your creative concept, your process, what programs you used and the final product.

5. Get the right people to sing your praises. Developing a list of top-quality references can help you stand out from the crowd. Choose three to five people who know the value of your creative abilities and will speak positively of you and your work ethic. If you don’t have a solid work history, ask a professor, mentor, leader of a school organization or anyone you’ve volunteered for to provide a reference. Have names and contact information ready to go the day you launch your job search, but only provide them to employers if requested. And always get permission from a reference before passing along their information to an employer.

Keep this advice in mind and you’ll be well on your way to launching your creative career!

Searching for your first creative job? Let a TCG recruiter help you!

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