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So you’ve left university, now it’s time to find your own way

So you’re ready to start your career in design, congratulations and welcome. Welcome to the real world of art and design.

Unfortunately the euphoria of realising you’re never going to experience another hand-in date again will be rather short lived. Becoming a graduate is best served with a great big slice of reality pie, and that’s normally the realisation that you won’t have another student loan payment hitting your bank account at the start of the new term. School’s out. Forever.

For many this experience is an exciting one and so it should be. If you’ve used your university years wisely, you’ll have worked bloody hard to get your degree and now it’s time to apply what you’ve learnt to the test. This next chapter in your life is not about finding your career job, it’s about trying lots of different things so you can make a more informed decision about what you’ll end up spending the next forty odd years doing.

In my last blog post ‘A note to my former self, aged 21’ I outlined some fundamental tips for students who were fast approaching the end of their university careers and facing the prospect of finding a job. Now the summer is officially over, it’s a time to start thinking about what comes next. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a few options available to you at the start of your design career:


It can be hard to find full-time employment straight out of university. Undertaking an internship can be a brilliant step gap between university and full-time employment. It’ll give you the industry experience that you need, as well as introducing you to the real world way of working. Although internships can be a great way of getting your foot in the door, make sure you get paid. Even if it’s only minimum wage, you should always be paid for your time. Internships can last anywhere between one week and one year. Spending your first year after university undertaking two or three internships will mould you into a much more desirable employee.


It might be the safest option after you graduate but it certainly isn’t the easiest. A strong portfolio and some relevant experience is a good start but persistence and fire in your belly will stand you out above the rest. It won’t necessarily be a quick process finding the right design job, but it’s important not to get disheartened if you don’t find the right role straight away. Your first job might not be your dream job but every bit of experience gained is a step in the right direction. I was once told in my final year at university that “it’s not what you know, it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you!”, it didn’t at the time but that makes sense now.


For some designers going freelance is a very natural process, especially if you start to put yourself out there during university. Being a freelance designer allows you a lot of freedom but it’s not for everyone. You have to be extremely pro-active, and be able to manage your own time effectively. If you get it right, working for yourself can be very rewarding. You don’t necessarily have to have a great head for business as you’ll pick up what you need to along the way, all you really need is focus and the desire to succeed. Everything else will come naturally. If you’re interested in taking this path, this step-by-step guide from Creative Boom will definitely get things started.

Start your own studio

If you’re thinking about starting your own studio you have to be brave and ready to really put in the hours. Whether you’re starting a collaborative venture or you have a small team around you, it’s always a good idea to start with a written mission statement and make sure everyone understands the common goals and objectives of the business. Setting up your own studio will be a challenge and there’s no substitute for hard work in the early days. Long hours, little to no pay and stressful times all lie ahead. It’s important that you play to your strengths and stay to yourselves and your way of working. If you stick at it long enough, you’ll start to find that things start to fall into place. When your work finally starts to get recognition it will make all the hard work worthwhile.


All this being said, everyone is different and you’re going to make your own choices when it comes to your career. Just remember that you’re at the start of your career and it’s okay to make mistakes. You have years ahead of you and enough time to learn from them. There’s no clear or correct path to choose when leaving university, but whatever direction you do chose to go in, just make sure you’re happy.

If you have any questions regarding any of the above or you have any tips for any post-graduates you’d like to share, please do get in touch.


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