This blog is about mentoring young designers – about graduating, getting a job and being prepared to learn a shit ton of stuff quickly. It’s a rough bumpy ride landing your first gig and having to keep up with the superior creatives who’ve been at this for a while. I’m hoping this blog might help soften the blow.
After graduating in May of 2013, I quickly found an in-house graphic design position at American International Group, Inc. (AIG), an international insurance and financial company. It was an extremely difficult transition. Keep in mind that there are three main categories of designers – Freelance designer, in-house designer and an ad agency/design firm designer. Each have their pros and cons. From my experience I can share a lot about in-house design, and in future posts I hope that many other designers from different fields will contribute to share what they’ve learned.
Starting out, there were more than a few challenges. Firstly, I had never been in a large corporate environment. I had to learn processes, bureaucracy and all about this industry I never thought to study. Secondly, there were these non-designer skills that I needed to finesse. I managed to learn a lot about communication, prioritization and time management while working as a manager at Old Navy while in college. However, this was definitely a whole new level. I needed to speak confidently to major executives about things I wasn’t exactly experienced with. I needed to get involved with organizations that were relevant to my employer. I needed to not only know about current topics, but I needed to know how to apply these to my work. And most importantly, I needed to learn how to sell myself and stop being modest. Finally, I needed to learn that what I was doing wasn’t ground-breaking work, but it could be fun extraordinary marketing to bring the brand to a new level.
In my position, I am more of a marketing associate than a graphic designer. Though about 50-70% of my work consists of visual design, the rest of my time ranges from project management, laborious tasks (let’s talk resizing images for colleagues, picking out images, fixing formatting issues in everything from Word to PowerPoint and making ugly things from colleagues look pretty), attending tons of conference calls and going through agonizing rounds of review with anyone who things they could possibly be a stakeholder in my current projects.
Through all of this, I’ve learned meaningful lessons and have experienced some success. These are the experiences that I share in hopes that a young designer will learn a little something. Here are only a few tips on how to prepare yourself for this madness:
1. Get used to lots of email requests
Of course I had interned and was used to email requests especially when I was away from my desk, but when I started my corporate job I didn’t realize how much email is utilized. I was a bit used to verbal requests and collaboration. When I started everyone, even those sitting two feet away, emailed me a request that seemed to come off as micro-management or an irritated reminder. But in reality, these are just written requests so that the sender can follow up with you in a few days to see how their request is going. It’s annoying and it delays your project trying to respond to everyone. I usually set aside a good hour or more to only respond to emails and I keep every email in my inbox for requests that I’m working on.
2. Prioritization – my most hated word
I hate the word prioritization. Well, I guess I am getting used to it now, but I definitely hated it at first. If it was up to me, I would work on each task as it came to me, in the order it comes. However, your boss is going to want their items immediately and will tell you that everyone else’s requests are low priority. It was a bit annoying at first, but my co-worker would sit me down every week and help me prioritize my workload. This wasn’t very helpful, I kinda had a great idea and in the end I was right. This is how I manage my workload: extreme priority are projects for executives, senior leadership and items for specific events or launch dates (and almost always customer-facing or external collateral), second high priority project are for your boss, third medium priority projects are for the general business (mostly internal projects) and your colleagues, lastly low priority projects are those with little work and long due dates. Always be sure to ask colleagues if it can wait when you have more important work (almost always they will say its high priority, but consult your manager because they will probably disagree). Finally, this isn’t everyone’s secret sauce, but it’s a baseline. Am I missing something? Have something to add to this? Email me to contribute!
3. Speak confidently, don’t be modest and sell yourself
I was desperate for a job when I graduated. The recession was still lagging and I had a Fine Art degree… I went into the only interview I had after a month out of college determined to sell myself like a Kentucky bride. Luckily, it worked. I was in the perfect mindset to speak confidently and with enough charisma to land the job. You definitely want to sell your skills during the interview. Don’t be modest. Graduates should never play down their work. Even if it’s all conceptual, there’s always a way to present your work in a strategic manner. Practice everything about the interview and be sure to attend in-person portfolio reviews or help stage one at your university. Remember your résumé and portfolio (even a business card) – present them both during the interview. Ask in-depth questions about the position, the companies competitors, the departments objectives and long-term goal (no bullshit about what to wear, what days you have off and don’t discuss pay since you will negotiate later or it’s already been posted). Finally, do as much research before the interview as possible: congratulate the company on recent awards, find out who their competitors are, and explore their branding both digital and print as much as possible.
My biggest challenge was to continue that mindset of speaking confidently and selling myself after I started my position. There were plenty more executives and colleagues that I had not met yet and first impressions matter to them too. Depending on the setting, I suggest wearing a suit for the first two weeks straight for men and extremely professional with heels, blazer and skirt or dress pant for women. You will be meeting lots of new people, some high-ups, so you’ll want to dress to impress. Absorb everything while training. Ask as many questions as possible and explain that you are eager to learn everything you can as quickly as possible. And finally feel free to interject and create parallels from your previous experience in order to ask if the work is similar to something you’ve done before and to save your trainer time and impress upon them your skill set. Even after training is over you will need to speak confidently during meetings and continue to sell yourself as you work for a promotion. Though this was an extremely foreign idea to me, you must keep selling yourself as a valuable asset.
I hope at least one of these tips will help you be prepared or improve at work. There are of course plenty more tips to come and I am always interested to hear from you and learn about your experiences. Email me to contribute! If this has helped you at all, please share on social media using the links below.