Leaving University is one of the most surreal
experiences many of us will ever go through.
Going to uni was something I had been building up to my whole life and, after three years of graft, fun and learning, it left me asking that fateful question – now what? While I try and tell myself that University set me up as best it could for the world of work, I can often feel I missed out on an extra class on how to actually be an adult or what the hell taxes are.
But, I’m not here to blame University for any struggles I may be facing now, I’m well aware that University has a go-forth-and-learn attitude. You have to put the work in to find out what you need to stick it out afterwards.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not all knowing when it comes to insight into the design industry post-uni – far from it. However, I can tell you a bit about my experience as a recent graduate and hope that it will resonate with or even help out a few of you.
So, without further ado, here are some things I have learned since leaving uni...
It’s okay to not know what you’re doing afterwards – I still don’t.
There’s a lot of pressure to have it all figured out by the time we finish University. For some it can feel like a big clock starts ticking down the minute you set foot in the door. All of a sudden it’s your final year and well… now I actually need to think about what to do with my life.
To be honest, many people still don’t have it all figured out, even years after University. My uni was lucky enough to have lectures from everyone from recent graduates to established creatives. Going to these lectures taught me that everyone has struggles once leaving uni, even if you have your dream job lined up after.
My advice is to stick to what you love doing. Don’t pretend to love something just because you think you’ll stand a better chance of getting a job because of it. Obviously life is never that simple but it's always good keep what you really want in the back of your mind and to make small steps towards it when you can.
Find out what you’re good at and look at the people who are already doing it. Leaving uni may feel like the end of study but we’re all still learning. So hit the books, learn your craft and hopefully someone will pay attention. And try not to put so much pressure on yourself to succeed, there isn’t a perfect recipe for getting into the industry. I’m still trying to take my own advice on this one.
Social media doesn’t need to be an ‘s’ word.
I was always sceptical about social media. At University it was made out like my career would live and die on how many times I posted a photo, how many likes I got and how many followers I could gather. While social media is a useful tool for any business, it’s important to remember that it's not the holy grail some believe it to be.
Now, some people are a wiz at social media and have amassed huge followings which provide a steady stream of work and recognition. But, in my experience as an illustrator, the people who follow me are just that – fellow illustrators. This is because we all follow people we aspire to be like and the people whose work we like. It’s very rare that a potential client will trawl through Instagram to find an illustrator, they have bigger fish to fry and contacts who can do it for them.
But, it’s a good way to get your work out there. If a client does come along, it’s always useful to have an Instagram to show them. If nothing else, it is a way to show a beautifully curated selection of your work and makes it easy to see if you’re the right fit for them.
So, when that happens, keep these things in mind-
Make sure your work is tailored towards who you want to see it. It’s all well and good creating work you want to make, as we all should from time to time, but what are the companies you want to work for looking for? It is packaging design, is it editorial work, is it animated gifs? It’s probably not that portrait of your cat. It’s also a good idea to mock-up your work so clients can see how it will look in real-life. Got an awesome book cover design? Find a digital mock-up that will best show it off and put it on there. It’s much easier to hire a designer when you know what their work will look like in situ.
Think about your image before you post it. Many of us are happy to post an image on social media as soon as we take it (I know I have) but this can leave us open to a whole world of trouble. Images posted directly to social media are often huge, high resolution files that can be easily dragged off and downloaded by anyone who sees fit. This is probably one of the reasons why we have so many problems with copyright infringement and people claiming artist’s work as their own. So, make sure to edit your image so that it is optimised for web - that’s RGB format, 72 dpi and for Instagram 1080 x 1080 pixels. If you’re posting it elsewhere, find out what their image requirements are and stick to them. This not only means that if your image is downloaded it will be too low res to copy, it will also look it’s best on the website.
Think about SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). When tagging or captioning an image, think about what people will be searching for in order to bring up your work. If you have a fab illustration of a dog, for example, is it worth the hashtags #cute and #dog? In all likelihood, if a client is searching for a particular illustrator, they are not going to type ‘cute dog illustration’ into google and spend hours hunting through to find the exact one they want. Think in terms of where your designs will go and what they are- #illustration #vectorillustration #packagingdesign #characterdesign, to name a few. As for the caption, ensure you are hitting those key words! Mention your design credentials, talk about where the design could work, talk about what you can do for the client. These will all come up in a google search, so the more times you do it, the more times you will come up.
Try and stay motivated.
It can sometimes seem like an endless cycle of job searches and applications when you leave University. And, once the novelty of waiting around for that job to get back to you wears off, it can kind of suck. But it’s probably worth remembering that it won’t be forever. In all inevitability, something will come along. It may not be that dream job, it may not even be something related to your field of study, but something will come along. That’s a good start.
The best advice I can give you is to stay motivated, get into a good routine and keep going. Find out what you love doing and set aside time for that around applying for jobs / setting up as a freelancer / starting that company. If you like working out, make sure you go to the gym. If you love reading, make sure you squeeze in time for a cuppa and a good book. It’s important to set aside time for the things that make us happy. It’s also a great time to learn more; to finally learn how to code a website; to finally listen to that TED Talk; to finally join that writer’s group. It’s the small accomplishments that can make all the difference.
Hopefully, some of this advice will help you out if you’re unsure what comes after uni and offer some tips on how to manage the beast that is social media. Again, I’m not an expert and this is just my personal experience but everyone’s experience is different, so why not share mine? If you have any questions or you’re busy tackling post-uni life head on, drop me an email - I’d love to hear more.