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Just Getting Started

By Viveca Bissonnette

Education doesn’t end with a degree, but for those young designers looking to the job market for the first time, here are some tips to get started in the right direction.

I was recently able to listen in on a group of new graduates as they prepared for their NeoCon student session entitled "Career Bootcamp," and I realized that their expectations and emotions were no different than mine when I graduated some years back. I was proud of what I had accomplished, excited about the future and anxious to get involved in my profession—they are too. That said, the way they will arrive at their first or second jobs has changed significantly since I graduated.

The need for an ongoing "learning" mindset is crucial for everyone in the industry, but I've also benefitted from keeping the following tips in mind as my career has progressed. I hope sharing them offers some inspiration for those starting off on their biggest adventure yet.

network, network, network!
Networking, in both the traditional and new media/social sense, is critical no matter where you're stationed in your career. While recent graduates often credit their savvy or sometimes-by-chance networking with helping to land a job, I credit networking with helping me link up with mentors and leaders who I could learn from. Lately I've had the chance, particularly as a member of the IIDA International Board, to meet professionals with many different perspectives and backgrounds. By truly listening and connecting with other professionals, I've created a great personal network that I can access when I'm struggling with an approach or seeking a different perspective.

be open to experiences
Sometimes, you don't know what you don't know. While gaining experience in the industry will help you market yourself during future job searches, it will also provide a broader scope for learning about your chosen profession. The best way to really learn an industry is to immerse yourself in it. While college students and recent grads can learn this via short-term internships, there's no reason one's first job has to be the last. Gain some experience and see how the industry works—it's possible you'll find another career path you didn't anticipate.

get a mentor/be a mentor
In this tough economy, the best mentor for a recent graduate is a professional who has experience in the industry. Job searching is not the same game it was 10 years ago, so talk to people who have gone through the same issues you are dealing with right now. In my own experience, I have enjoyed being a mentor so much because I get to learn from those I'm involved with—their fresh perspective and questions always teach me something along the way. What a win-win situation! If you've never acted as a mentor before, IIDA makes it easy for you each February. You'll help an emerging professional in your area, and you may just learn a little bit, too.

be brave
A great portfolio isn't enough anymore; you have to believe in yourself and show confidence that you are the perfect candidate. One of the panelists from last year's Career Bootcamp, Amber Isabella of Perkins+Will said, "I can honestly tell you I didn't get a job because I had an amazing portfolio. It wasn't being this amazing designer that sold my boss, but I talked myself in the door and that's what stood out." Often just the willingness to approach a professional, colleague or industry icon can open doors to your future. Play up the strengths you have with honesty and confidence. PageBreak

construct your resume like a design project
The way you package yourself on paper/video/CD/thumb drive is just another way to demonstrate your skill and insight. Approach it like a design project! The great advantage of working within a creative industry is that designers can and do think outside the box. Video tips about thinking outside the box when demonstrating a professional resume are available on the IIDA website.

get involved in the industry
It is not just your grades or, for more experienced professionals, recent jobs that make you stand out, but your interests and what you do outside of school and work. If you have the time to get involved in a leadership position within an association or further your accreditation, it demonstrates that you are a multitasker and passionate about things outside of design. In other words, you won't just be a one-dimensional designer.

tell your story well
What helps you stand out to clients, prospective employers, colleagues and press is your story. What makes you unique? One of the most compelling elements that will gain you access is an interesting story—about how you got into the profession, what you've done, or what you stand for. These are the things that people remember, and the better your story, the more likely they are to remember you.

set flexible expectations and firm goals
When you have high expectations, there's a possibility you will be disappointed down the road. Not everything goes as planned, but that's okay. Many recent design undergraduates are taking the recession as a good time to further their education, like attending grad school instead of jumping into a job right away. Goals keep you motivated and are part of the bigger picture, so always keep them in mind.

learn what you love
IIDA recently included this quote by Confucius on one of their NeoCon giveaways: "Do what you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life." If you truly enjoy this industry, which offers so many different directions for continued learning and influence, you'll know you're in the right place. For me, education is a life-long process. I love learning something every day, and hope you'll join us at NeoCon or check our recap of what we learned online at

IIDA President Viveca Bissonnette, FIIDA is vice president and design principal at Hollander Design Group in San Diego, Calif. You can reach IIDA at (312) 467-1950, or Learn more on the web at