AIGA CT 2014 Emerging Professional Workshop

Every year, the AIGA Connecticut chapter puts on an event that presents a panel of creative business professionals who answer questions and give advice on getting hired, improving your portfolio, and staying up-to-date in this competitive environment. This year, the event was hosted by the University of Hartford in Hillyer Hall’s Auerbach Auditorium. It was free to attend but required preregistration, as is usual for this workshop. The panel featured: Frank Oggeri, Melissa Morris, Roger Cameron, Randy Giarnella, Dan Dyksen, and Patti Murphy, with Jack Tom moderating. Their bios can be found here. Together, they gave insights based on their experiences as creative directors, staffing agency directors, freelancers, and educators.

As I did last year, I took notes during the discussion. Here’s my top ten pieces of advice from the panelists:

  1. You are only as good as your worst piece. Update your portfolio, weed out the bad projects, and put your best foot forward. Keep it simple, concise, and cohesive. Be positive about your experiences and confident about your work.
  2. Many employers like to see how you think. Post sketches, blog about your inspirations, and tell your story. Discuss what moved you to choose one color palette over another for a project, or why you hate a certain font, or what artistic style speaks to you and why. These also make great talking points during interviews.
  3. While it is good to share your creative process, keep in mind that some employers also want a condensed version with emphasis on the outcome. They want to be able to navigate your site with ease, quickly understand your style and experiences, and see your project samples.
  4. The types of projects that are sorely lacking from portfolios are digital format pieces, designs made for phones and tablets especially. Print design is good, but digital design is the way of the future. Show designs on as many platforms that make sense: iPad and Kindle tablets, Mac and PC screens, iPhone and Android phones, etc.
  5. Stay in-demand by learning about coding languages. Designers aren’t expected to fully code a website or app, but they are expected to have a general understanding of HTML and CSS so they can collaborate better with those who do code.
  6. Take advantage of staffing agencies. They can give you critiques on your portfolio and hook you up with the right kind of employers with open positions. The best part is that it is free for job-seekers and you aren’t limited to one agency.
  7. Conduct research about the companies you’re applying to and prepare to be asked questions about your findings. Review what you’re showing at the interview and proofread everything.
  8. Interviewers want you to get the job. They are on your side. If they were not, then you never would have gotten this far in the first place. So relax, don’t let the nerves get to you, and smile.
  9. When you get a job, expect to jump right into projects. You’ll be working with senior designers. You may be in an entry-level position, but you’re more valuable than you might think. Companies depend on you to bring new ideas based on your demographic to the team.
  10. Staying later than the scheduled work hours can be beneficial. It is a time to seek advice, put yourself out there, and get to know your coworkers who are most likely also staying late to meet deadlines or refine other projects. Networking is key and you want to leave a lasting impression. You never know who might refer you to your next big break!
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