Coming out of studying can be a daunting time for a lot of grads, whether you’re a design graduate or a developer. Having graduated nearly 5 years ago, I’ve found myself at a lot of networking events where I will find fresh graduates or students looking for advice on what to do after graduating. I’ve also heard from new graduates that my website has been shared with students, hence why I am writing this blog to help new graduates and students.
Tip 1 – Start early
More often than not, what I end up seeing with fresh graduates is they have finished studying and are looking for jobs or internships and haven’t gotten any experience outside of their studies. This is a mistake that makes things difficult for students after graduation. My number one tip is don’t wait too late to start getting experience. Working with other people in the digital industry allows you to not only learn more technical skills but it also starts developing your soft skills, such as communication and time management. My biggest problem I had as a junior and mid-level was time management, and I had years of experience before graduating.
Many students may feel that they don’t have time for internships or experience outside of their studies, which I can understand. However, I think that sacrificing some time for your studies to get some work experience is far more valuable than getting good grades, especially if you’re a practical learner like myself. With the above benefits of developing your hard and soft skills, you can build your network, allowing for potential work down the line if you’re a freelancer for example.
Tip 2 – Network network network
Networking is one of the most important aspects of your career, and you will be required to network at all points of your career, all the way from being a junior to being a director. If you are able to master networking early in your career it will help you tremendously, as a huge proportion of jobs and work is found through a ‘friend-of-a-friend’.
One of the main benefits of networking is the visibility that you get – regularly attending events will result in more people knowing you and potentially referring you on for more work or job referrals.
Tip 3 – Think about what kind of work you want
I don’t mean what industry or what skills you will need. Rather, the culture and emotional intelligence that an agency or company has. You may even want to go into freelance! Most companies and agencies that you will even work for will fit into one of the following categories:
- A smaller, people-driven agency with bespoke, creative work. Working at a smaller agency has its benefits in that you have more potential to grow and are connected more with your fellow employees. Work is usually smaller jobs, and you need to stay on your toes. Unfortunately, as they’re a smaller company, employees need to work harder to drive revenue, and salaries are usually lower.
- A larger, corporate company with a great number of employees, structured to ensure order. These kinds of companies are more secure, with more long term opportunities and usually pay better. Normally you will work on larger projects for long periods of time, which are quite tedious. However, work comes with more monetary benefits.
- Freelance work, where you’re the boss and the employee. This type of work is most volatile and requires discipline. It’s high risk, high reward with no cap on potential salary or the creativity of your work. Before beginning freelance work, I recommend having a solid network to tap into for potential clients.
Depending on what stage of life you’re at, you may want to be in a particular job now, and move later. My recommendation is to ask yourself what your short term, and long term goals are and choose an employer based off of those goals.
Tip 4 – Ask yourself how much do you value your work and what salary you deserve
A lot of fresh graduates often underestimate themselves and their worth after graduating, and especially before graduating. Unfortunately, with a lack of experience, it gets hard to value yourself and the work you do. When I was studying and doing freelance work, I was charging anywhere between $18 – $25 per hour, as that was the standard I was used to in my customer service jobs. (I wasn’t a very good designer at the time, so it was probably worth that much) Unfortunately, when you’re fresh, you’re not good at time management, and more often than not, you don’t stick to your estimates and your value for time goes down, ending up with a value of $5 – $10 per hour.
Here is a list of average experience levels and salaries
- $45K – $55K per year
- $50 – $80/hour
- $60K – $90K per year
- $70 – $120 / hour
- $80K – $120K per year
- Director/ Freelance
- $40 – $200/hour
- $60K – $300K+ per year (Highly dependent on your business skills)
As you continue into the industry, you will find yourself trying to estimate your worth, whatever job you may be in. One good way of estimating this is to compare your current position against others in the industry. For those in a junior position or above, it becomes easy. You can find a lot of resources online and people talking about their experiences quite easily. You can read the article listed below, which lists the average salary for creatives in the industry in 2023. If you’re not quite at the junior level yet, you can try taking the junior salary and applying a 50% – 75% margin to it. For example when I was interning whilst studying I was earning $30-$40k annually, working part-time.
For continued reading about salary, please check out the Creative Store, they have a great article about salary in the creative industry.
Tip 5 – How hard do you want to work
When you’re a creative – especially a freelance creative – you normally have to fight for the salary you want. For freelancers, you have to decide how much you want to try and convince the client your work is worth something and how you want to charge for your work. Understanding the different methods of charging is important, as it will influence how much you will have to fight for your statement of work to be signed off.
There are 3 typical ways of charging a client. The first is a time based, hourly rate which you estimate and value based off of your experience, talent and portfolio. The second is project based pricing, in which you charge based off a set price for your product or services. The final type is value based pricing, in which you charge based on the value of the client’s needs.
Hourly based pricing
Hourly based pricing is convenient in that most people understand that time is valuable. It’s a traditional way of looking at income which is useful when you’re first starting out. It’s downside is that your work becomes quite granular and you spend a lot of time managing your time.
Project based pricing
Rather than charging based on time, you have a set value that you charge for a particular service, i.e. a website. Charging by project is more valuable for experienced designers as they are rewarded for being more efficient at their craft.
Value based pricing
The final and hardest pricing to pitch is value based pricing, in which you charge by the value of the product or service you are providing. An example of this is if the client you are working for envisions that your product or service will increase their revenue tenfold. If their projected revenue is $100,000, then your value based price would be 10% – 20% of that, $10,000 – $20,000. This can be difficult to pitch as often clients have a traditional time based mindset.
Tip 6 – The Grad show is not the be all end all
The graduation show, often held for final year students at university or TAFE, is a culmination of all the work students have done over the course of their degree. It can be quite daunting for a lot of students, as there is a stigma that students are expected to get a job at the grad show. This is a myth, as only a very small percentage (<1%) of students will get a job off the bat. Instead it is more likely that you will organise a coffee with an agency or professional to talk and get to know each other.
A good way of thinking of the grad show is a networking event. Networking takes a long time, and a lot of events to build a solid network of support in this industry. The grad show is a good starting point for this, if you haven’t already started networking. (See tip 2, start networking early)
Tip 7 – Focus on your portfolio
It’s fairly common knowledge that a degree or piece of paper is usually not as valuable as people think in the creative or web industry. Instead, whenever professionals look for potential candidates, usually they will start by looking at your portfolio, to get an understanding of your hard skills, then meet up for coffee to get to know your personality and soft skills. Your digital portfolio – best represented on a website – is the best way to showcase your chops, and the better the experience, the more likely a person hiring will be willing to invest in you.
As a side note, having a bad portfolio can be a big negative as well. Any kind of negative experience is equivalent to 100 positive experiences. This is because negative pain points are far more memorable. If you’re looking to impress digital directors aim for high page speed scores or a sexy design.
One of the most important things to remember in your career is to always learn, and always network. If you can continue to improve these two things, there’s no limit to where you can go. Although I don’t believe that it’s 100% necessary to follow this guide, I believe these are some of the fundamentals of any successful career, especially now when technology is changing to quickly and you have to adapt to survive. If you keep this in mind, and keep an open mind, you will be just fine. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you want to chat more as I’m always keen to meet new aspiring creatives and developers.