Once you’ve acquired the skills you need, either through completing college or studying on your own, you are ready to start your graphic design career. However, knowing what you want to do for a living and getting started are two different things. It is sometimes challenging to land that first position when you don’t yet have a lot of experience in the corporate world.

There are approximately 266,300 jobs in the United States for graphic designers, but the growth rate of 4 percent is slower than the national average. That means getting your foot in the door with a company isn’t as easy as it might sound at the beginning of a graphic design career.

Fortunately, there are some proactive things to do when starting your graphic design career that will help you get ahead. Here are eight ideas to try.

1. Gather Samples

When you go to job interviews, they’ll want to know you understand good design concepts. The best way to demonstrate this is to have a portfolio that shows off your skills. How do you create a portfolio if you haven’t yet worked, though?

While you’re still in school or training, collect samples of work you’ve completed for classes or practice. You should also volunteer to create designs for local nonprofits, such as your church or an organization you’re involved in. If you’re part of any student organizations, design material for them as well.

Once you’ve gathered samples, you need to sort through them and keep the very best examples to share in your portfolio.

2. Volunteer as an Intern

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If you haven’t yet graduated, spend your summers interning for local companies. That allows you to learn from more experienced designers already working for that company and gets your foot in the door if there is an opening when you graduate.

Eighty-five percent of open positions get filled because of networking. That means that the more people you know in the industry in which you’d like to work, the better your chances of locating a position and launching your career. Build those connections either while you’re still in school or immediately upon graduating to increase your odds of finding a new job.

3. Gain Experience on the Side

If you can’t locate a job in graphic design right away, you might end up having to accept a different type of position. Don’t despair. Keep looking for a job in your career field. In the meantime, however, take on some side jobs that help you build your portfolio and gain experience. You can always freelance in the evenings.

You never know when a part-time freelance gig might turn into a full-time job, either. Make sure to tell all your clients your goal is to pursue a full-time graphic design career. That’s part of networking to find the position of your dreams.

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4. Find Your Niche

If you’re contending with a big pool of potential graphic designers, you’re likely competing against people with more experience than you. One thing you can do that allows you to stand out from the competition is to find a niche design area and perfect your skills there. For example, perhaps you could become extremely competent at UX design. That carefully honed experience will be attractive to some employers, and you can push your knowledge in this area during interviews.

Knowing which niche to choose isn’t easy. Try to look at various skills through the eyes of a corporation. What would be most attractive to you if you were the employer looking to hire a new graphic designer? How does this skill add value to any company you work for? You also don’t need to limit yourself to a single niche area. Feel free to develop several specialties within the design field.

5. Work as a Temp

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If you can’t find a job right away, another idea is to work as a temp through an employment service. That will allow you to visit different companies, such as PR agencies, and work for them for a bit to hone your skills and level of experience.

Probably one of the biggest benefits of using a staffing agency, even for temporary work, is that the agency provides feedback. That allows you to improve how you present yourself to employers and ups the odds the next temp job might turn into a full-time career.

Companies do hire temps who are a good fit for their team, so go in with the attitude that you’re going to do your best work and see what happens. At a minimum, you’ll have a good reference for your resume.

6. Take What You Can Find

Perhaps the only offer you’ve received doesn’t pay as much as you’d like to make initially. In the beginning, it’s vitally important to develop experience in the field. Even if the job isn’t in the type of company you’d like or pays a bit less than you were hoping, you should take what you can find to get your foot in the door.

You certainly don’t have to stay with a corporate giant if you prefer to work with nonprofits. However, getting your start there allows you to build your resume so you can move on to your dream job later.

7. Get a Mentor

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As soon as possible, make a connection with a more experienced designer and ask them to mentor you. Experienced designers bring a few things to the table that will help you as you grow your career. First, they’ve been where you are and can help you avoid the same pitfalls they faced.

More experienced designers also have contacts you don’t yet have. They may be able to recommend a company that is the perfect fit for you and for which you are the perfect fit. As a bonus, you’ll pick up new skills from a mentor you might not have, including time management skills specifically for a career as a graphic designer.

8. Keep Growing

Once you land that first job, strive to gain new skills and ask for regular feedback from your new employer. The goal is to keep growing, so you become invaluable to the company or to any company for which you work in the future.

Take any opportunity to learn something new about design or to grow as a professional. This includes attending professional conferences for designers, taking courses on your own and staying up on the latest software and trends.

Starting in Graphic Design

A graphic design career is rewarding and fun-filled. While it may take determination to land your first job, once you get your foot in the door, you’ll gain a reputation as a stellar designer, and others will appreciate what you bring to the table. In the meantime, be on the lookout for ways to show off the skills you already have and develop a solid reputation in the industry.

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