In praise of the part-time job

As a graduate of design, you shouldn’t dismiss the idea of working a part-time job in another industry. While earning your keep in a non-design based industry may not seem appealing, working a part-time job can provide you the financial stability to grow a design career in the path that you want.

When I started my design degree, I knew that walking into a full time position after uni wasn’t definite, but I decided to study design anyway because it was something that I really enjoyed. I was fortunate that I began working with DesignGel as soon as my final year major project was over. However, I knew it would be a little while before it became financially viable for me to focus my efforts on DesignGel full-time. The part-time position I took on to supplement my income was flexible and paid well, which is perhaps the reason that it took me such a long time to decide to hand in my notice.

While it may not seem like the most desirable choice at the start of your design career, part-time work can offer a level of freedom with the design projects that you choose to take on. Most importantly, the security of a constant paycheck that covered expenses while waiting for invoices to come through definitely saved me a lot of worry. I was keeping busy and staying productive when there wasn’t enough design work, and kept on my toes when there was.

Finding the right job

If you’re just finishing up your studies and want to venture into the world of freelance, you’re not admitting defeat by taking on a part time job. All the same, look for the right part time job for you - just because it’s not design work doesn’t mean it can’t be something that you enjoy and learn from. Working in a separate industry can expose you to a set of people you wouldn’t otherwise interact with.

Employers are usually pretty keen to have someone with design skills around, so be clear about whether or not you’re prepared to do design work as part of your part time job. Make sure there is an understanding between you and your employer about payment for taking on design responsibilities outside of the initial job description. Keep in mind that even customers at a part-time job are potential clients for design work (though you might want to check with your employer whether they mind you hustling on the job).

Be sure that you’re using the right tax codes for your income sources, and check if you’re eligible for a rebate at the end of the year, especially if you’ve been using the ‘S’ or ‘SL’ tax code.

Keeping a balance

Choose a job that will leave you with energy for your other ventures. It’s important to not forget the bigger picture - work enough part-time hours to pay for rent and other necessities, but set aside specific times to focus on design work, even self initiated projects.

It’s easy to compare yourself with peers who have landed straight into full time design work, and it might feel like a step away from your career path to work a part-time job in another industry. In an ideal world, there would be a multitude of exciting design projects for everyone to get stuck into. I’m not saying that there’s no work out there, but there’s often a lack of funding, especially among not-for-profits and social enterprises, so don’t mistake the lack of full-time design work flowing your way as a reflection on your work ethic or design skills.

For me, my part-time job was the safety net that meant that I was able to learn all I needed about running a business before taking on DesignGel as a full-time occupation. While I’m happy to be designing full-time (for now at least), I’m sure that working a part-time job this past year or so has been a good choice.