So you’ve finished your creative studies? Now what?

now-what

It’s around that time that study is wrapping up and many talented creatives are finishing their degrees! While the chaos and excitement of assignments and submissions winds down, it can also be a time where the fear and sense of dread starts to set in as young artists and designers begin thinking about what on earth they’re going to do next. For the last few years, there’s always been a next step - do the next year of my degree - but now, the opportunities are endless and it’s hard to know what to do or where to even start! There are a few options for you to choose from, and whichever path you go down, you can always shift to another if things don’t work out! Here’s some of our suggestions and thoughts on what you can do now that you’re a fully qualified creative!

Get an Internship

Getting an internship is probably one of the most expected moves for a young creative, because it gives you a chance to gain the experience you will need to go into a more permanent role. If you haven’t had a lot of practical experience on real projects that you can share in your portfolio during your time at university or college, getting an internship is a great idea! Not only will you be able to get stuck in on some live projects, but you’ll meet a ton of helpful people, learn a lot, get to use the technical skills you gained from study, and test out the waters to see what type of design work and atmosphere you like or don’t like! Internships are usually for a short period of time, which is just enough to experience all of these wonderful things, and sometimes they even lead to permanent roles if you’re lucky! Some people will try and offer unpaid internships, but we think you should avoid these if you can. Your design skills should be valued and you should be reimbursed for your time and expertise, even if the experience is amazing. Try and enrol in internship programmes like Summer of Tech here in NZ, which facilitate the internship process and ensure that you get paid, that way you won’t go broke just to get some experience! If you do score yourself an internship, give it your all and learn as much as you can. You want to make the most of your time there, and hopefully walk away with more knowledge, some new skills, great pieces for your portfolio, an amazing segment for your CV, and hopefully a glowing recommendation!

Work in an agency

You’ve probably heard of people talking about design agencies, creative agencies, digital agencies etc, etc, etc. Agencies are basically studios which work on lots of different projects for lots of different clients with lots of different deliverables, timeframes and price-points. They might be made up of designers, illustrators, photographers, videographers, animators, artists, project managers, creative directors, accountants and various other creative people. Agencies are a great place to work if you like variation in your creative projects, and enjoy working in different mediums. Working in an agency, you might spend a few weeks designing a website for one client, then the next month on an annual report. Depending on the type of agency it is, how big it is and how niched they are, your work might change day to day, week to week, month to month or even longer. There are a lot of different agencies out there with different work ethics, focuses and values. Have a look around online at some of the ones around you to get a feel for what might suit you. Take a look at the work they do, scour their social media to see what their offices are like and how they work together, maybe get in touch with some of their team members to see what they like about it and what kind of creative people they are. Once you find some that you’re interested in, it’s time to apply for a job! If they’re advertising for a role, you can apply for that, but even if they’re not, you can always fire your portfolio through although better still go in and introduce yourself. Send an email simply asking to meet and if they agree, go meet them, be confident, show your best work and let them know that they are your favourite agency. They might not have thought they needed another creative, but once they meet you, you might change their mind!

Join an in-house studio

In house design studios are a little like agencies, except that they work for the same client all the time and the team-members are employed by that client. Several companies have lots of design needs, so require a full-time team of creatives to create content for them. For example, you could work in the marketing team for a big bank designing all of their social media content, websites and other marketing material. You might work in a software company designing the user experience and user interface of their product. You might be an in-house designer for a startup, working on all of the designs needed to get their idea off the ground. Whatever the situation might be, working in-house is a great way to really get to know a brand, product or company, and create really in-depth, thoughtful designs because you’re focused on the one idea. You’ll get to know the users, clients and customers really well, as well as the values and goals of the company itself so that you can expertly design accordingly. If you like getting down to the nitty-gritty, focusing on one thing and doing it well, and learning a lot about one topic, an in-house studio is great for you! Working on one topic doesn’t mean it’s boring either! You might still work on different projects like websites, posters, apps, illustrations, annual reports and loads of other things, they’ll just all be focused around one idea, brand or company. Maybe you already know of some great in-house teams, or you need to do a bit of research into the companies with their own creative studios that are around you - but reach out to them if this seems like you!

Freelance

While the expected option when you finish studying might be to go out and find a job working for someone else, you actually don’t have to do that at all! Maybe what’s right for you is kicking off your career as a freelancer! Being a freelancer is a lot more work and pressure, and often doesn’t follow the same usual hours as a 9-5 day job, but it does give you a lot more freedom and you’ll learn a lot, fast. Freelancing means that you work for yourself, choose your own clients, do all the work yourself, and manage all the finance-y, business-y stuff too. You’ll need a lot of determination, dedication and discipline to make it as a freelancer, but the rewards can be amazing. Getting to choose your hours, the clients you work with, the projects you work on, how much you charge and how you design by yourself is amazingly freeing and will grow your entrepreneurial & business skills alongside your creative skills. It gives you the option to work how you work best and to tailor your process, environment and atmosphere to suit you. While you won’t be working alongside other creatives every day, if you have a steady income you can join coworking spaces, or just go to meetups and other support groups to make sure that you’re not alone, and you’re still learning and being pushed creatively by your peers. If you’re a confident and driven creative who doesn’t mind taking the bull by the horns and running a business, give freelancing a go! You can always do freelancing alongside another job or while you study too, since you can pick and choose when and where you work! There’s no stopping you from starting right now so if you think that freelancing could be for you, give it a go! Start getting your name out there, sharing your work, networking and bringing in those clients!

Be a contractor

Offering your creative services as a contractor is a great way to combine the flexibility of freelancing, the variation of working in an agency, and the focus of working in-house. Being a contractor means that companies that might need an extra hand for a week or so, a business that needs a designer for a special campaign, a studio that needs someone to cover an employee who is away, or an agency that needs someone with particular skills, can bring in a contractor to meet those needs. Contracting roles are often fixed term and can range from one day, to a year and might be one-off, or recurring on an ongoing basis. Companies will need contractors for various reasons and it’s just about finding the right ones. Being a contractor means that you can choose which projects you work on, but when you do work on them, you can focus on them for that one period of time, and then move on to the next one where you might do something completely different. If you’re thinking of doing contract work, it can be a good idea to sign up to a talent agency like TalentShop here in NZ, that will feed through all of the contract work that gets sent their way because often businesses will contact them for recommendations and list the role through them, as opposed to looking for individual contractors. You could advertise as a freelancer and a contractor if you wanted, which would allow yourself both opportunities and you could break up your time between both!

Start your own business

Starting a business is definitely for the brave of heart, especially just after finishing your studies, but if you’ve got the idea and the dedication, we say go for it because it can set you up for life if you can nail it! You might want to open a creative store, turn a project from uni into a start-up, or even form your own creative agency. Whatever it might be, it’ll require a lot of hard work and the support of as many other people as possible! Obviously starting a business is a huge undertaking, but the rewards can be massive. Like freelancing, you’ll have the freedom to set out your own hours, values, location and more, and the opportunities can be endless. Having a fully-fledged business will require more finances and you’ll have to get all the business details on lock, which means doing the accounting, being set up as a legitimate business that pays taxes and everything, and you might even need to hire some others to help you. You don’t have to drop everything all at once, you could build it slowly as you keep your current job, or save up and then invest in it later on in life. Think about this one carefully, because it can be a big risk, but like we said earlier, it can be worth it for the rewards. And again, if you’ve got what it takes and you’re ready to take on the challenge, give it a go!

Wait a while

Maybe you’re not ready to get straight into the creative industry, and that’s fine. It’s totally okay to do something completely unrelated when you finish studying, even if you never come back to it. You have to do what’s right for you, and sometimes that means taking a break, or changing directions. You could go on a holiday, work in an unrelated job, or take some time to figure out what you want to do. Maybe you want to start a family, pursue another dream, or just have some time off. One of the things that you might want to do instead of heading straight into the creative industry is more study! There are options as a creative to do further studies like honours, masters or even a doctorate, so if you wanted to keep studying creatively, you can do that! You can even study something completely different if that’s what you want! You could do a teaching degree to teach what you learnt in your creative degree, take a short course in something new like marketing or business, or start a whole new degree in something like law or medicine or theology or whatever interests you! If you love to study, you can keep going forever! Whatever it might be that you decide to do, in the end it’s up to you to choose your path and what you want to be doing. It might just be a week, a couple of months, a year or two, or forever, but you can always come back, pick up where you left off and take that step into the creative industry if you want.

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We hope that reading this has eased your worries, taught you a little about the different options you have and what they’re like, and maybe even opened your mind to some directions that you hadn’t thought about. We’d love to hear about what your plans are when you finish your studies, and if you have any questions or want any more advice, don’t hesitate to ask!

You can hit us up in the comments below, on twitter, or via email at hello@designgel.org.nz.

Hollie & Jared.