Ask Grace #1: Landing A Graphic Design Job

I love working with and around design but am not a graphic designer and know my limitations. I understand design and in fact I’m a very good designer of business processes. How would you recommend that I sell myself to get a job working with a design firm?

As AIGA perfectly points out, the reality of “finding your first design job means matching your creativity and skill with an organization’s real needs. It is also a valuable learning experience. While you are looking, you are learning about the various ways design is practiced. Your next job search—whether it occurs soon or well down the road—will be easier; you will have gained a clearer vision of the field and how you want to position yourself within it.”

  • 1. Portfolio

I’m assuming your portfolio is limited as your experience doesn’t lie within Graphic Design but within business. Therefore the most important asset you have is your portfolio, so it needs to impress. So how to build a quality portfolio without any real experience?

There are two options open to you:

(a) Pro-Bono

Volunteering of your services (or working for a reduced-fee) doing Pro-Bono work within your local community will not only help get your name out there but it will show your skills and capabilities to potential employers.

The most important benefit of pro-bono work is it gives you real-life problem solving situations AND clients to deal with. It demonstrates you can cater to both the needs of the audience and the requirements of the organisation involved.

(b) Self Generated

Creating a brief and undertaking a project initiated by you means you have the chance to seriously challenge yourself. You have complete creative freedom so if you choose to create your own brief then make sure to make it stand out. Many Art Directors choose a designer on their body of work not the size of their clients, with this in mind, if you’re filling your portfolio with self-generated work, you need to make it fantastic.

Ideally for those without much design experience, a combination of both self-generated and pro-bono work is ideal.

  • 2. Web Presence

You may not be applying for a web design job but in today’s market you still need a website. Even if it’s just a simple one-page resume site, it let’s you market your name and qualifications worldwide.

Having a website also gives you a professional email address such as; much better than It shows you’ve put thought and consideration into how you present yourself and your experience to all potential employers.

  • 3. Network

One of the best ways to generate real-world experience and to get your name out there is to get networking! Easier said than done, that’s what your thinking I know, but once you get over the initial nerves it can be a very successful way to start building your contacts.

Get involved in local networking events, your chamber of commerce and creative meetups such as Open Coffee or Barcamp. Before you go just make sure you have business cards (or Moo cards like me)!

  • 4. Bound Portfolio

As your aiming for a Graphic Design job you need to be able to bring a portfolio of you work to the employer – presented in a case. It should be neat, professional and stylish (note this doesn’t mean it has to be expensive).

Your goal is to choose 10 – 20 of your best samples. Think quality, not quantity. These provide evidence of the standard of your work and show you are both prepared and organised.

You should also be prepared to leave some samples with the employer.


12 Steps To A Super Graphic Design Portfolio
How To Create A Traditional Design Portfolio

  • 5. Research

If you know the type of work you ideally want to be involved in, then try and make your portfolio match this. Though on the flip side while it’s fantastic to be great at one skill than mediocre at 10, you will need to know about the industry as a whole.

When going for a specific job, research the company both online and offline. Perhaps see if the company has a blog and don’t forget to actually show you’ve done some research. You’ll show the employer you’ve taken the time to learn about the position and company thoroughly and this will demonstrate you’re interested and passionate about the job.


Conducting the Web Designer Job Interview

I hope my answer proves beneficial! Do you have any advice to give on this subject, then please leave a comment below.

If you have a question you would like to be answered, questions can be directed on the Ask Grace page or via the contact page.


  1. Nikki Jeske says:

    I think people don’t do enough pro-bono work. There are so many articles for freelancers about not doing free work, but I think by being so adamant about this, they lose sight of one of the reasons we do web design in the first place: to make the internet a more user-friendly and beautiful place. Sometimes, doing pro-bono work for a non-profit organization or an animal shelter or a local food pantry can not only make their websites beautiful, it also has that added bonus of putting a lot more good out into the world for those who need it. I’m glad you added pro-bono work to this.

    Also – thank you for the resources for the printed portfolio! I would love to see something even more detailed in another Ask Grace post. How did you create your bound portfolio? How did you print it out? What binding did you use? What sizes? When I created one for my current job, I couldn’t find anything online so I winged it. I’d like to see what your process was.

    I’m excited to see more Ask Grace posts – this one is awesome. :)

    • Grace says:

      @Nikki I agree, though I think a lot of the problem lies in the fact many people confuse pro-bono with spec work, which are two very different things. Pro-bono work can be amazing for both sides – the client gets a great designer to work with and the designer gets to make a difference and add to their portfolio. Great suggestion as well on the graphic design portfolio, will get on that!

      @Laura I’m shy as well but it’s something I’ve had to overcome since starting freelancing. Once you start going to a few events and meetups it gets easier, so go for it, because people are generally super nice and will make you feel welcome.

      @Danh Thanks Danh, appreciate it, hopefully it helps some of your designer friends as well :-)

  2. Laura Earley says:

    Glad you mentioned network, it’s so important, but so difficult. I’m a shy person, I admit it, and I think it gets in the way of me really getting out to events and getting to know important business leaders, designers, and potential clients/jobs. It’s not in my nature to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger and shove my business card in their face. That being said, I just need to get over it and do it. It’s about your talent, drive and who you know in this industry.

    Great first Ask Grace post, I look forward more of them!

  3. Danh Hoang says:

    Great info Grace. This is a post I will share with many of my fellow designers currently on the streets. Hope you have a great weekend!

  4. grumpycow says:

    Thank you so much for answering my question! It’s really got me thinking about a whole range of things I can start doing right now, which is exciting and very motivating. The resources you’ve included are excellent too. Really, really helpful post – thank you so much!

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