Start your design career.

I spent a lot of time in college trying to find my way into the professional design world. While the pressure of that can feel overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be! It was intimidating at first, but with time and research, I was able to navigate through it. I’ve compiled the things I learned, and the things I wish that I knew sooner, so you can save time stressing and get yourself started.


Create an effective portfolio.

The first thing you need is a portfolio built for success. You most likely have one already, but what kind of projects do you have in it? Does it reflect your best work and the work that you want to be doing? It can be tempting to cram as many projects as possible into your portfolio. However, I learned a different approach that’s more effective.

While the usual portfolio advice calls for a maximum of 10–12 pieces, having fewer good projects is far more valuable. Aim for three to five pieces of your best work. These should be larger projects that have multiple materials to share. This allows for you and your interviewer to have concentrated and thorough discussions about your work and your process. You’ll both get more out of the conversation this way.

It is also helpful to know the kind of work that you want to do. Focus your portfolio on the job that you want and the kind of projects you are looking to be involved in. For example, I enjoy working on print projects, so my portfolio works reflect that. While acknowledging that you have a range of skill sets is great, sharing the work that you want to do will better attract the job that is right for you.

If you have internship or freelance work that aligns with your career goals, it should definitely be included. It is a great example of how you handle working within a client’s request.

It can take time to find the work you are most interested in. If you aren’t sure what that is, try exploring design outside of your coursework and internships. I spent my free time between semesters making self-directed projects to find my areas of interest. These can end up being great portfolio pieces, as they show a dedication to creativity without the requirements of assignments.


Put your work out there.

Another hurdle is deciding how to share your work with others. There are a few different options, so you can choose what is best for you.

Websites are the usual go-to. They are convenient for their ease of access and shareability. Building a website is an involved process, and there are many tools out there for a range of skill levels and budgets. I personally recommend Adobe Portfolio. It is included in an Adobe subscription and is user-friendly to even the most novice web designers.

Presentation decks are another option. These are best for one-on-one interactions, like interviews. They are more accessible if you are working on a budget, as they can be made with any design program you already have or free online tools.

Social media is a great way to share your work on a casual level. While I wouldn’t treat this as a formal portfolio, it is a good way to get your work seen.


Find your people.

Now that your work is ready to hit the road, you need to find people to share it with. This is often the hardest part, as the only real way to do it is to get out there and build connections.

Find events near you to meet other professionals. The American Advertising Federation (AAF) has branches across the country, including in our very own Buffalo, NY. The AAF Buffalo team hosts plenty of events throughout the year, which are professional and student friendly. They have networking events, guest speakers, student portfolio seminars and reviews, student agency tours, and an advertising award show every year! To learn more about these events and membership, check out their website, as well as our recap of this year’s award show.

If there are designers you admire on social media, or agencies that you closely follow, don’t be afraid to reach out to them! Be interested in their work and see what you can learn from them. It doesn’t need to be for a job, it’s really about making connections to get access to opportunities.

Lastly, one more shout-out. If you’re looking for additional advice on jump-starting your career, Eman, one of our account coordinators, offers some great tips for those who are just starting out in his blog: “A young professional’s tool kit.


Wishing you the best of luck on beginning your design career!