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Breaking Into a Graphic or Web Design Career

You’ve already completed your bachelor’s degree, perhaps years ago. Maybe you majored in computer programming, or maybe you majored in anthropology. Once out of school, you began at the entry level and worked your way up. But now, you want something different. You want to begin a career in graphic design. How do you make a 180-degree career change?

Seek a certificate

Many technical schools, community colleges, and even traditional four-year universities offer certifications in Web design or graphic arts. These programs, when combined with previous professional experience, such as a bachelor’s degree and several post-college years in the workforce, can be powerful tools with which to break into graphic design.

The advantages of pursuing a certification over a degree are time- and cost-savings. First, aspiring graphic designers are saved the hassle of having to take college general education requirements all over again. Some college classes, especially basic English, math, and science courses, might seem like they’d be a breeze to re-take, but the hours of work they require can be trying for adults with full-time careers. Just as important, graphic and Web design certifications are less expensive. The fewer credits you take to complete an educational program, the less money you will spend, overall. By focusing just on design skills, certificate programs allow adult students to forgo unrelated academic material.

To find the right program for your career needs, consider the major factors: cost, time until certificate completion, and breadth of skills taught. If you want to break into Web design, you will need to know how to work with text and images – and will likely need to understand how to use photo and graphic editing programs; Web design programs; file transfer protocol (FTP) clients; and probably, some Web scripting languages, as well. Graphic designers might need to know most or all of these skills, as well – and, more likely than not, will also need to understand typography and vector graphic creation.

Sell your design skill sets

Once you’ve learned skills directly applicable to graphics fields, you need to sell yourself, and your talents, to prospective employers. You will probably have a collection of projects you completed during your certification program that demonstrate some of your skills. Or, you might have lucked out by getting to take a portfolio preparation class as part of the certification process. In either case, carefully scrutinize your portfolio before you begin applying for jobs. Make sure that each piece you decide to include is a piece of your very best work, and that it showcases your talents to the fullest. If you feel that your design portfolio is lacking pieces that show off certain skills, you can always add onto it after you’ve finished the design program.

Keep practicing. You might not land a graphic or Web design job immediately out of school. In that case, you need to work hard to make sure your skills stay sharp. Keep doing projects in your spare time, and read design how-to books and industry periodicals. Or, consider taking on freelance or contract projects to continue developing your skills and your portfolio.

A great way to begin freelancing is to start as a photo re-toucher. Many people do not know how to fix or edit photos, or do not have the time. They rely on skilled re-touchers to help make their family, wedding, or professional portraits look great. Other ways to break into freelance design include logo and branding development, or Web page building for start-up companies. Start-ups typically have tight budgets, and many new companies cannot spend money on a design professional with years of experience. If your portfolio is good, and you can sell your skills, you can work your way up to a significant freelance client load.

If at first you have difficulty landing interviews, or land them, but can’t land the job, don’t despair. It takes many people – some of whom wind up being quite successful – a while to break into a career they really love. Perhaps your resume or cover letter is not attracting a would-be interviewer’s attention. If you suspect this is the case, seek a professional to critique these items. Or, maybe you’re not a confident interviewer. Grab a friend or relative and practice your presentation. Finally, it might be possible that the positions for which you’ve applied are not good fits: you’re over-qualified, under-qualified, or are competing against too many applicants. Keep trying, and in the meantime, keep your graphic and Web design skills sharp. Soon, you’ll land the position of your dreams.

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