16 April 2018

Craig Oldham's Honest Advice for New Graduates

As the designer releases his new book featuring honest advice for students and graduates trying to break into the industry, he explains why portfolios aren’t the be all and end all of getting a job, and why no wants to work with a wanker.


It’s the final push now. In a matter of mere weeks, wave upon wave of young graduates will be crashing against studio doors, looking for any and every opportunity to start work. I can tell you, it’s terrifying. I can also tell you that even though I’m a good decade into my career, I’m still sensitive to that time and remember it well. Or rather, I have never let myself forget the feelings I felt while going through that period of my life because it was really unsettling.


You move somewhere for three or four years to study in a new place, you’re making new friends, you’ve got no fucking money, you’re learning how to live and you’re growing. It’s a really formative time of your life. Then suddenly, just as all those things are settling down and you’re figuring it out, it all fucking flips again. You have to leave education to try find a job and all of that pressure starts again. I just want to let you know, it’s ok to feel like this.


I know I must sound like some sort of apparitional parent figure, but no one ever tells you this – particularly people already within the industry. Although it might sound impractical (I would struggle to describe how you could implement the advice “it’ll be ok”) it’s these smallest of titbits that make the biggest difference at this time of year. You know, the actual human stuff. So I thought I’d try and share another human tip on getting into ‘the Industry™’.



Now, there’s a lot of stuff flying around about portfolios and presenting yourself, but many of these overlap in my experience. Some of them also contradict each other, which isn’t exactly helpful. What I’ve found is that no matter what folk in the Industry™ say, there isn’t a fundamentally right or a wrong way to address your work. Some treat it as an archive for their projects and essentially document what they did for each piece of work. Others try to express their projects differently in order to “get into that world”, as I’ve heard it called. Neither way works better, but one crucial thing that a lot of people forget is not to rely on your work alone.


When you’re about to graduate, I know it feel likes all people chant at you is “portfolio, portfolio, portfolio”. But as important as your work is, it’s not the only thing that can get you a job. You as a person count too. Your work will get people interested in you, maybe get you an interview, a meeting, or a bit of work from time to time – but things like getting a job or winning new clients also relies on you. Showing work in person isn’t solely about seeing work in person. It’s more to find out about you – what you’re like, how you talk about work, and whether you might be a good fit. Your work can’t help you here, you just have to be yourself.



I have known some designers who relied solely on their work. And even though some of them had absolutely envious, unbelievable work, that failed to convert into jobs or projects because they weren’t prepared themselves. That, or they were complete wankers who nobody liked. But that’s the thing, when it comes down to it no one hires absolute dickheads just because they do good work. Plus, nicer people will generally always improve, because they actually want to.


While it is massively important to prepare your portfolio, it’s ultimately just an extension of you. So be happy with yourself and your approach, and then arm yourself with the best work you can muster.


Note: You may have noticed a couple of little letters hugging onto the word ‘Industry’ throughout the course of this article. Yep, that little ‘T’ and ‘M’. If you’d like to know why they appear, well you’ll just have to read the book to find out now won’t you.


Oh Sh*t… What Now?: Honest Advice for New Graphic Designers costs £17.99, and is available from Laurence King.