Saturday, 7 December 2013

From the Other Side

Having worked at my company for a year now, I have had plenty of opportunity to see internships from the other side; gaining a new perspective. We don't get many interns in (I am ashamed to say) but when we do we have had a variety of people. We have seen everything from new graduates and students to young teenagers, with all varieties of experience. As the least experienced member of staff (and near enough the youngest) - the Junior, I guess the interns (especially graduates) see me as their next step, their confidante and I love getting to know the graduates and their stories. These are some things I have noticed from the other side:

We recently had one guy in who started on time but left dead on clocking off time. Those of you who know my blog will know that when on placement I had a big problem with the whole concept of this. I have not worked in a single design studio where the majority of people have left on time; there are always stragglers and late workers, it is (to some extent) the nature of the job. I didn't mind that he left on time because I knew his work was deadline-free but it was the whole awkwardness of him leaving. I think it would really show dedication and kindness to offer once in a while to help out of it is clear people are in need of it. But essentially, when he left the office he never said "Good bye" of "Have a nice evening" or "Thanks for today" and that really bothered me; he just snuck out. This bothered me especially because he left on time. It felt a bit like his attitude was wrong: his intentions were self-centred and he didn't want to become part of the team. I would never expect someone to stay late whilst they were on placement - but if they did, it would show true dedication and selflessness - even to offer. It shows that you have the right attitude, especially if staying later (even by 10 minutes!) is an occupational hazard in this industry and it shows you understand that.

Air of Desperation 
We had one placement in who pretty much jumped on me straight away; asking me if I was the Junior, and was I a placement and did they offer me the job whilst I was on placement... 
I was keen to get to know her and where she'd been, as was she with me, but it soon became clear that she wanted to know if their was a job in this for her. I completely don't blame her for wanting to establish this early on but understand that the Junior is not the person to ask. Also, once this has been established, it is key to not mention that you would like to be paid more or offered permanent work at every available opportunity. It is off-putting, awkward and frankly - rude. Jobs are earned by hard work and dedication. You cannot start asking within minutes of being on your first placement, if there's a chance of a job. It is different if you have the skills after maybe a year's experience as you would be useful to a company so it would be good to highlight your experience, but it is important to channel this message of your availability to the higher powers. It just annoys everyone else. Especially if we all know you are not ready yet; like this girl. She just seemed kind of desperate and a little like she thought she was ready and so wasn't willing to learn any more. Not a good attitude.

Get Involved
Having been the intern many times (and twice in the company I am in, with the people I now work with) I know how important it is to get to know everyone. Your time there will be much easier and productive if you are not afraid to get stuck in and get to know everyone. It really bugs me when interns (who are there to absorb the environment they are in and learn as much as possible) are sat there with their earphones in. This closes a lot of doors for them - for example they don't overhear interesting issues/company politics/company banter and there is no way they can learn anything either about the process in our industry or our people if they are sat there in their own world. Now if we are busy, we can sometimes be very quiet and almost stand-offish - we don't always have enough time to sit down and chat with interns, but regardless of how busy we are - there is always lunch time. It is the perfect time to get to know people personally and more about the work place in an informal setting. If you are sat with your headphones in all day and eat lunch at your desk when you are here to learn from us, then you will walk away with a fraction of what you could have learned. 

We have had interns that just don't stop moaning! It seems obvious but Please and Thank-you's do not go unnoticed - and their absence even more so. At the end of the day, our company is doing you a favour, so at least pretend to be grateful. The company I work at now, is the company that while on placement I felt I gained the most experience so I know a bad placement when I see one, but when interns moan to me about the work they are given - I just think - it could be worse, and that they don't know how lucky they are. It annoys me a bit but they will realise. I appreciate that not all placements are enjoyable, but if you want to be invited back, you need to have the right attitude, and no P's and Q's and a whole lot of negativity means you have a funny way of showing that you want to work here.

Seeing internships from the other side has given me an alternative insight. I think I was guilty of doing a few of these things, which is why I have felt the need to mention them. It is important to understand that the Junior is your best friend - in that they have the most recent account of your experience so it is more likely they will understand you and your needs - they understand how difficult it is to find work in graphic design at the moment and they will probably be the least patronising, so use them. Get involved, get to know everyone and give off the right attitude and you are on to a winner. 

Friday, 23 August 2013

The Perfect Placement

In a regularly held company catch up meeting we were talking about a potential work placement coming in and what they might be tasked with doing. This is unusual for us - we haven't had a graduate placement in since I was there on placement over a year ago now, so having students in is a habit we have gotten out of (which by the way I completely disagree with). What I found interesting about this meeting was that considering I was the placement there not so long ago, they didn't ask me what a graduate placement might like to do, which troubled me.

Suggestions that went round included "the Christmas card" (very funny)... "Birthday cards"(...) "Making tea.." all very funny suggestions. When serious ideas came up they were laced with phrases like - "placement job" - That's the perfect job for a placement. By this phrase what they meant was - that is a job suited to a placement because it is not a job for us (high and mighty designers).

To be honest, to some extent they are right. A new graduate wants to integrate into the agency. I always wanted to be useful. I hated it when I found out that the job they had given me was a made up one. I preferred doing "placement jobs" like cutting up, popping to the shops for samples, photographing products/places - bits and bobs (much like I do now) because it not only gives the graduate a realistic impression of what they are capable of and would be doing within the company full-time should they stay on, but also proves to the company that they are capable of being useful and financially viable. Of course a design internship consisting only of these tasks is a disappointing one. So it is good to be involved in briefings and some form of mac work, so that you do come out with some experience and a few more illustrator shortcuts under your belt. Better still, if you are there for some time, design work is important.  Useful for both the graduate to show their development during that internship and for the company to ascertain the graduate's creative potential. It would be foolish (or impossible) for them to hire you without some idea of your creative capabilities.

So my suggestions to my company would be: integration (bits and bobs) as well as creative work - but the more live the project the better and to work with some one is also important because it is imperative you have someone to ask questions, a mentor or a benchmark who can show you what sort of level a design needs to be at to present to a client. The important aspect of an internship as well is its length. Having had many week long internships, I can definitely say that a week is not a long enough period for you to either gain anything or be remembered. A month is a much better time scale to fit in all aspects of a good internship.

I would love to hear your ideas on the perfect tasks for interns. I know many junior designers end up managing the placement schemes, so it would be good to hear what sort of tasks are handed out to your graduates and which you find most successful and well received. Or as an intern, what do you find works best for you? Also, if you have any under graduate interns in (degree students, foundation students, or gcse students) how does the scheme cater for their very different needs?

Sunday, 18 August 2013

The First Job Trap

I have spent the last week trying to convince my friend to leave his job. He got the job a year or so ago after a long drawn out placement, but was so relieved and happy; it was the job he always wanted. It is a good job in the sense that as a junior designer he has alot of responsibility, which I have found to be quite rare. As one of only three designers (one of which is a graduate placement), designing is a daily occurrence. By contrast, my role within a larger company (in a different design sector) restricts me to few design projects, with a lot of time being dedicated to the bits and bobs that lead and support the design work (the boring stuff) - so I have always been a little bit jealous of his job. He engages with clients, supervises placements and is generally well respected and liked in the company. They would miss him if he left.

The issue he has with his job - and there is always one niggle in every job - is a big one; his problem is his workload. It is rare for him to leave work on time, and when his managing director insists he stay until 2am to finish a project for the next day, he says no problem. It is a problem. With regular requests like this and many unpaid overtime hours worked, it is affecting my friends well being. I have told him it is time to say no. When you work late consistently you are not only risking your health and happiness, not to mention sacrificing your free time, but you are making things worse for yourself. What they clearly need at his company is a new member of staff. The trouble is if he keeps staying late, they won't realise they need one, they will keep scheduling work into unrealistic deadlines, and the cycle will continue. I am not saying you should never stay late. I am all for pulling together with the team to meet a pitch deadline - but in his job there is no team effort - his boss leaves at 5 on the dot every day - now that's not fair.

He insists it will be okay if he gets a pay rise but I don't think money is the answer. Clearly the attitudes of this company needs to change. The only way to make them see his worth, I think, is to leave.
My friend is too scared to leave. He is trapped in his first job because he doesn't think he can get another job. In a way, I think a lot of people do this. A colleague at my current job was there on tiny wages for 4 years because it was his first proper job and he didn't realise his worth. By belittling people you can make them work with the experience and responsibility of a mid-weight for the pennies of a junior. The less money you are paid perpetuates your fear because it is more important that you stay in work; the rent can't pay itself - and you are probably living in your overdraft anyway.
I have tried convincing my friend that he will be appreciated and paid more elsewhere but I can't make him look for a job elsewhere - he has to want it himself. The trouble is he won't realise how bad his situation is until he is in the better job.

Don't be trapped by your first job. First jobs are the stepping stone for the next - a means to an end. After waiting so long for "the perfect job" it is sometimes hard to admit that it is time to move on and let go. You can climb the career ladder by design agency hopping - and the best wage increases come from jumping ship (or going freelance) - you will find something else - keep your portfolio up to date and be confident. All those long hours and responsibility my friend has done will earn him respect in a new job, even if it doesn't earn him any respect where he is now.

To be honest that is what annoys me most: when people don't respect your hard work. They clearly don't deserve your time (and quite frankly they are not paying you enough for it, either).

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Lending a hand

As a recent graduate who does not feel completely secure in their own job, I feel like a bit of an idiot right now.

When I was looking for a job I kept my contacts close. I didn't let any of my fellow design graduates know any name or email address that I had worked hard to get. Getting a job in design is often about the people you know, so I always felt that by giving away my contacts, I was giving away my job opportunities.

When I started to feel more secure, I allowed myself to help others. I shared email addresses, names of "easy to get" placements, I blacklisted placements not worth bothering with, I shared recruitment agency details, useful websites and blogs. I gave away all of my secrets. I was trying to help others avoid some of the pains that I went through in my long hunt for a job.

I didn't really realise how much I was "helping", until one friend called me to tell me about placements he had secured (all my contacts) and eventually a job he had secured, thanks to me. And whilst I understand that I wasn't at the interview and I didn't fill his portfolio with his work. I still feel as if I did too much to help him get that job, and I wonder if he feels that way too.

I worked hard for a solid year - I feel like I fought to get my job: I had dull placements, long placements, unpaid placements - I endured good and bad, learning a lot in my year's struggle. But by helping my friend I have potentially spared him of these pains, but I have also starved him of these experiences: and perhaps I have prevented him from becoming the junior designer he could have been.

Of course, I feel relieved for my friend, but at the same time, I hope I don't appear selfish when I say I hope they remember me when I need a helping hand. I might need it after this month.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Job Insecurity

When I was offered a job as a junior designer, I was given a 6 month probation period. Until this is over, I have no job security. I can be dismissed with a weeks' notice - chucked out onto the street as a failed designer and back in the dole office before you can say "useless graduate."

To be honest, it was going so well, I had almost forgotten that I had a probation period. I am literally spitting distance from the finish line. I was almost out of the tunnel - when I made a big mistake. 

The mistake is massive: I have created hours more work for my colleagues; I have screwed up.
My head is full of excuses: "I was rushed", "nobody told me not to", "I didn't know" -but I made a mistake and I can't do much about it now.
I didn't know any better and nobody else noticed - but I am frightened that this is the end for me at this company. I have messed up big time - and I didn't even realise...

Whilst I don't want to indulge in the dramatics of this, it has brought up some valid points. 
As a junior designer, I am still learning, and the reason I am paid less is because I know much less and I have less experience. Mistakes are bound to be made. But for one of this scale to happen shows that perhaps the problem is a much deeper one. Many people had seen my mistake before it was announced to be a mistake, but nobody noticed it so I do feel as though I am not solely responsible. But at what point do I become responsible for my own actions? 
- I have to ask questions and make sure I am clear about what I am doing and why, so gaps in my knowledge can be cemented over. I have to ask when I am unsure. Which is why every thing I do I get "signed off" before it leaves the studio.
So as far as I am concerned by consulting my seniors with the work, and trusting them to notice any mistakes, I have relinquished responsibility. But at the end of the day it was my mistake and I am going to have to take responsibility. It is my fault.

At least it has been a learning curve. I won't make the same mistake again. 
I just hope my colleagues still respect me and don't blame me for the hours of extra work they have been lumbered with. 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Freelance Envy

When you walk into a design agency you can spot the freelancers straight away. They have nice clothes, expensive shoes, sun-kissed skin and, most distinctively, a beaming grin. They're the ones offering to make the tea, constantly chatting small-talk throughout the day - eager to get to know everyone and eager to be liked. They are upbeat and everyone loves them. They are unbearable.

Having done freelancing for a very small amount of time, I know its drawbacks all too well. In total I freelanced for 6 months, but if you follow my blog you'll see I was unemployed and penniless for 2 and a half of those months, so whilst I was drowning in my overdraft and my overwhelming self-doubt, I found it hard to enjoy it.

But as freelancers chat away about their holidays, time off, lazing around, it is hard not to get envious of them - especially when you know they are paid way more than you are, and taxed significantly less. (But there are two types of freelancers: ones who freelance because they can, and others, because they have to. I was the latter, but I tend to see this as underemployed and awaiting a permanent role, rather than working freelance.)

At our agency we have a regular flow of freelancers. This works out well for us to cover both holidays, sickness and to always have a fresh pair of eyes on a project, especially one you are sick of the sight of. However, we often find they always get the good jobs. Good jobs can take many forms, but for me it's a design for a product I like, or can relate to - something that will not only function - but has the budget to be beautiful. I like to make things look good and I am always jealous when a freelancer gets to do it.

After working now for a few months in one place, which is unusual for me, I have also become envious that freelancers have no sense of office politics. They don't know the history of the office, who hates who, and which clients and projects are unbearable. They don't live in the same world of dread as the rest of us. They don't have a least favourite artworker, designer or project manager to work with - they have no worries and no fears. They work knowing that if it is unbearable, at least it will end.

But -- and this is a big one. I don't envy freelancers because of the sense of stability I get from my job - (at least until my probation review) - the fear of not getting any work was too much for me. I hated the constant struggle to find work, to be hassled by recruitment agencies with work I wasn't suitable for, or constantly disappointed by work they didn't 'win' me. It is important to note, though, that I was freelancing as a junior, and it is hard for agencies to find work for a junior, and their commission is much less too - so they don't really put their heart into it. Freelancing after 5+ years experience in the industry, with a few contacts in place, would be a doddle, so I look forward to trying that out when the time is right.

What attracted me to a job in graphic design was its flexibility. I wanted to be able to work from home and work flexibly to allow me to travel, have a family - do everything I want to do. Whilst part of me doesn't envy the horrors of freelancing, I do see it more of a future goal. So when I'm sick of office politics, miniscule pay rises and obligatory Christmas parties, I'll know what to do.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Dress Like You Mean It

When you do find the one; that agency you admire, look up to and want to be a part of it is important then to be certain you are giving all the right signals, when on placement. Make sure that they know that you are looking for a job and that you aren't just placement surfing: going along for the ride. For me, I think people started taking me seriously when I started wearing the right things.

Every agency is different with what they do and do not consider work attire, but I'd say smart casual is the norm. Looking at graduates now I do notice a certain scruffiness. Sure, there isn't much of a budget for new clothing, I appreciate that, but low riding jeans and tattered old trainers make you like like a student and not a graduate.

It was particularly important for me because I look much younger than I am. I tried smarter clothes like blazers and smarter jeans, proper work shoes and tidy hair. Separating yourself from other graduates is important and if you look like you are serious about getting a job, they will take you seriously too.

One of my friends suggested if I wanted a job I should wear trendier clothes. I think he is wrong: you should never try and be something you are not, and if they didn't want to hire me because of my dress sense, then I didn't want to work there, anyway. But what I am saying is not a question of fashion but of portrayal of your self and the right attitude, whilst fitting in to the adult world. You are a grown up now, looking for a grown up job - now dress like you mean it.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

The Enemy of Complacency

Getting a design job is tough - many people will be able to say they worked hard to get their first job. Essentially, it is tough because you have to balance three things: work, life (you know the fun bit where you go out, see your friends) and looking for work. But being on placement often means you are too exhausted to look for work - especially if you are holding down a weekend job as well. Seeing friends, shopping trips and cinema excursions become a thing of the past as you try to sleep and eat amongst all the work, homework, sending emails and getting ready for interviews. It is unsurprising then, that many graduates leave looking for work for later and enjoy their weekends and evenings instead.

Whilst I don't blame any hard working graduate that choses to prioritise their life over their future, my choice was made simple by one key factor: I didn't have any money. I was, as many graduates are, using my ever-expanding student overdraft as a buoy. I was keeping afloat working a 6 day week, living in a awful area, in an awful (but cheap) house, living off frozen food, and prepacked lunches. I spent most of my free time looking for work because I had this constant pressure of having to pay the rent. I knew my parents couldn't save me and failing to get a job before I hit the bottom of my overdraft would win me a one-way ticket home. This was my chance - my only chance and I was not going to let London beat me, and I couldn't let myself, or my family down.

I was never complacent and settled in a placement and I think this is key, too. If you become accustomed to life in a placement which is seemingly going well, but they aren't paying you (or not paying you enough), you could feel pressure to stay especially knowing you don't have anything else lined up. It is important in this case to plan ahead - Line placements up - know that you can stay afloat a little bit longer.

I know graduates that complain that they are not doing so well to succeed, but I have noticed that they aren't putting in enough effort. As with any job, the harder you work the better the results, and this counts for looking for work, too. You have to arrange the interviews to get the placement, and that placement is one step closer to you getting a job. It is not about the amount of placements or the length but about the amount of experience you will have gained by the end - but at the same time, you need to stay afloat financially and keep your eyes open for job opportunities. Don't let a placement get in the way of the job offer. Similarly, the job will not come to you - you have to go and find it.

I went to every placement assuming that it was a dead end. Whilst I have been criticised by my peers for my negativity and pessimism, I think it helped me engage future job opportunities through constant emailing and attending interviews - I was never complacent. If you are enjoying your placement: perfect - If they are paying you: even better -- but if you aren't learning anything it is time to move on - stop sitting on your laurels and get that job!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Endless Small Talk

Looking back at my placement experience, I have realised one simple thing. The one thing I hated about it is the thing I am most grateful for; endless small talk.

Having several months experience at a placement is fine, especially if they offer you a job. Sometimes it does feel like those that do get the jobs initially are those that stuck around long enough to either prove themselves and/or for a job to become available. Often these jobs are offered as some sort of guilt-relief after months of no pay. (At one agency - mentioning no names....I worked with a girl who after 6 months working as an unpaid runner for the receptionist, was offered a junior designer role for a £12,000 salary). But if an agency aren't paying; you can't really afford to stick around.

My experience however, was varied and exhaustive. I felt like I went everywhere I could go and had enough interview experience to equip me for life. If you remember one of my first posts, "First Days" I talk about the endless chain of placements, interviews, emails, rejection replies and cv sending I endured. I hated meeting new people every 4 weeks at best. I am a fairly quiet person, who it takes a while to get to know - you may say shy, but I'd prefer introverted... I hated interviews with people who hadn't even got any work for me - they'd browse over my portfolio to break up their day. I hated small talk, new passwords, new filing systems, new toilets, new kitchens, new routes to work. I hated the unsettled nature of it and if someone asked me to stay somewhere; I probably would have. I yearned for a longer stay - I yearned to feel settled. But the reality was, this was a rarity. (I like to think this was a legal thing, rather than a 'me' thing - companies have to pay you minimum wage after you "intern" for 4 weeks - but then again many agencies ignore this rule)

I always thought that lots of short placements made my CV look bad - but now I feel I am better for it. I am grateful that, having rarely worked at an agency for more than a 4 week period, I forced myself to meet new people. I have made a few friends along the way too. Endless interviews meant that I became extremely confident in presenting my work and got to know what was expected of me. I have also found that I am happy where I am because it was my favourite placement - and getting to know what you want from your career - eg. what type of design or design agency you want to work for is one of the most important things to get out of a placement  - so having exhausted all the avenues I wanted to, I knew that decision I made in the end was the right one.

Plus, the design industry is a small one - so you will often meet all these people again. They move on and get new roles in other companies, and they could be your key into your next role - so the more people you know, the better. So put up with the small talk..