Graphic design has become an extremely popular field of study—and for good reason. It’s one of the most practical ways to make a career out of your artistic talents, and there are plenty of career opportunities for a graphic designer willing to look for them. The median graphic designer makes a salary of $50,370, which can easily grow as you advance into the higher echelons of employment, and there are more than 266,000 available jobs in the field.
However, many graphic design graduates make a handful of mistakes as they try to establish themselves in this industry. While not every mistake will permanently ruin your chances of becoming a successful graphic designer, they could set you back in achieving your goals, and should be avoided at all costs.
The Biggest Career Mistakes by New Graphic Designers
From looking for your first job to earning your first few promotions, these are the mistakes that could derail your career:
– 1. Dressing too casually: Many graphic design positions, especially those in progressive thinking marketing firms or tech startups, afford you some flexibility with how you dress. Since you may not be meeting with clients face-to-face, and because you’re doing creative work, you may get to dress semi-casually. However, this isn’t a license to show up to your interview in sweatpants or make custom gold grillz a staple of your wardrobe. As with most positions, it’s best to dress slightly more formal than you think is appropriate—especially if you’re interviewing for a position and you aren’t familiar with the firm’s standards.
– 2. Neglecting your portfolio: Your portfolio is going to be one of your greatest tools, whether you’re using it to attract new clients or find a new full-time position. You can’t just slap it together overnight, and you have to keep it updated, even as you’re pursuing other work. Try to secure permission to use your paid work as an example in your portfolio (if you can), and update your portfolio gradually, rather than waiting for it to expire before you commit a drastic overhaul.
– 3. Seeking the wrong types of clients: If you’re finding your own clients as a freelancer or in your own agency, you might be tempted to take on anyone willing to pay you. If you’re new to the game, this might be okay, but as you scale, it’s important to disproportionately direct your attention to clients who fit your target demographics, and ones most likely to return value to you and your career. Don’t be afraid to fire a problematic client, and always think in terms of the value a client is bringing you.
– 4. Not listening to the advice of mentors: Mentors come in many forms. They could be senior designers, creative directors, CMOs, or just former industry professionals willing to help out some youngsters. These are some of your greatest resources for improving your skills and advancing your career, so make sure you listen to them. If you don’t yet have a mentor, or if you’re looking for more diverse perspectives, consider looking specifically for a mentor who can provide you with this valuable guidance.
– 5. Thinking your work is above criticism: After several years in school, you may think you know everything about the world of graphic design. Many new graphic designers feel their work is above criticism, and will take any criticism from a client or a creative director as a personal attack. Defensive behavior or insistent rebuttals won’t serve as a defense of your work, however; instead, they’ll make you seem arrogant and impetuous. Be open to feedback, even if you don’t necessarily agree with it. There’s always something to learn.
– 6. Trying to advance too quickly: You can’t become a creative director overnight. Pushing too hard to get to the next rung of your career ladder can make you seem impatient or unwilling to pay your dues. It can also rob you of the important opportunity to see how an agency works from all angles.
– 7. Not having an advancement plan: That said, you should have some kind of career progression in mind—otherwise, you might stay at the level of a junior graphic designer for many years. Talk to others about what you could expect in terms of growth, and chart out goals for your next five years, at minimum.
Learning From Your Mistakes
You may make some of the mistakes on this list, even knowing of their existence proactively. If not, you’ll find a different set of mistakes to make. What’s important isn’t that you avoid all mistakes (after all, nobody’s perfect). Instead, it’s important that you take the time to learn why you made these mistakes in the first place, and correct your behavior for the future.