My internship at HGTV.com is wrapping up, and in mere days, I will be graduating college. While I’m thrilled to be done with school, (term papers, final exams, etc.) I’m also nervous/excited about what lays ahead. As I’m determined to make my parents proud, (and start paying off my student loans) it’s time to launch my career. I couldn’t have asked for better job hunting advice than I received from Erinn Valencich, Brian Patrick Flynn and Michelle Wiebe.
These talented and busy interior designers took time out of their schedules so I could interview them about becoming an interior designer. Huge thank you to them! And I’m sure, like me, you’ll find their advice to be incredibly valuable, whether you’re a recent grad or making a career change to pursue the job of your dreams in this awesome industry.
- YOUR PORTFOLIO
Erinn Valencich: Ultimately, if you want to promote yourself as designer, you need to have the material to do so. That’s the most important thing to focus on. If you don’t have photos of your work, how do you expect people to hire you? So, start with your own home. Set up a little corner in your house, paint the wall yourself. Go get an old chair off the street, find some cute fabric like start setting up little vignettes. It doesn’t have to be a whole huge room. If you want it to be your career, you need to treat it like your career and not wait for a job. My whole first website was my own house. I didn’t have money; it wasn’t fancy. I just made sure that each image was strong and had beautiful lighting.
Brian Patrick Flynn: After school, I’d offer free labor to any of my friends who needed help with their homes in order to build up my portfolio. Many times, they’d just say, “I’ve got $1500 to do my whole place.” I’d have them give me the money, and I’d execute it for them. Sure, this took a ton of time, and I’d also have to manage expectations and personalities FOR FREE; however, this is what the business of design is all about. Doing this for about 2 years was a huge lesson in trial and error. But I got experience and a solid portfolio out of it. And once I started to get paying clients, this experience made me much stronger in regards to time lines, estimated labor and the value of good contractors.
EV: Another option for your portfolio is pulling together a collection of images of rooms that you like. Also, pick an inspirational image and create a photo document of what you would buy today to decorate a particular space. Have fun with it, do something, don’t just show up with your school stuff. Show me your drawings, show me your images. Show me who you are, so I know that your taste matches my taste and that I can trust you when I send you out to the design center to pick fabrics for me. You have to be scrappy if you want to make it.
- OTHER ESSENTIAL JOB-SEEKING TOOLS
Michelle Wiebe: We don’t even look at the resume if the resume itself doesn’t graphically look creative. We get so many resumes that look like they were submitted for a bank teller job. Show us your creativity, because this is your one shot at trying to get an interview. Present it to use like you are presenting it to a client. You have to make yourself stand out. When I’m looking for someone with creativity and looking outside the box, I need to see it. In the portfolio presentation, too.
Erinn Valencich: You should have a great logo and a great looking website, even if it’s only one page. Make sure that you have a really cool background, or a really strong color and that it translates into your portfolio. Start a blog, and post to it regularly. The person who hires you is going to judge you by everything that is visual. Your portfolio, do you have a lovely cover on it? Do you have a generic black flipbook that everybody has at a school, and you didn’t put any effort into it? Everything you show a future employer or future client needs to be elegant. It’s having your shoes look awesome and your outfit look fabulous, because you’re being hired as a visual person. It’s the whole package. Your work, how you present your work and how you present yourself.
MW: Get your creative name out there. Be on all the interior design websites that list job openings. List your website. Regularly post to your blog and twitter. Follow the leaders in the industry on twitter. A lot of it is networking. Go to design conferences. Attend webinars. Anywhere you can meet people who are in the field. I go to conferences, and I meet people. I go to local charities and events, and I meet people. That’s how business works. It’s about developing different relations, networking and that’s how you get phone calls. And that how you get a job, too.
- FIRST JOB OPTIONS AFTER COLLEGE
Michelle Wiebe: If it were me, I wouldn’t want to waitress for three years while I figured it out. I’d take a reduction in income, do some work for free and prove myself to some great firm doing something I love.
Brian Patrick Flynn: I think designers need to make themselves indispensable. Take a job at a local framing shop and another working for an upholstery workroom answering phones. Since the true design jobs are scarce, use your time in the interim gaining insider knowledge and skills related to field, which will make you a stronger design. A few months working with upholstery later will help you explain costs and processes to clients’ better than a competing designer. Knowing the ins and outs of framing art will ensure that you can estimate how much something will cost and what’s best to frame it with. Overall, focus on the value of skills you’re learn versus how much money you’re making; that will come later.
MW: With our firm, we’re looking to hire junior people who are well rounded in blogging and social media who can help us in those areas. You can’t just hire a writer. Well, you can, but then you have to give them the background information. So if you can write, understand social media strategy and have an interior design degree, that’s a really strong combination to get your foot in the door.
BPF: Major corporations have departments referred to as “facilities management” that encompasses everything involved with the inner workings of a building, sometimes including interior design. For example, say a huge TV network campus is made up of 5 city buildings, this department would be responsible for the overall look and feel of the hallways, eating spaces, lighting, flooring and artwork. Since this is not well known, it’s a great place to look for employment right after graduation. You’ll learn a ton about code, designing for the masses and durability.
MW: Ultimately, the most important advice is be passionate and get into the niche that you love, whether its residential or commercial. Go where you’re going to be passionate, where you’re going to wake up every day thrilled to go to work. I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I still get excited.