There are things you learn in college (and grad school if you go that route), but I think it’s at your first job… real money making, 401K, and paid vacation job…that is where you can really learn the ropes. If you do it at your first job, you hit the lottery, if it takes a few so be it, keep hunting. Learning from professionals in a work environment…priceless.
I was recommended for my first design position by my favorite (swoon) professor during senior year of college. I trained up to NY from Philadelphia looking very late 80s in my interview outfit (Benetton long stretch black skirt with black scoop neck tunic — thanks mom, black Capezio jazz shoes — thanks Allison, bright red lipstick, and ridiculous amounts of bangle bracelets with huge hoop earrings — I have only myself and Madonna to thank for that). Dragging a ridiculously large portfolio I marched into the 5th Avenue office, showed my work, answered a few questions, was offered the job, then went back to finish school. Done.
A week after graduation I show up for my first day looking like a funky private school kindergartener… short dark blue Kikit linen skort, white scoop top, white ankle socks with Doc Martens (yes, I remember it, I loved it, I purchased it with my soon to come salary at Bloomingdales). Arriving early (on time means 5 minutes early, late means any time after 5 minutes early… mom wisdom) with my packed lunch (never spend money on coffee or take out lunch… dad wisdom), and I was welcomed by Peter. Peter was pretty old (30), lived crazy far from the city (in upstate Pleasantville, NY), he was going to be a dad (?!?) and he seemed very chipper (singing old man chipper songs like…”Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey”). He was also a really amazing teacher, he knew mechanical production, and he knew how to teach it. Being a designer is one thing, being a designer that knows what it will take to actually produce the design is another. It was worth gold. I learned more about production from him in a week than I did in 4 years of college.
My boss was a “do it all” kind of woman well before most women did it all. She did undergrad and graduate school at Yale, sported her Izod collars turned up and khakis. She did not own any Kikit skorts or Doc Martens I can assure you. I give her much credit for hiring someone so out of the office Preppy Handbook vibe. Working full time running a very successful business she also had two kids and somehow could run ten miles each day and do marathons. She was gracious in her ability to hand off jobs to the newbie and even more gracious in her ability to steer this newbie in the right direction. She taught me some priceless rules of business. 1. Keep a book by your side and jot all notes, estimates, phone numbers, everything… in one book. You will never be looking around for important info… because it is all in one place. Save these books forever. 2. Keep track of all hours spent on jobs in 15 minute increments… it will teach you how long things take to design and aid in estimating future jobs. Time logs keep you accountable, how much time did you waste today? Well, since you only billed 4 hours… you wasted a LOT of time today. 3. Remember, it is just a brochure, or a logo, or an invitation… don’t fall in love with a design, your client gets the final say. Design it, take criticism, and get it out… then bill it. 4. People are not reasonable and are not trained designers… and if they are paying you it is part of the deal to accept that. The banana company who hates the color yellow… ok, think out of the box, solve the problem (note that this one is still hard for me, why on earth don’t people take advice from someone who has been designing for 30+ years, do you tell the chef at a restaurant how to cook the potatoes… this is clearly a different rant). 5. You should be able to get all your work done between 9-6pm. Focus, work, get it done. All of these tips… gold.
Why do I write this… because I adore a lot of 20-somethings out there… and some of them are finding out that full time jobs are not always fun, and that maybe it is time to move onto a different job that is more interesting or maybe they want to try a different field. Because maybe they are still looking for that wonderful mentor that is out there ready to lead them on a different path. Because I wanted to share the great stuff Heidi taught me, because I use those tips to this very day.
So, my advice is to find a job where you learn, where you grow, where you thrive. Find a place where there are people you like enough to spend time with but that are not your everything. Jobs are not perfect, that is why it is called work. If you like waking up in the morning, you feel inspired at least some of the time, and you have money to spend at the end of the week… consider it a win. Work really really hard then live your life to the fullest once you walk out that door. Keep looking, keep trying, keep growing, and making connections… those connections get you everywhere. One connection got me on the path to owning my own business “upstate” in Pleasantville, NY (where I raised two kids and I umm, listen to show tunes while I work). You got this… you can only hit the lottery by working, creating, and connecting… waiting and wishing does nothing.