March 6, 2012

Hope for a Young Designer

by Pierce Atkinson

It's been a year and a half now that I've graduated from the Interior Design program at Dawson College here in Montreal, Quebec Canada. To say I'm passionate about design is an understatement. My friends are always teasing me because no matter where we are I'm constantly taking pictures or feeling things, always interested in how things are made and what they are made of. Design is a huge part of my life, I try to take in everything around me for inspiration; from traveling, to fashion and even food.

In the year and a half that I've been living here school-free I've applied to many jobs, though sparse I still searched them out. Most job postings came up asking for at least 5 years experience or more, which was intimidating for a recent graduate. I found it difficult to gain the requested experience as no one was willing to take a chance on me. It was then that I decided to change my approach, and have begun networking day and night over these past few months. I've met some incredible people who are both fascinating and very helpful in offering advice for a struggling design graduate like myself. 

I've asked a few of my friends with whom I graduated how they obtained their current jobs in design and if they struggled with finding a position. Natasha, a junior designer at a local firm explains "I job-shadowed at the firm when I was in my last year at Dawson. Being one of the few that had a passion for traditional residential design in our year, the teachers decided to pair me with this firm. It was the right fit and allowed me to absorb what the design world is like outside of school." We were all very fortunate to have had a job shadowing program at our school, it offered great networking and a real take on what design is like outside of school. I would recommend to students that don't have a job shadowing program to start networking and maybe start one for your school. If not try and shadow with a local architect or designer, they always appreciate free help and its a great learning experience.

Natasha elaborates on how it wasn't what she was expecting once she started working in the field: "At the beginning I felt thrown into the job. It's difficult coming straight out of school and being only 20 years old at the time, expected to know everything. I was fortunate to have a wonderful project manager who was there to answer any questions and concerns I had. He was my mentor throughout the process." Though some students come out of school feeling overly confident while the material is still fresh, a mentor is essential in this business. "School taught me a lot, yet I still feel that the best experience you can have is 'real life world experiences.' A text book can only teach you so much. You need real situations to learn the do's and don'ts of design" explains Natasha. 

As is true for many jobs, first impressions are everything and it always helps to know someone. I've recently been given some great advice and was told to start attending as many local design events as I could. I looked into the School of Architecture at McGill University, which has some very interesting lectures coming up that I cannot wait to attend. These kinds of events will attract all kinds of designers, architects and students alike - all great people to talk to and one never knows what might come of it. When asked about what advice she'd give to recent graduates Natasha advises: "The interior design world is so small, so make a good impression! Good word goes a long way." She recounts that someone referred her to her current position and helped her get the job, she also adds; "DO NOT over sell yourself. They [students] must not forget that they are now starting at the bottom. Don't over step your boundaries and always be willing to learn. Absorb as much as possible and keep an open mind." 

I have yet to find a mentor but strongly believe I am on the right path, networking is half the battle and opens up many opportunities that may or may not be posted to the public. I've already looked into and applied to some great internships that otherwise would not have been brought to my attention had I not met people and networked. To those struggling graduates out there I say not to worry, you're not alone, and to devote some time into the research of all things design in your area.

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