Looking for advice about career progression


Hi all,

This is my first post here, so apologies if I have put it in the wrong section. I basically want to see if anyone has any similar design career experiences or any advice they can throw in.


I graduated seven years ago with a fairly mediocre degree in Graphic Design, (I feel that I have only properly learned my chops and tightened up my abilities in the years since my degree, through experience) since then I strayed into a career in education, qualified as a teacher (I worked in this field for a few years). Eventually I realised that I hated working as a teacher and decided to get out in order to pursue graphic design once more.

Two years ago, I escaped teaching and took a 9-5 job (and a hefty pay cut to boot) that barely covered my mortgage. During this time, I worked in the office by day, then during the evenings, I worked on dribs and drabs of freelance work - primarily, these were collaborations done with another full-time freelancer.

Last year, I caught a break and landed my first full time design job (same salary as the office job).

I currently work in a graphic design environment that is pretty much entirely print based. Most of it is fairly menial adjusting/art-working of existing designs - so there is little opportunity to build my portfolio using original work. Just to be clear, the design job that I am describing is very basic - not to detract from it in any way, but it is the bottom rung of a design career, nothing glamorous.

I have worked here for less than a year, and am proud of my decision to go back into design, so things are still early days - but hope to progress in my career as quickly as possible, ultimately by moving on.

I am 28, so with my 30's looming I want to get my career as 'back-on-track' as possible, my partner and I live and work in the North East where graphic design work is scarce to begin with, we have a house together - so relocating further down the line looks unlikely.

Much of the design work I see is digital/web based, whereas all of my experience to date has been design for print (this will continue to be the case if I stay in my current role).

Can any of you offer any suggestions on a good way to move forward?

Have any ideas on ways to convert my experience so that it is applicable to the wider range of multimedia design jobs?


Sorry for the barrage there. If you have read this far, I am extremely grateful - many thanks in advance for any help that you can send this way.


I feel your pain! I graduated in 2007 but living in Scarborough meant it was nigh on impossible to get work. I relocated to York and took a call centre job whilst looking for a creative position and after a while found a design job. Like you, it was low a paid, low skill desktop publishing type affair (not where I imagined my career going).

In an attempt to 'get out' I threw a CV at pretty much everything for about 3 years with absolutely no success and so I started to look at broadening my skill set to include a little bit of html and css and to my surprise I found that I actually really enjoyed the web side of things. After about 6 months of online tutorials & asking stupid questions on here, I managed to land a job working in a similar role that included using some of my new skills and a bit more money. The great thing was that the employer didnt see an issue with me working freelance on the side to help develop my skills including jQuery and php... The downside was that as employers go, they turned out to be complete ars*holes and after 15 months I walked out.

Walking away was a very stressful decision as my 2 kids and wife rely on me to put food on the table and a roof over their heads but ultimately it bought me 3 or 4 months of studying, freelancing and applying for jobs. The in September last year I managed to talk myself into a reasonably well paid midweight web developers position in Leeds (a position for which I really didnt have the skills). Fortunately the new job means I work under a real heavyweight developer who is keen on sharing his skills and with a lot of note taking and late nights studying the knowledge gap is quickly narrowing. Additionally, as a freelancer I'm in such high demand I'm having to turn work away (which raises a whole new question about future plans).

I'm not saying you should become a web geek but if you don't like the place you're in, then change it! Never stop learning or expanding your knowledge of what you do. Throw a CV at everything, even jobs you like the sound of but are probably a bit under experienced/under qualified for!

If you want to get your head round multimedia, web design, development etc, a good starting point would be W3School or Codecademy.

Good luck!!
Sorry that this response is ridiculously late, things have been pretty hectic!

Basically, I just wanted to say thanks for your reply - the links that you have provided are really helpful. I'm still in the same boat, and am looking to expand on what I've got skills wise. My sister works in a similar field and has just found work via a recruitment company - have any of you had experiences with these (positive/negative)?

These questions probably seem like I'm bombarding you all with disjointed queries. I'm a bit of a lurker on here, and as there's alarming little in the way of a design community in the North East in general - it's refreshing to have found a little network on here!

Hi, nice to hear from you again. Dealing with recruitment agents can be frustraiting and they're often extremely elitist to say the least! So if you're not in the top 2-3% of the skills pool, they simply wont entertain your application. That doesn't mean to say you shouldn't try! It could be a good baromiter of how the agents see you fitting into the marketplace.

On a side note it might interest you to hear that I quit my job in September to go it alone.
Yet another post months after the fact - sorry!

Nice work on going solo, how's in going so far? Be interesting to pick your brains on pricing yourself/drumming up work.

Thanks for the pointer bonsdes, looks good!

Hey Jri,

I was in a similar place a number of years back (I'll not bore you with the many details).
At 30 after taking a six year break from design I decided to go back to it.
I had to learn all the software and using Mac's pretty much from scratch but got a job at a printers doing something similar to you but I didn't like it much although I learned a lot.

I built my portfolio in my spare time and pushed to expand my skill set and focus on what I enjoyed which was illustration.
I kept looking for other jobs and eventually got on working at a greetings/gift company as a Designer/Illustrator.

You can only draw the same f@cking teddy bear so many times and I get a bit bored after a few years so I just kept building my folio and getting my work out there.
Eventually, I started to get interest and clients from this and today I'm working as a freelancer on all kinds of things.

What I'm trying to say is try to identify what you like doing and learn and expand on them.
Taylor your portfolio to this and just keep pushing.
You can only draw the same f@cking teddy bear so many times


I can't believe so many people are in / were in the same situations as me, years after graduating. I'm still struggling to this day! I just can't seem to catch a break. It is heart breaking. I honestly do not know what else I am capable of, graphic design is all I know, am good at, and most importantly enjoy!
I was in the same boat. Well, a similar, equally leaky boat. Here's the quick version:

Graduated 2005 with a design degree. Went from working in a shop to working in a tax office. Misery ensued.
3 years later I got a random call from someone on Monster offering me an interview for a Christmas displays company as a Visualiser. Got it.
Was very happy until redundancy struck a year and a half later.
Spent years "under-employed" doing temp office work and part time shop work, all the while building my portfolio.
2013 I went freelance and enjoyed a few really good clients and a bunch of littler jobs as well.
2015 my biggest client went sour, and didn't have enough work to fill the gap. Applied for jobs and somehow got one insanely fast. Real LUCK at play.
Since then I've been employed full time as an artist for an online gaming company, loving the work and the people, though both are changing a lot lately so I still like to keep my portfolio up to date, just in case...

So yeah, definitely not smooth sailing. My advice to anyone is to get any job you can when its needed, but don't forget to push your creative work and apply for jobs. I'd almost given up before getting the christmas job, and very glad I did.
Great responses - it's cathartic just to realise that people are/have been in the same boat as you.

At the minute, I'm sticking where I am. I have harvested what little original work I have produced from my current job with the hopes of using it as current portfolio work. I've taken to approaching all work from the angle of 'this is going in my portfolio, so it really needs to pop'. I know it should go without saying, but I feel like producing work with that little mantra in the back of my mind lifts the quality of what I'm doing, and in turn, makes it more enjoyable.

My plan for the immediate future is basically just to keep banging on doors while making in-roads to freelance clients at the same time. We'll see which one pans out first.

That's a good outlook. :)

I think there's a saying:

"You're only as good as your last piece of work".
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Here, here.

I'm a closet Hardcore Punk, so the variation 'You're only as good as your last gig' was drilled into me from an early age.

The sentiment stands, regardless of your field of work I think.