Arts & Design Jobs & Graduate Schemes

Working in Arts & Design

Designers offer an extremely specific set of skills that can be applied across a variety of sectors. Graduates coming into the world of work with design degrees can apply their skills into a range of projects and products, but the competition is tough. Many design graduates struggle to first break into the industry because, although the field is broad, opportunities can be limited. There are many ways that prospective applicants can improve their chances.

The different specialities within Design require their own skill set and companies want graduates to come ready to work without having to train them too much. In a sector like Design, it is almost vital that it was studied as a degree. Skills are taught in university and before could be picked up on the job, but getting a look in would be almost impossible without one. The competition for places is so fierce that taking an unpaid internship or a placement just as a way to get ahead in the employment race is almost mandatory.

Graduates would be advised to specialise. By the time graduates have completed their degrees they will have perfected one of Graphic, Product or Textile design, or an area similar. However graduates would be advised to have honed their art even more, to specific areas. For example, candidates could do well out of developing their skills to designing luxury furniture or powerful advertising posters. Evidence for this could easily be provided as graduates will have a tome of work from university.

University work should be used as examples of skill, but extracurricular work should be used as examples of passion and enthusiasm. Candidates exhibiting a real passion for design and an enthusiasm for their work are the sort of things that can impress employers. Providing this extra work shows fantastic amount of commitment as well as the ability to pursue ideas, which is exactly what employers want.


A popular area of design is Graphic Design. This area is responsible for designing logos, adverts, illustrations, posters and all kinds of visual displays and signs. Graphic Design is quite a broad field and candidates can expect to be doing a variety of projects if they are successful. This is definitely a field which graduates should have a speciality. Graduates should show that they have quite the knack for fantastic looking print advertisements or are proficient at presenting information in an attractive way. Candidates should play to their strengths in Design, but specialising doesn't mean that a candidate has pigeonholed themselves. They can go on to demonstrate similarities and how these skills picked up in one area might compliment another area.

Graphic Design is another field in which applicants should be technically proficient. A good, consistent portfolio, which demonstrates a high calibre range of styles, is key to impressing employers. Candidates should be more than competent at Design programmes such as Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, SolidWorks and CAD programmes. However, this should not be a problem if the subject was studied at university.

Similarly, Product Design requires candidates to produce creative innovative and intelligent designs. Product Design is as broad as Graphic Design and requires a core set of skills responsible for creating products with commercial value. This requires candidates to be attacking on two fronts. They need to be innovative, creative and a lateral thinker, whilst also being able to harness different production techniques to develop high quality designs that consumers will buy.

As a Product Designer, candidates can expect to be doing anything. A speciality area is advised, however if an applicant can demonstrate their technical ability and show they can provide creative, intelligent suggestions employers will take a second look. Product Design affects all areas of people's lives. Anything from the tea cup to the bladeless fan, products are designed for their style or functionality.

Candidates should be aware of the two ways designs are commissioned. The first way is noting a public demand and satisfying it. Providing a solution to everyday problems or noticing a gap in the market can make a product or design successful. The other is developing a new product that can totally renovate the current range on products on the market. It would be advised that candidates have designs or ideas prepared for interviews; making sure that they are suitable for the company and likely to impress the interviewer.

Innovation is an important part of the process, however, sometimes companies require its employees to maintain a house style or brand image. Candidates should be aware that even though they might be employed by companies, they will be expected to be on trend and producing commercially viable suggestions for larger projects or ranges that keep in line with the company's image. This could be maintaining Dyson's innovative technology or Mark and Spencer's classy feel.

Textile Design is fascinating avenue to pursue that does not always require a heavy background in design. More for the budding fashionistas, Textile Design is concerned with fabrics. This could be for clothes, upholstery, home wears or developing fabrics. Knowledge of the technical side of Textile Design is half the battle. Knowing CAD systems, printing techniques or types of dye must be followed up with creative and inspired designs. This field requires the candidate to be right on trend to produce work for companies that will sell. An applicant would be advised to have a plethora of examples and developed ideas to amaze employers with. These are all things candidates should be promoting to employers whilst also providing them with a candidate's own style.

Arts & Design Case Study - Matalan

Case Study
I think the work that I presented was the main thing, as you have to have a certain style that grabs attention and shows off your skills

The Employer - Melissa Hughes (Recruitment Advisor - Matalan)

Melissa Hughes

Name: Melissa Hughes
Job Title: Recruitment Advisor - Matalan

What competencies do you like to see in candidates?

We look at the behavioural side more than technical with graduates. We mark the applications and group exercises all on the same sort of competencies. They include: teamwork, communication, presentation skills, influence and negotiation, customer service, leadership, personal effectiveness and self-development.

When we get Designers in, we do ask them for their portfolio and we'll look through what designs they've done. It is important that they have a commercial eye. A lot of Designers come through from graduating having done a lot of high end stuff. We like the kind of guys that have done a bit of high street stuff because that's what we want them to do when they're here. Having an understanding of the catwalk is important but it is being able to make that accessible to the Matalan customer.

Can you talk us through the application process?

They upload a CV to the website. Once they've registered, they can apply to as many roles as they want. The information they supplied when they registered is then pulled through. If there are no roles available, email alerts can be sent out.

We screen on a few things. Firstly we're looking for the right degree. For Design we look for a fashion degree or fashion based degree. Also an Art or Design A Level. I'd also be looking to see if they've got a 2:1 classification or above. I'd be looking at other skills as well, if they've had a part time job in retail or if they've done extra designs themselves. Some people that we take on have started their own business alongside university, designing and selling clothes.

What is the most common mistake you see in an application, which leads to candidates being rejected?

It's the wrong job title on the CV or covering letter. I understand that they are using the same CV for many applications. Our system is set up that you can amend or update your CV. I understand that people want to apply for Buyer and Designer, but they need to make sure their CV is as up to date and accurate as possible.

What is the main piece of advice you would give a graduate entering the sector?

Research the company and the job role. Obviously, companies have different levels of Design. Some companies you can come in as a Junior Designer, but somewhere else that could mean something completely different. So definitely research the role and research the company.

The other thing is to try and get some work experience. Even if it is two weeks on a Design floor, it will give them that practical understanding of what it is like to work in that kind of environment.

What's the main challenge graduates face when they start?

This is not just Design, but graduates in general find it difficult to get used to the fast paced nature of the roles. We are in fashion, so it is a quick turnaround kind of business. You have to be on the ball, ready jump in and get involved. We offer training and guidance. However, there will be times where you are left to your own devices and need to use your initiative. Your line manager is there to act as a mentor.

Where do you see the company in two years' time?

We're moving 15 miles down the road to a new bespoke head office. Our e-commerce side of the business has grown dramatically over the last five years and we see it increasing again. We are launching a sports brand alongside Matalan. At the moment we're sourcing straight from suppliers, but there is nothing to say we won't do our own label. This will require more Designers, not just at the moment, but definitely in the future. We are opening more high street stores, like a big one we have opening in Liverpool City Centre.

If you weren't a Recruitment Adviser, what would you be?

I did want to be a vet, if I could have got over my fear of blood!

The Employee - Natalie Capostagno (Menswear Designer - Jeff Banks 24:7)

Natalie Capostagno

Name: Natalie Capostagno
Job Title: Menswear Designer - Jeff Banks 24:7
University: Manchester Metropolitan University
Course: International Clothing and Design
Graduation Year: 2011

How did you find your graduate job in Design?

I did aim to work for a well know branded family retailer as I felt I wanted to gain a broad spectrum of experience with the chance to design in multi-product areas and departments, as well as the opportunity to work in a fast paced and challenging environment. I think getting a First in International Clothing Technology and Design from MMU really helped because it demonstrated how hard I was willing to work to achieve results and set me up to continue in that mind-set.

Why do you think you were successful at Matalan?

I think the work that I presented was the main thing, as you have to have a certain style that grabs attention and shows off your skills. I wanted to prove that I had a commercial understanding as well, and that I could design on trend high street pieces that would be suitable for that particular time. I think it's really important that, as a Designer, you have a thick skin and a good personality; as well as being able to react positively towards to constructive criticism, which I really tried to convey.

What do you actually do?

Day to day I am responsible for working on new designs and briefing these out to our suppliers for the seasons ahead. You are usually working on a few phases at a time, so you have to get used to switching from phase to phase and working on different projects and solving problems with any samples that come in. I also have to spend time through my day researching trends as well as competitor brands to make sure that I am not missing any key items, prints or colours within my designs.

What skills do you need?

Be prepared! Show that you have the ability to design for the retailer and consumer. It's great showing your creativity with university work, but for me there are a lot of university courses that don't necessarily prepare you for commercial, fast fashion. Fortunately, my course did.

What is the best thing about your job?

The best experience I've had whilst working at Matalan was definitely my first trip to the Far East. Being able to go to Hong Kong as part of your job, despite the fact that it is a work trip, is not something you get to do every day!

What advice would you give to graduates applying to Matalan?

I think I expected to be shadowing a lot more and have more of a graduate role where I was learning alongside another Designer, but that wasn't the case. From the word go I had a lot of responsibility and a lot expected of me. Retail is definitely a sink or swim environment and you are always thrown in at the deep end!

If you want to find out more about graduate jobs with Matalan, please take a look at their minisite.

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