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Read more about working in Arts & Design ↓

Work in Design can be found across a variety of sectors-but the competition is tough. Although the field is broad, opportunities can be limited, and graduates may find it difficult to get that first step in.

The different specialities within Design all require specific skill sets, and companies want graduates who are ready to work with minimal training. For this reason, it is essential that graduates have a relevant degree to back up their applications. Unpaid internships and work placements are common in the industry, and graduates should be prepared to work hard to show their talent.

For a career in Design, it is advisable to specialise. There are three main areas in Arts & Design: Graphic Design, Product Design and Textile Design, and graduates should take their specialization even further to make them the best candidate for the job. Work done in university and as extracurricular work can show a graduate's passion and enthusiasm-and a specific set of skills.

How to Get a Job in Arts & Design

The most important skill a graduate needs to get a job in Design is the relevant training, often provided during university. Beyond a degree, there are many talents a graduate can show to make themselves stand out.

The three main areas in Arts & Design each have their own requirements:

Graphic Design

Graphic Designers are responsible for designing logos, adverts, illustrations, posters and all kinds of visual displays and signs. It is a broad field, and successful candidates can expect to work on a variety of projects.

Specialisation in Graphic Design can be key. Graduates who can demonstrate a knack for creating fantastic print advertisements, or a proficiency at presenting technical information in an attractive display, will be in a good position to get their application noticed.

Technical proficiency is essential. Graduates should have a strong portfolio which demonstrates a high calibre of work, and they should be proficient in design programmes such as Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, SolidWorks and CAD programmes.

Product Design

Product Design affects all areas of people's lives - everything from a teacup to a bladeless fan has been designed for style and functionality. Graduates wanting to work in Product Design must be able to produce creative, innovative and intelligent designs. The field is as broad as Graphic Design, and requires a core set of skills geared towards creating commercially viable products. Candidates need to be lateral thinkers able to harness different production techniques to develop high quality designs which consumers will buy.

As with Graphic Design, specialization can make a candidate stand out. Graduates must be able to show both technical ability, and the ability to make intelligent and innovative suggestions. Candidates should prepare ideas to show employers, ideally designs which suit the specific company. And while innovation is an important part of the process, candidates should be aware of a company's brand image and be able to work within it - whether that be furthering Dyson's innovative technology, or maintaining Marks & Spencer's classy feel.

Textile Design

Textile Design involves designing patterns and fabrics for clothes, upholstery and home wears. The field requires candidates to be right on trend in order to produce work which will sell.

Candidates should have a firm grasp of the technical side of Textile Design and be familiar with CAD systems, printing techniques, and types of dye and fabrics. Graduates should also be able to provide examples of ideas and designs to impress employers. Textile Design is closely tied to the Fashion industry, and applicants should have a clearly developed personal style.

Arts & design Case Studies

Melissa Hughes Natalie Capostagno
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 company profile.