Sandstorm Student Center

Sandstorm Design launched the Sandstorm Student Center (SSC) in 2003 for students and working adults interested in learning more about marketing and web design firms and a career in the design industry. A totally free service, we invite you to ask us a question, review FAQs from students, and get advice on landing a job, internship or freelance assignment.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Is it preferred to put the cover letter inside the e-mail or as an attachment?

I'd put a shorter version of your cover letter in the body of your email, and the full cover letter in your attachment with your resume. You can never be too professional, and it makes a great first impression.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Is there a way I can get in some where with an associates degree?

I feel employers are not giving me the chance to look at my portfolio because of my two year degree. Is there a way I can get in some where with an associates?

Design jobs are hard to get because there is a ton of competition. Thousands of designers are without jobs. You just have to continue to persevere. Just because you don't hear back from an employer doesn't mean that your education is the problem. It could be a variety of different things from not having the right software skills to not having the right type of media in your portfolio.

I would highly recommend an online portfolio if you really want to give yourself a good shot. We rarely meet with candidates to review a portfolio before we have seen something online. Most design firms are under a lot of pressure with a lot of deadlines and they don't have the time to meet everyone.

In addition to creating an online portfolio, start networking. Join the AIGA, or any other design group and get involved in the design community. That is the #1 way to a job. Once someone gets to know you personally and sees your enthusiasm and work ethic, your 2 year degree isn't an issue.

Also, volunteer to design a direct mail piece or collateral for your favorite non-profit. Get some real world experience and make sure you put your name and contact info on the back of the piece you do for the non-profits. Most of them will gladly let you. This gets you more exposure.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What do you look for in a junior graphic designer?

Enthusiasm, a solid understanding of basic design principles, and the willingness to learn. The greatest designers with 20+ years experience still recognize that they are constantly learning, and a junior designer should too. I also look for pro-bono work in a portfolio because I like to see that the designer went above and beyond to get some real world work in his/her portfolio.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The To-Do List Strategy

Two very important people in my life recently lost their jobs. During this time, I have taken on the role of motivational coach to help them find work, stay positive and keep busy. The one piece of advice they have both found helpful is writing to-do lists. I have them write a list each and every day, even if the tasks on that list include basic things like walking the dog or watering the plants.

Why do lists help?
  • Lists motivate you. They get you out of bed in the morning and give you something to do.
  • Lists make you quick. If you know you have to do 10 things today, you're a little lighter on your feet and move through tasks more efficiently.
  • Lists help you set goals. Determine how many people you want to call, visit, submit resumes to or follow up with each day or week, and add that to your lists. This will help you track how you're doing and stick to your ambitions.
  • Lists keep you aggressive. You can't just add your resume to a database and hope that someone calls you. Lists keep you pounding the pavement (virtual or otherwise).
  • Lists give you a sense of accomplishment. Completing a list makes you feel good about yourself...plain and simple.
So whether you're searching for your first job or a job to get you back on your feet, try the To-Do List Strategy. It might not find you a job, but it will certainly keep your chin up.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Do you know of any periodicals or web sites that list ad agencies in the cities?

In the Midwest, the leading resource for the creative community is definitely The Creative Directory. The Creative Directory lists over 5,000 creative services in the form of a book, and better yet, offers their directory on their website at You may also want to check out:

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Friday, July 24, 2009

The Graphic Design Job

The graphic design job search. Yuck. Because there are tons of books, articles, newsletters and publications out there for "how to find a graphic design job," I've decided to post the "do nots" which are real world mistakes that designers have made in their job search. There is no one way to get a job in graphic or web design. Industries are always changing, demands change, qualifications change, life changes.

This is my list of what NOT to do when you find your dream design job or dream design firm. A few simple rules may prevent your resume from going straight into a file, or worse, immediately into the trash. The follow DO NOTs really do happen...

What NOT TO DO when looking for a design job:

DO NOT email attachments of your design work if you are not asked to.
This means NO list of 10+ JPEGs of your work, no multipage PDF files of your work, and no attachments that are close to 1 meg or more. I got 5 MB worth of attachments from a student designer, and he sent it twice to make sure I got them all. What a job search mistake!

DO NOT email your resume every week. If a company or design firm is interested and has a design job available, they will call you. Sending your resume every week for a month or two will not help you ever.

DO NOT email your resume to every email address you find listed on the company web site.
This isn't a lottery. If a company is interested in accepting resumes or has a design job open, they will generally have an email set aside for it.

DO NOT email your resume without a note or cover letter in the message portion of the email. I won't ever open an attachment if I am not expecting one, let alone one from a random designer who didn't take the time to write me a personal message or tell me anything about themselves.

DO NOT call without having an idea what you want to say. We understand you are nervous, and it is tough to make the call, but practice first. You need to sound professional, this is our first impression of you. Also, don't demand a call back, if you leave a message, leave a time when YOU will call back. Most companies don't have time to call back designers, let alone take down your phone number, and your name, etc...

DO NOT email a resume that is 1 MB or more.
You'll clog up mailboxes. Better yet, your resume should be 250K or so... bonus points if it's smaller.

DO NOT call and just leave your name and phone number.
You won't fool most of us into calling you back, and even if you did, we wouldn't trust you anymore anyway!

DO NOT give up. Your dream design job may only be a resume away.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Graphic Design Internship

So you are on your hunt for a web design or graphic design internship at an innovative design firm, with a great client base, award-winning design work, stellar G5's, and nice hourly pay? You are not alone. You are in a crowd of student graphic designers the size of the crowds from the Taste of Chicago.

In this economy, a graphic design internship like the example above, with pay, is extremely difficult to find. Not impossible, but difficult.

How do I get started finding a graphic design internship?

First ask yourself, would you work without getting paid? Are you truly looking for design experience or are you looking for a part-time job? If you are willing to work unpaid, mention this in your cover letter (and always send a cover letter please). Some companies assume that you want pay with your design internship and don't have it in their budget.

Second, consider all options. Are you looking ONLY for design firms, ad agencies, and web development companies? What about in-house marketing or creative departments at Fortune 1000 companies? Or newspapers? Magazine companies? Many multi-million dollar organizations have superb in-house creative departments and potentially more opportunities. There are many large companies in the Chicago-land area: Allstate, Sears, Boeing, McDonalds, Chicago Tribune, etc.

Third, consider local printers. Is there a Minuteman Press or AlphaGraphics near you? Small printers offer design services to their clients since many of their clients cannot afford the design studio prices. Maybe you could walk in and introduce yourself to the owner and offer your services for the summer? This could become YOUR graphic design internship.

Finally, make your own graphic design internship. Okay, so it's not exactly an internship, but you could offer your services pro-bono (free) to your favorite charity or not-for-profit organization. Get involved in your community, practice networking, and build your design portfolio, while at the same time building your community.

After all is said and done, a design internship will not guarantee you a design job when you graduate. An internship helps give you some real world experience and keeps you ahead of the competition. There are many excellent designers out there, and in order to compete, look at the best student in your class and realize that he/she is your competition, and the beginning of your networking base.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What kind of background, education, and training do companies such as yours look for when hiring a print or web designer?

I can't speak for all print and web design firms, but we look at the individual's portfolio first. If it doesn't exemplify a basic understanding of design principles and "wow" us, then we don't pursue any further than that. We need to see potential in the new designer.

If the portfolio is wow-worthy, then their depth of experience comes next. I'm not talking about design experience, I mean work experience. Have they worked in health care, insurance, retail, etc? Anything that might match a client we already have or an industry we are trying to get into.

We also like to see if they have any project management or people management skills. Anything that would be relevant in a small business. Most web design firms are smaller firms, and private, so the type of person we look for is different than what a corporate giant would go after.

If the portfolio is good, they have some good experience, then we look at education. Do they value education? Did they exceed in school? We like over-achievers. Notice we didn't mention software skills. Why? It's assumed you have to have them for graphic design now, no exceptions.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

FAQ: Is it going to become pretty mandatory for graphic designers to have web skills?

Web design and print design have a different set of rules, so I hope it never becomes mandatory for print designers to do web design. BUT, here's the bottom line. There is fierce competition for design jobs, so employers can pick and choose. The more skills you have under your belt, the more jobs you'll qualify for.

When you add web design skills to your resume, you become more marketable, and a more versatile designer... but notice I didn't say "better" designer. Not all print designers make good web designers, and vise-versa.

I definitely believe that you can teach yourself the basics to web design, but web design is much more than Photoshop. You must understand how HTML works, how usability affects navigation, the limits in color and type, etc. Start with this book, "The Non-Designer's Web Book," by Robin Williams. It even has a section on the difference between print and web.

Here's my last thought. If you want to specialize in print, go for it, and understand that you may pass up some jobs now, but will end up with a job that truly interests you that you will excel in.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Crappy job market = Positive attitudes

2009 has not been the best year for the marketing, advertising and design world. So many people I know have either lost their jobs, or had their hours or salaries cut. Four day work weeks are about as prevalent as a hipster on Milwaukee.

With all of this, people's attitudes toward work have changed. Rarely do I hear people complaining about their jobs. People feel lucky to still have them, and in many cases, are working their butts off to keep them. If I haven't seen a friend in awhile because of their non-stop work schedule, the conversation always comes back to "at least I'm still employed."

I receive a ton of emails from friends and former colleagues who are looking for work and reaching out to people for advice. My best advice to them would be to do what everyone else in this industry is doing: stay positive, work hard and keep your eye on the prize.....a paycheck.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Where are all the designers over 35?

Great question! And I have a couple of theories for you:

A) Graphic design has a high burn-out rate. It is fun and exciting work, especially in the beginning. But after awhile, the projects start to feel the same and the deadline is always rush, rush, rush! Imagine designing hundreds of bi-fold brochures in a decade. Or hundreds of logos. Or hundreds of anything for that matter. In addition, the software changes every year and there is always something new to learn. This is what I love about design, but it does get a little exhausting.

B) SO much has changed since the 1980s. Many designers that are over 35 used to design without computers. And many of them opted out of the career instead of moving forward in the 1990s. Graphic design has transformed into an entirely different type of career. And think about web design, it wasn't even a career 10 years ago.

C) Many designers with 20+ years of experience tend to get into middle and upper management. They spend their days in meetings, planning and developing strategies for clients. After a couple of years of management, unless you are self-motivated and keep up your computer skills on your own time, you can quickly discover yourself *out of the market*. Many art directors and creative directors freelance on the side just to keep up with the software and keep their technical skills updated.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

FAQ: How much importance is placed on where one attended university?

Your portfolio is way more important than where you attended college! If your work is awesome, and you've picked up all the skills you need to succeed as a creative, then the university you went to did their job.

That being said, some people are just dazzled by degrees. If you and your competition have portfolios that are about the same in terms of creativity and execution, and they went to a "better" school than you or have earned an advanced degree, you might be in trouble.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How do you design for clients that promote beliefs other than your own?

For example, if I am a vegetarian how do I design a website for good ol' Micky D?

This issue has come up two times in my design career.

I was once called to work at an agency on their "cigarette" account. It was great work and even better pay. I don't smoke, nor agree with the advertising directed towards teens (this was when Joe Cool was still for teens). That day I turned it down and made the decision that I personally couldn't do it.

However, a copywriter I know very well was asked to write the entire web site for a large meat production plant. She is a vegetarian and has been since she was 13. She took the work. When she got to the plant she got the tour of the slaughter house and of the meat production. She then had to spend hours writing about *yummy* meat.

How did she do it? Just like anything else -- she researched her target market, learned about the industry, and took her personal emotion out of the project. When you design for a client, it's for the client, not yourself.

There is a good chance you will be faced with something like this in your design career. There is no right or wrong answer. It's a personal decision. I lost out on a big project and some money, and I have no regrets. And neither does the copywriter I know.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How should a student write a resume if they've never had a design job before, especially if they're looking for an internship or entry level position?

I would make sure you designed the resume, not simply lay it out in word. Use your design skills to make it stand out, and give it some of your personality. In the objective, state that you are looking for an entry level or internship position and that you are very motivated to learn.

Sending out hundreds of resumes is one way to find a job. Another is to network. Get involved in your design community and get to know other local designers in your area. They may be the key to getting you into their company when a position becomes available.

Also, I mention this a lot, but volunteer to do some design work at your favorite non-profit. Non-profits have tons of print and web work that they need help with. This will help you get some real world experience that you can put on your resume. In addition, this really exemplifies your motivation!

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FAQ: What was your best day as a designer?

There is no single best day either, but the best days are when your client actually chooses the design concept that you felt was the best solution. It never fails, if you show a concept that you absolutely don't like, your client will be sure to pick it... every time.

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FAQ: What was your worst day as a designer?

There is no single worst day, but the worst days are when you notice that your final printed piece, after working on it for a month, has a spelling error that neither you, nor your client, nor your proofreader caught and it's in the headline. Your stomach drops, your heart races, and you realize how human you really are.

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