When I was asked to write this post, I began to reflect on my education and my first year as a working professional. I quickly realized that those years – although fairly recent – have gone by in quite a blur. Looking back, there are four significant decisions I made, combined with a bit of luck, that have gotten me to where I am now: A happy, busy and proud in-house Graphic Designer & Marketing Coordinator.
As terrifying or exciting as it may sound to be away from home for an entire semester in an unfamiliar place (or two semesters in my case), I highly suggest that any student or recent graduate seek out and jump on any opportunity to travel abroad. It will change your life. Aside from learning about your industry on an international level, you will grow on a personal level, which will only reflect back on your professional practices.
Finding a Mentor
I think that everyone at some point should find a mentoring relationship, and it is never too early or too late. Don’t be afraid of finding a mentor who is not in your industry, as it can be equally as beneficial as a mentor in your field. The key to a successful mentoring relationship is finding someone who is successful in areas where you need guidance, not where you are an expert. Also be sure to have defined goals. There are many ways to go about finding a mentor. Many professional associations have mentorship programs, or you can try contacting someone you feel might be suitable directly.
Informational interviews are valuable on so many levels. They can be helpful when you need guidance in your career, or to feel out different industries and workplaces to see what fits you best. They are also a great way to stay connected with members of the design community. It is important however to be sure that when you schedule an informational interview, you don’t have expectations beyond collecting information. These are not intended to be job interviews. That being said, showing your interest in a company through an informational interview may help to make you stand out if you apply for a position in the future. Be prepared, be professional and be brief (15-20 minutes max).
Joining a Professional Association
Joining a recognized community of professionals provides support and a sense of community for young professionals. It will give you the opportunity to surround yourself with individuals with like-minds, and have common goals. Often there is an opportunity to pair up with a mentor (such as the RGD mentorship program http://www.rgd.ca/events-and-programs/mentorship.php). Attending industry events also helps you to stay on top of changes and advances in your field.
In summary, and in my own opinion, the above four things should be checked off of every young professional’s list. You should be consistently trying to grow as a professional and as a person by meeting new people, learning new skills, and understanding the challenges and successes that face your industry. Work hard, push your personal boundaries, and love what you do – everything else will fall into place.