Stay up to date on the big players in your desired field. Whether that’s getting inspired by graphic designers you follow on Instagram, or reading articles about new software your favorite company is implementing, soak it all in! Staying informed matters and will help shape your personal brand.
Learning is continuous; it doesn’t end after a final exam. If you’re interested in something, take some time now to learn more and find opportunities to put these skills into practice. For instance, if you enjoy graphic design, read up on blogs of talented designers and find some opportunities to make graphics for a friend’s club. I’m a firm believer of learning by doing- this will not only help you build your portfolio and improve your skill set, but also allow you to figure out what you’re passionate about!
Even if your job doesn’t explicitly ask for a design-centered mindset, you can bring one anyway, and stand out from your peers. Also, stay in touch with your peers! 3-5 years out, you will each have a unique journey you’ve experienced, and staying in touch will help you continually learn from each other.
It really doesn’t matter where you work or what you do if you don’t have a sense of purpose and good people around you. •Never underestimate the power of networking. And ask strong leaders to be mentors. This might sound silly or unnecessary but they’ll be flattered, you’ll learn a ton, and they can help you progress your career.• Figure out what makes you different and use it. When I was interviewing at company after company, I was up against consistently ambitious, intelligent, creative people. Saying I was those things didn’t set me apart. What did set me apart was my empathy for clients and active listening skills. Interviewers were more interested in that than the stuff they’d heard before.• In interviews, don’t just tell your skills, show them. If you’re saying you’re creative, show a highly creative personal website. If you’re saying you’re passionate, be passionate. They’ll believe you and remember you.• Enthusiasm will always set you apart. Especially in interviews and to upper level management. I once had an IBM executive pull me aside and ask to be my mentor because he overheard me talking about how exciting cyber security was. • Don’t be afraid to approach anyone for a conversation. Everyone is just a person, secretary or CEO and most people like talking about themselves. Sometimes just having the courage to approach someone for a conversation will set you apart. Of course, do this professionally and expect that some will say no. IBM’s CEO wouldn’t have had the bandwidth for a chat, but plenty of VP’s did.• The more the other person talks, the more he/she will like you. Good to know for setting good impressions with upper level management and interviews. And at the end of interviews, ask an open ended question that gets them to open up a bit —they’ll like you more. For example, “what would you say are the most interesting and most challenging parts of this role?” or “what is your favorite thing about working at ___?” The more comfortable they are, the most honest they are so you might also just hear some surprising truths.• Sometimes, a skill or talent that doesn’t seem relevant to a role is what will set you apart. You’ll have people wondering how they got by without it. (ex. Using design in sales to make prospecting emails that are beautiful and effective).• Lots of rejections are good. It means you’re persistent and getting closer to a yes. If you really want an opportunity, don’t think “if” it will happen but “when” and “how.” And if you start to feel overwhelmed by rejection, go look up your favorite athlete/actor/comedian/politician/businessperson. They’ve all faced tons of rejection to get to where they are.
Whatever you want to do in life, do it! You’re young now and are able to take those risks now, not later. Follow your #1 dream job, not your fallback plan. Also internships are so important; you should graduate with at least 2-3 internships under your belt.
If I could give advice to future grads, I would tell them to avoid job hopping and instead, stay with a company for more than two years. I’ve been with HZDG since graduation—and it’s been great. There’s a real value in sticking with a brand. Beyond showing loyalty and building respect, you’ll gain more opportunities, and get fast-tracked to higher positions. That’s something worth being around for.My favorite motto is: ‘Work hard and be nice to people.’
Stay curious. There will always be things you don’t know or things you’re not the best at, but an earnest willingness to learn is one of the best qualities someone entering the workforce (or even someone that’s been working for decades) can have. Letting your curiosity drive you will not only pull you into interesting projects and demonstrate your tenacity, but it will allow you to tackle problems with a broader, more creative lens since you’re knowledgeable about a wide range of topics.
When you are early in your career, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with decisions and the existential crisis of what am I doing with my life?! First, don’t panic- most people are sharing the same concern and you have a long career ahead of you. Focus on the skills you want to grow or where your true passions lie, as opposed to making decisions based on what you think you should be doing. Passion will outlast grind.
Make the most of your time at UMD. Realize how lucky you are to have all the resources in the world at your fingertips - go to your classes, get involved on campus, find your passion and make something yours! You will never be perfect, but you can be good - and that’s a much better thing to strive for.