Overview

The key role of a graphic designer is to work with clients, most typically companies, to create a visual brand that will elevate their success and profitability. You will assemble images, forms, color, fonts, and layouts to communicate ideas and concepts through visual mediums such as magazines, websites, and brochures.

Key skills include listening to and acting on a brief, creativity and passion, flexible teamwork, time management, computer literacy and attention to detail. You will also need to demonstrate that you are open to feedback and criticism, that you are a capable and innovative sales person, and that you can network effectively in order to build contacts.

At entry level, an internship or placement experience is extremely useful and can help you to get a foot in the door. If this is your direction, start building your portfolio while you are still at University and get as many people as possible to review it and give you feedback. A degree in graphic design, 3D design or fine art will give you an advantage. This is a competitive job market, but a growing one, and it is likely that the growth of opportunities will continue to be above average over the next 10 years, at least.

Daily tasks for a graphic designer may include (but are not limited to) meeting clients to go over job specifications, developing design briefs, using innovation and creativity to come up with new and ground-breaking design ideas that will give your client an edge, presenting your finished ideas and working as part of a team with printers, photographers, web specialists, copywriters, and marketers.

Pay

According to the U. S Bureau of Labor Statistics the median pay for Graphic Designers in the U.S in 2016 was around $47,000. The graphic design industry, as a whole, is broken down by sub-industries with slightly varying median pay figures. These include graphic designers for:

  • Specialized design services: $50,000/year
  • Advertising & PR: $47,000/year
  • Wholesale trade: $45,000/year
  • Newspapers, Periodicals, Books and Publishers: $41,000/year

Pay can vary greatly depending on the geographic location of the designer; that is, those working in larger, coastal metropolitan areas generally make more than others. Pay can also be greatly adjusted depending on whether the designer works “in-house” for a company, for a design agency, or is self-employed (freelance). There are pros and cons to each type of employment besides median salaries, such as health insurance costs, other benefits, freedom, and consistency of work and pay.

Graphic Designer Salary Statistics

2016 Median Pay$46,900 per year
$22.55 per hour
Typical Entry-Level EducationBachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related OccupationNot Required
On-the-job TrainingNot Common
Number of Jobs, 2016 261,600
Job Outlook 2014-2024+1%
Employment Change 2014-2024+3,600
Sources: U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics & Payscale

Industry Forecast

The job outlook for Graphic Designers is “fair” at an estimated growth rate of +1% between 2014 and 2024. This is below all occupations combined, which are expected to grow at more around 7%, but 1% is still positive growth, nonetheless. The biggest reason for the drop is the declining newspaper, periodical and printing industries, which are expected to retract at around -35% between 2014 and 2024.

Graphic Designers, on the other hand, have a much better outlook with a growth rate of over +21% in that same time period as more and more brick and mortar businesses are going online, which is increasing the need for digitally savvy designers across the country.

So overall, the +1% is a bit misleading, as digital designers have a plethora of new opportunities opening up, while the traditional print industries continue to suffer and bring down the “designer” average as a whole.

Competition among print graphic designers will be fierce in coming years as an abundance of talent will be forced to compete over ever decreasing job positions. However, with just a short investment in continued education, either online or at a training center, can result in print designers transitioning into digital graphic designers where they will find a whole new world of new and exciting employment opportunities.

Types of Graphic Designers

This job title is thrown around a lot without much specificity given, which can be confusing for both employers and job hunters alike. Just like saying “developer” without specifying mobile/web, front/backend really does not say much, “graphic designer” does not communicate much focus, either. Of course, there ARE “full-stack” developers and designers who can literally do it all. These are usually senior-level professionals (you know who you are) and have a very broad skill-set and work history.

For the rest of us, it is important to specify what type of designer so that you make yourself as much as a custom match to a position as possible. Below is a simple breakdown of the various types of designers. You can use these more specific titles to hone your job search to find more positions you are better qualified for.

General Graphic Designers

This is the broadest group and includes professionals who work on everything from logos to t-shirts and everything in between. Graphic Designers must be flexible as they are often called upon to perform a wide variety of tasks when working in-house for a company. Freelancers, on the other hand, tend to be more specialized, choosing a sub-topic they are skilled at/enjoy most and focusing just on that..such as logo/branding specialists, conversation rate optimizers (CRO), or advertising/PR specialists.

The tools of the trade include Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator, at the minimum. More specialized software and hardware knowledge is always a plus and should be included in the additional skills section.

Interactive/Web Designers

While web designers can be graphic designers, not all graphic designers can be web designers. The major differentiation here is the medium used on a daily basis. Some graphic designers work specifically with print materials, while the other half work on the web, and some work with both!

Interactive (web) designers are more heavy on the development side of websites and web apps. They are usually broken down into two major categories; user experience (UX) specialists and user interface (UI) specialists. UX focuses on people using a website, web app or online tool to make sure it flows and there is no confusion on the users’ end. At the end of the day, it is all about making the user happy for the UX specialist. UI specialists focus specifically on the navigation of a website, app, or tool. This includes menus/headings, conversion funnels, buttons, drop-downs, forms, and everything else designed to guide a user through a project.

Many web specialists can do both UI and UX. Together, these constitute much of the “front end” development of a web project and thus knowledge of HTML, CSS, JavaScript and other popular content management systems (CMS) like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Squarespace, and Shopify are advantageous.

In terms of tools, outside of Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator, web designers will also want to have coding knowledge, Dreamweaver skills, knowledge of popular wireframing apps and other web prototyping tools to work in and display their work to employers/clients with.

Sample Resume Download

Below is an example of a professionally written Graphic Designer resume that you can download, print off, save and use at a later time as a starting point when crafting your own resume.

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How To Write Your Own

Aside from the use of standardized margins and fonts, there are a few little ways in which you can tweak your resume to reflect back to the employer exactly what they desire in a candidate. Below are a few unique tips you can employ to further up your chances of landing an interview.

Get Technical

As touched upon above, there are a wide variety of designers from those who can literally do it all to those who specialize in very particular aspects of design, such as branding and logo design, for example. Try to focus on the skills required for the position you are applying for, and get as specific as possible. Sure, there are plenty of “web designer” job postings out there, but if you specialize, you should be searching for your focus.

Once you find your focus, or a job that is right up your professional alley so to speak, then you want to focus on mixing in all the technical skills being sought after by the employer in their job description. Think of the job description as your resume “cheat sheet”, as they pretty much list everything that should be included. Stay honest, and do not include skills you do not actually have, but try to list as many of the desired technical skill sets that the job poster is seeking as possible.

Stating knowledge of the newest versions of software or most current coding standards will go a long way towards proving you are not only proficient, but professional enough to self-educate and keep up with industry standards. Employers value both of these traits, not to mention saving time having to train you up on new tools or the latest version of Ruby on Rails.

Think Like a Boss

Designers who work freelance or are self-employed already know what this point is all about as they have been part designer, part product manager, part accountant and mart CFO for years. For those of you, however, that have been working for a company or design agency, you will want to shift mindsets slightly when crafting your resume, to assume the role of the employer, so that you write in a way that will be attractive to someone not versed in design, per say, but business in general.

This means quantifying numerically throughout your resume, including mentioning projects in budget terms, increased user retention rates in percentage terms, or increased online revenue in dollar terms. As a designer, you will understand how numbers will pop off the page and grab the reader’s attention. As a business person, you will understand how these “bottom line” oriented experiences will increase the trust an employer has in assuming you will be an asset and not a liability to their company as a whole.

Refresh Your Portfolio

Resumes are boring things, at least to look at. The only way you can stand out with your resume is to be as precise and descriptive as possible in reflecting back to the reader what they are seeking in an applicant. At the end of the day, all most job seekers can hope for is that their resume is strong enough to land them an interview, where they will either win or lose the job. Designers, on the other hand, have the advantage of utilizing their visual-based design experiences to help win-over an interview and ultimately, the job.

Make sure your online portfolio, whether it is Dribble, Behance or your own branded domain, is up to date and professional. You can bet with 100% certainty that after receiving your resume and spending a couple minutes scanning it the reader will head directly to Google your name is they like what they see. When they Google, they should find your portfolio right away in the results. This means not only keeping your portfolio up to date with your latest work but also optimizing it for search engines.

If you are using a third party platform, such as Behance, this is done for you, as your profile will contain your professional information that will be picked up by search engines. If you have your own website, however, take a minute to optimize your title tags and get your SEO in order so that you own your own search results. Having a destination for potential employers to land when Googling you helps push along the whole hiring process as it is much speedier than going back and forth with cumbersome email attachments of your previous work.

Tap Industry Specific Job Boards

Besides using industry specific job boards to search for your next job,  you can also see what sort of terminology and qualifications cutting edge startups are using in their job descriptions. On many job search sites you can even view other applicants resumes if you register as an employer. You can do this to first see what kind of competition you have and second to get “inspiration” for ways you can increase the attractiveness of your own resume.

We are not advocating you copy anyone, even though the name of our website would seem to hint. We are simply suggesting you do a little “market research” to get a better lay of the design talent landscape to make sure you are current with how you are branding yourself online as a professional.

A few specific design-related boards you can use to do a little industry research on include:

Sample Bullet Points

Below is a selection of professionally inspired bullet point ideas we have selected as they are particularly applicable to design related resumes. Peruse this list and pick out a few that are pertinent to yourself to modify for use on your own resume.

Sample Graphic Designer Bullet Points

Task
Create designs, concepts, and sample layouts, based on knowledge of layout principles and esthetic design concepts.
Determine size and arrangement of illustrative material and copy, and select style and size of type.
Confer with clients to discuss and determine layout design.
Develop graphics and layouts for product illustrations, company logos, and Web sites.
Review final layouts and suggest improvements as needed.
Prepare illustrations or rough sketches of material, discussing them with clients or supervisors and making necessary changes.
Use computer software to generate new images.
Key information into computer equipment to create layouts for client or supervisor.
Maintain archive of images, photos, or previous work products.
Prepare notes and instructions for workers who assemble and prepare final layouts for printing.
Draw and print charts, graphs, illustrations, and other artwork, using computer.
Study illustrations and photographs to plan presentation of materials, products, or services.
Research new software or design concepts.
Mark up, paste, and assemble final layouts to prepare layouts for printer.
Produce still and animated graphics for on-air and taped portions of television news broadcasts, using electronic video equipment.
Photograph layouts, using camera, to make layout prints for supervisors or clients.
Develop negatives and prints to produce layout photographs, using negative and print developing equipment and tools.

Career Objective

The career objective is the “greeting” of your resume. The cover letter you write for the specific job is the long-form introduction, which leads the reader to the resume, where the career objective then confirms to them that they are indeed in the right place and reviewing an appropriately qualified applicant.

How do you communicate to the reader you are an appropriately qualified applicant? Well, you start your objective off by stating how many years of experience you have and in what capacity. This will look like:

Veteran Graphic Designers with 10+ years of experience in UI/UX  seeking….

Graphic Designer with 4+ years of experience in branding looking for…

Graphic Design graduate seeking challenging position with..

Each of the above starting points communicates the same thing; that is, your level of experience and your speciality. Obviously, entry-level applicants will not have had time to develop a speciality, yet, and are often applying to junior level positions that can be quite general.

The next part of the objective is where the applicant communicates what position they are seeking to fill in a positive and proactive way. Companies do not simply want to hire people who are qualified; they want to hire people who are ambitious, pro-active, and welcome to challenges. Wording your objective to communicate you are eager to help grow a business makes you out to be a much more positive asset and thus, someone the reader would like to meet in person.

To give examples of stating the position being sought in a proactive way we will complete the above three objectives.

Full-Stack Graphic Designers with 8+ years of experience in UI/UX  seeking challenging role as Sr. Graphic Design Manager with Apple’s mobile iOS team.

Graphic Designer with 4+ years of experience in branding looking for startup opportunity with Techlight Ventures in expanding their global business.

Graphic Design graduate seeking challenging position to implement design skills honed at Minneapolis Institute of Art in a fast-paced and challenging environment.

These objectives are simply examples to communicate the type of language and message that MUST be included to make your resume topically relevant and “qualified” in the eyes of the reader. The above objectives are only one sentence, which leaves you the space to add a second sentence to help further personalize and qualify yourself for the position.

If struggling to write a quality career objective, imagine yourself pitching your professional background to someone in an elevator, between floors 3 and 1. This means being accurate, succinct and descriptive. Read your objective out loud to ensure it flows properly. Ask friends and family members what they think, as well, to get a variety of opinions.

If you are a senior level candidate, that is someone with 10-15+ years of experience, you will most likely forego a career objective and instead use a summary of qualifications, which is like a career objective, but more focused on your own skill-sets than the employer’s needs and is also allowed to be a bit longer (3-4 sentences) and even includes a few bullet points to more clearly communicate your broader skills base.

Additional Skills & Certifications

Blending softer skills like communication skills and problem solving skills with “hard” skills like software knowledge is critical for composing a well-rounded and effective additional skills section.

Employers will want to see things like team-building skills, leadership skills, problem solving skills and the like as they indicate you are a functioning social human being who can interact with others, and that you also have the potential to grow within teams, departments and companies. Additionally, hires with good problem solving, organizational, and management skills are primed for advances within the company.

Likewise, including key software skills such as the entire Adobe Suite, Acrobat, and simple coding skills like HTML and CSS will show you not only talk the talk but can walk the walk in terms of getting things done.

Useful Skills to Include

Below are a selection of skills specifically applicable to designers you can use for inspiration when compiling your own list.

Useful Graphic Designer Skills

SkillSkill Description
Active ListeningGiving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
WritingCommunicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.
SpeakingTalking to others to convey information effectively.
Operations AnalysisAnalyzing needs and product requirements to create a design.
Reading ComprehensionUnderstanding written sentences and paragraphs in work related documents.
Critical ThinkingUsing logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.
Active LearningUnderstanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.
CoordinationAdjusting actions in relation to others' actions.
Judgment and Decision MakingConsidering the relative costs and benefits of potential actions to choose the most appropriate one.
MonitoringMonitoring/Assessing performance of yourself, other individuals, or organizations to make improvements or take corrective action.
Social PerceptivenessBeing aware of others' reactions and understanding why they react as they do.
Complex Problem SolvingIdentifying complex problems and reviewing related information to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions.
Time ManagementManaging one's own time and the time of others.
PersuasionPersuading others to change their minds or behavior.
NegotiationBringing others together and trying to reconcile differences.
InstructingTeaching others how to do something.
Service OrientationActively looking for ways to help people.
Learning StrategiesSelecting and using training/instructional methods and procedures appropriate for the situation when learning or teaching new things.
Systems AnalysisDetermining how a system should work and how changes in conditions, operations, and the environment will affect outcomes.
Management of Personnel ResourcesMotivating, developing, and directing people as they work, identifying the best people for the job.
Systems EvaluationIdentifying measures or indicators of system performance and the actions needed to improve or correct performance, relative to the goals of the system.
Technology DesignGenerating or adapting equipment and technology to serve user needs.
MathematicsUsing mathematics to solve problems.
Operation MonitoringWatching gauges, dials, or other indicators to make sure a machine is working properly.
Management of Financial ResourcesDetermining how money will be spent to get the work done, and accounting for these expenditures.
Management of Material ResourcesObtaining and seeing to the appropriate use of equipment, facilities, and materials needed to do certain work.
Quality Control AnalysisConducting tests and inspections of products, services, or processes to evaluate quality or performance.
ScienceUsing scientific rules and methods to solve problems.
ProgrammingWriting computer programs for various purposes.
Equipment SelectionDetermining the kind of tools and equipment needed to do a job.
InstallationInstalling equipment, machines, wiring, or programs to meet specifications.
Operation and ControlControlling operations of equipment or systems.
Equipment MaintenancePerforming routine maintenance on equipment and determining when and what kind of maintenance is needed.
TroubleshootingDetermining causes of operating errors and deciding what to do about it.
RepairingRepairing machines or systems using the needed tools.

Additional Resources

Interview prep “must do” tips and insight to help you land the job you are applying to: