More and more people are breaking into the product design field without a degree. With this trend, a good number of articles have been written on tips for becoming a designer without a university degree. As this trend continues, design graduates are being left out of discussions and most discussions online today are geared towards those without a university degree. However, just like the designers without a degree, design graduates equally need help. This is because you would think they have been equipped with all it takes to succeed, they have not.

As a design-focused startup, Plant has seen a mix of both worlds — design graduates and designers without a degree. Even with all the talks about designers without a degree, design graduates that know their onion are just exceptional. If you are a design graduate and want to be exceptional then read the tips below.

Prepare a Portfolio

If no one had told you this, let me tell you: no serious organization will hire you just because you graduated with an excellent result from school. Certificates are still a requirement, but you have to do more. You need to show that you can do what you will be employed to do. And how do you do that? A portfolio that shows samples of your best work is one of the best ways to show potential employers that you have the technical, theoretical and practical skills required. Make sure your portfolio is super targeted at the niche you’re interested in.

Identify Your Weaknesses and Work on Them

There’s one thing with being human — just as we all have our strengths, we also have weaknesses. For some, they focus on their strength and tend to suppress their weaknesses or pretend they do not exist. As a design graduate, you shouldn’t do that. The fact that you’re able to go through the rigorous exercises and training while at school means that you can face all the real-world challenges. All you have to do is look out for your weaknesses and find a way to solve them.

Take, for instance, there was a time I had a problem with color combinations and I would rather copy that come up with something unique. However, my boss discovered this quickly and forced me to learn about colors and in no time, I discovered how easy it was coming up with beautiful color combinations. Color combination is just one of my weaknesses — I have more and I know you do too. The earlier you start working on your weaknesses, the better for you.

Get an Internship Placement

If you have not gotten a job yet as a design graduate, you need to stay relevant. Trying to learn on your own, taking up new projects, and reading can keep you relevant, they can burn you up quickly and if you do not have strong willpower, you can lose interest. One of the best ways to stay relevant while waiting for your dream job is to look out for internship opportunities. This is because you will be learning a lot on the job while remaining relevant. Some internship placements even offer some form of incentives and benefits.

Improve your Network and Work with Others

Do you think you are an island? If that has been your thought, you have to shove it up — it is a wrong mindset. If you want to go far in life and not just in design, you must learn how to network. I know many designers are introverted. Not letting your introversion mess things up for you is the way to go. Attend designers meet-up, seminars, and conferences. While at these events, learn to make genuine friendships with other designers you meet there. Let people know what you do and be interested in what they do too. Before you know it, you will be in the midst of those that will help your career.

Aside from networking, collaboration is another important thing you must learn. Except you are working on a small project, you cannot dodge working with others. One thing with working on a project with other people is; you must be ready to tolerate them. Some designers can be difficult to work with because of their attitude — some are just terrible at their job. Learning how to communicate, avoid unnecessary arguments, and following the guidelines for the project will help you to a great extent.

Learn to Respond to Criticism

Criticism is meant to help us grow and correct our mistakes. When a coworker, someone online, or your client criticizes your work, you have to know that he’s doing it for your own good. However, that’s if the criticism is a constructive one that focuses on your work. Anything outside of that should be responded to in a polite manner that puts the person in their place. Even without sounding rude and abusive, you can let someone know they have crossed the line. Destructive criticism can put you down and affect you emotionally. Responding to them in a polite manner will get the person to stop. But for constructive criticism, you need them.

Continue Learning

All product designers have to keep learning else, they will be left behind. However, the expectations from design graduates is more. You will most likely become the resource person among your peers. If you must meet up with that expectation, then you need to continue learning. One thing you will have to have at the back of your mind is that what you learned in the school is just a small pie of the whole circle. There’s more to be learned outside of the walls of a school. With the right mindset, attitudes, and resources, you can become that good designer you have always wanted to become.

As a design graduate, you are in the best position to be one of the best designers among your equals. This is because you have learned in a supervised environment and you have been equipped with the required theoretical and practical knowledge. With the tips discussed above, you can up your game and become a better version of yourself.