8 Sure-fire Ways to Propel Your Career Forward

Every new year brings a perfect opportunity for taking a look at what is and what isn’t working in your life and graphic design career. It’s the perfect time to rid yourself of things that no longer make sense and move forward with new ideas, goals and action plans. Here are 8 things to help bring out the best in you in order to take your career in graphic design to the next level.

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1. Determine Where You Are in Your Design Career.
Knowing where you actually are is a critical step in determining where you’d like to be. Go to Design Career Lifecycle for an examination of the typical phases most designers go through in their careers.

2. Regard Yourself as a Brand.
When was the last time you focused your skills as a designer on yourself? Putting yourself through the same objective analysis you apply to clients can help you position yourself for the next rung on your career ladder. Here is a quick summary of the questions to ask in developing a creative brief, an excellent starting point for this self-branding exercise.

3. Upgrade Your Promotional Tools.
Does your portfolio emphasize where you want to go? Or merely where you have already been? Reconfigure your resume to focus on what’s next for you. Create PDF case studies with write-ups and images for key projects, refresh your website, call out aspects of your past experience and current job/clients that prove you can do the next job you see yourself doing. And don’t forget the person presenting these ideas. Consider re-engineering your personal image as well. Is it time for a makeover?

Resources to Promote Yourself

4. Polish Your Skills — All of Them.
Your creative should be consistently excellent. If it isn’t, take a hard look at what’s missing. Maybe it’s time to learn new software, explore new technologies, or expand your knowledge of your craft some other way. This might also mean elevating your interpersonal skills — being better in meetings, polishing your business etiquette or becoming a stronger negotiator. Perhaps it means better communication — writing and presenting, improving your interview skills, or your listening abilities. Maybe for you it’s time management. Whatever it is, devote effort to what will make the biggest difference, and seek high performance in those areas.

5. If You’re Employed, Talk to Your Boss.
Once you’ve figured out a career goal, see if your vision aligns with your boss’. Have a serious conversation about your future. Do this carefully — do not issue demands or ultimatums, but find ways to reshape their concept of you to be more in line with your goals. Don’t be shy about asking for mentoring and coaching. And remember, your employers have business goals and objectives of their own. If the gap is wide between where you are now and where you’d like to be next, you may have some persuading to do. If you find that they’re not at all receptive to your vision for yourself, you’ve got some soul-searching to do. Maybe this isn’t the right place for you to be going forward?

6. If You’re Self-employed, Talk to Everyone.

You’ll need agreement to actualize your new vision of yourself. Start spreading the word. Discuss your new plan, expanded services and capabilities, with special emphasis on what you’d like to be doing. Once you have a clearly defined direction for yourself, tell other designers, former associates, current and former clients, teachers, mentors and colleagues — even friends and family. And gauge their reactions: If this is news to everyone, or a significant departure from your current situation, it may take a little time to prove that you can do it. Support may lag, initially, but with clarity, perseverance, and receptivity to feedback, you can build an audience ready to help.

7. Develop a More Robust Network.
There’s no getting around the fact that “who you know” can be just as important as what you are capable of. People create opportunities necessary for advancement. Building your network should be viewed as a strategic component to career-building, and can be pursued in several areas simultaneously: Get involved in company committees, nonprofit organizations, special projects (community or corporate); join professional organizations, go to events and workshops; reconnect with past educational institutes through teachers, classmates and alumni associations; reach out to former employers, co-workers, clients and other business connections; and finally, don’t overlook personal interests — church, sports, pets, children, neighborhood and hobby groups. Develop clear and engaging “sound bites” about yourself and what you are up to, and look for ways to get people interested in you and your work.

8. Don’t Take “No” for an Answer — But Be Ready to Adapt.
It’s your career. Go for your dreams. Your future is all about what you make of it. Having a clear vision for yourself will help shape the career that makes you happiest. And remember, the marketplace will continue evolving and changing — and so will you. Stay open to new opportunities that might not seem like a perfect match at first, but “feel right” and ignite something inside you. Even “fear” can be a good sign, if it means challenging yourself in ways you find exciting and rewarding.

Thinking of your work life in terms of a career will encourage taking a long view and help put every step along the way into a larger context. Believe in yourself and keep at it. Keep your eyes open to unexpected opportunities. Developing a personal definition of a “successful graphic design career.” What that means to you will make the steps required to achieve it clearer and your choices that much stronger.