At this time of year, students across the country are putting the finishing touches to their coursework, hitting the books for the exams ahead and preparing to take the first step into 'the real world'.
We're going to share our experiences on how to move from student life into the world of professional web design.
It's a sad but true fact that many graduates have still not been able to secure positions as web designers.
It's becoming increasingly difficult to leave higher education and gain immediate employment.
Many companies are unwilling to take on graduates because they lack 'real world' experience – but how will you ever get that experience if you can't get a job?
The perfect portfolio
The first thing you need to get right is your portfolio site. This is the main arena in which you'll showcase your work, enabling potential employers to gauge your design capabilities and get an insight into your thought processes and flows.
When considering the layout of the portfolio and which elements to include, it's important that each project contains an image and a description. You may also wish to include a short narrative on the tools you've used, explaining the benefits that made you choose them.
If you have a piece of work that's currently live, then offer a link. I've read countless blog posts that instruct graduates not to include their university/college work in their portfolio as this doesn't relate to 'real industry projects'.
It's certainly best to prioritise any commercial work you may have done, but unfortunately many graduates won't have had the chance to do any yet – and you can only work with what you've got!
Tell them about yourself
The About Me section of your site is another opportunity to sell yourself. Unlike the portfolio, this is obviously tailored to you, the person. By laying out your personal interests and detailing the route you have taken, you're providing the reader with a map of your journey and how you're working to drive your ambitions into reality.
Highlight any awards or achievements. Take pride in what you've achieved and if possible link in a few testimonials so that viewers are able to see what kind of person you are. Adding a picture is also beneficial as it allows the employers and potential clients to put a name to a face. You've just inserted another imaginary bookmark in their head.
When moving into 'the real world', it's important to make as many connections as possible. Online communities such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook will help you interact with other designers while sites such as Digg and Design Float can provide you with free marketing and help to get your work 'out there'.
Posting links to your social network profiles also helps you make connections with people, who until now will have been nameless and unknown. When networking, the golden rule is this: don't be shy!
Email local firms for advice. You might want to consider asking if you can work for them for a specified period without pay. Web firms are normally quite accommodating and may well be happy to have you in. As Paul Boag recently said: "In many ways the web design community is awesome. There aren't many industries where direct competitors talk to one another so openly and freely".
If you know of a local web agency, then why not make the trip and go directly to its office? You're exhibiting both initiative and a determination to succeed: personal traits that every employer looks for in an employee.