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Experience is Experience is Experience.

So you’re 18 years old.  You’ve just got your A-Level results and got into the University you’ve been dreaming of – sweet! You go to Uni, work your butt off (most of the time) graduate at maybe 22/23 years old and then you try and get a job. But every job advert says “experience in…”, “experience with”, “working examples of…”.

But How Do You Get “Experience” Or Show “Examples” If You’ve Just Graduated from University?

I have interviewed quite a few graduates over the years and one thing I always ask interviewees to bring along with them is a selection of work they have created or have been involved with.

We see a lot of final year projects brought along to interviews which are no doubt exceptional but very often there are no examples of work outside of University whatsoever.  The ideal candidate would have a nice mixture of University work along with some personal/freelance projects too.  For me, not having work from outside of University shows a lack of drive and passion for the industry, instead, they have simply done what they have been asked to do and not completed any other projects whether it be for a client or for personal use.

The people that have been doing freelance work either for relatives, clients or simply for their own experience are the people I and any other agency want in their team.  Someone who is willing to go above and beyond to keep themselves ahead of the game and stay ahead of the industry trends.

Although the interviewee may not know it, freelance work shows a good work ethic, they are learning skills you can’t buy (time management, people skills and working to a brief).

Yeah, that’s all great but how do I get freelance clients?

One thing I have noticed change over the last few years in students is their attitude. Whenever I started having an interest in design, I designed anything and everything I could think of.  I was a huge car and motorbike enthusiast (and still am!) so naturally I started making little graphics in Photoshop with my car, friends cars, race bikes or whatever I could think of to put on forums as my signature or avatar.  I then built my first website (on Yahoo Geocities – remember that!?) to showcase some pictures I took at various car and bike events.

Business card design

My Father then wanted some new business cards for his electrical company which he asked me to design.  This then led to his peers asking if I could design some cards and flyers for them. And guess how much I got paid for all of the above work? Absolutely NOTHING! When I tell the students/graduates of today that, I can see the colour drain from their face, their mouth opening wide and the look of pure shock appear.  “You worked for free!?” Hell yeah I did! But why? Simple – EXPERIENCE!

To me, I wasn’t doing this work for “free” as I was gaining valuable experience that I simply couldn’t buy.

If you can get paid for it, happy days, but it was never top of my agenda.

When I graduated from University in 2008, I had 4 years of Uni work behind me but also an abundance of freelance work on print, digital and web.  This set me apart from the majority of the class and enabled me to have a strong interview with an agency who hired me straight after University was complete.  I’m not saying this will be the case for everyone, but it sure as hell helped.

I hear ya, but I still ain’t working for free!

Don’t look at as “working for free” but rather gaining as much experience as you can from any means possible.  Into cycling? Create a mock magazine cover with a picture of your bike and custom text. Love reading? Create a website which gives a brief summary of every book you’ve ever read.  Love films? Re-create a film poster with your take on it.

There’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t have the opportunity to rebrand a business, modify a friends’ car, create a blog or simply experiment on the Adobe suite.

No excuses – now is the time to gain experience.

Some of the graphics I designed for my own experience:

Joey and Robert Dunlop

Website Sample

Wrinklies MCC

Mac Website Sample




Steven Legge
Director & Project Manager

Motorcycle obsessed Steve has 15 years in the web design industry working with some of the biggest brands in NI. Stevens people skills are what make him the perfect liaison between the tech guys and customer.

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