Entering the Workforce

To say that the current job market is competitive is an understatement, making the accomplishments of the following five recent graduates all the more impressive. We talked with five creatives — who not only attended the top design programs in Connecticut but also stayed in the state to work for some of its top agencies and companies — about making the most out of their time at school, and using that experience to land their dream job.

Christa Tubach
Group 4, Avon
Hartford Art School, Class of 2011

Tell us about the HAS design program.
I had a wonderful experience at the Hartford Art School, and a big part of that was the professors. They get involved starting freshman year, and by the time you start taking major classes you already feel comfortable around them. The class sizes are small, and the programs are oriented around learning the programs and experimenting, leading up to the sophomore review. Once passing the review, you are on to the real deal. This is where the professors and students get to express their love for design. The professors all bring something different and great to the table.
Mark Snyder is always there for you, helps you get where you need to go, Deb Kline is a hardass who wants to see you succeed (in the best way!), Natacha Poggio is very involved outside of the actual classroom, and Kevin Sepe will get you out of any jam — no matter what it is. And there are more who have been involved at different points in the years, they have all been a great inspiration.

How well did the programming prepare you for entering the work force?
The classes are very creative. People who come out of the HAS can think on their feet, come up with great ideas and truly perform under pressure. The classes are arranged so that you get an overview of basic technical skills from the professors, and while you are on your own during class time, they are there for you whenever you need help. It is a great learning experience. I know that I can always learn the newest Photoshop technique on my own, but learning how to be a design problem solver without the aid of professors and peers is much harder.
The professors are constantly hearing from past alum, colleges and friends of theirs, so whenever they find information about an internship, freelance position or job, we are the first to know. They not only announce it to the classes, making sure everyone hears first hand from them, but they also post it on a board for future interest. I knew I could always count on Mark and Deb to help me out. They know a lot of people, and do what they can to aid in any way.

Why should someone hire an HAS grad?
The HAS focuses on creativity, and they lead us there in many ways. We have three-hour block classes in which we have time to research, sketch, brainstorm and start projects. With all of your peers around you, it is easy to bounce ideas off of each other. We also never leave the lab… It is a wonderful feeling when you come back to do work and you see more than half of your class working hard after hours to make the best project they can.
You spend hours with these people. They become your friends, and people who want to see you succeed. Our critiques are most likely the same as other art schools, but if you were to walk into a crit at the HAS, you would notice how much people are talking. We really know how to talk about our work, other peoples work, and help each other as much as possible. There is nothing like an 8:30-11:20 morning class followed by a 7:30-10:30pm class with the same people. We know how to work with a team, because we have been doing it for years.

How did you go about your job search?
Personally I spent hours on end emailing and researching. I would occasionally look at websites dedicated to jobs, such as Indeed.com. They were marginally helpful, but nothing like my own research. My best luck was specifically searching for Connecticut design firms, taking a look at their portfolio to see if it was the type of place I would want to work for, and emailing them. I made sure to express my interest in their work, so they knew I had done my research and knew about what they do. I was also assisted by Deb often. She is a real asset to the HAS as far as her connections into the real world.
I now realize how helpful Linked In is as a tool. I had signed up during my last semester, but I rarely used it, because I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it. I am starting to use it more and would definitely recommend it to students.

What do you think made you stand out and get the interview?
I believe I had a few things that made me stand out. I had taken a web design class last semester senior year in which I designed, built and coded my own website. It was and still is a great tool to show potential employers my work. Before my website was done, showing my portfolio as a PDF meant either sacrificing image quality or sending a large, cumbersome email attachment. Employers don’t want to be wrestling with hard to open PDFs, and once my website was up, I was getting much better responses from people. The other reason I stood out was my personal presentation. All of the employers were impressed with how organized, neat and presentable my portfolio was (on top of my actual work). We have an portfolio class which takes place all semester long, refining and perfecting our portfolio. This doesn’t stop with our work, but with how we lay out the images, the shape and feeling of the book itself, and most importantly, how we talk about our work. We know inside and out why we created what we created.

What do you think made you stand out and get hired?
As mentioned before, I believe we were prepared for these interview days. I know that I am personally a pretty talkative and friendly person, so I didn’t have problems there. The best part was talking about my work and hearing what they had to say about it. Everyone I met with was exceptionally nice and complimentary, which I must admit was extremely satisfying yet scary. I always felt that when we stepped out into the real world people would be harsh and mean, but they had prepared us so that this wouldn’t happen. People were interested to hear what I had to say and I always felt comfortable telling them.

Tell us a bit about Group 4.
Group 4 is a packaging firm in Avon, CT. I am one of the three in-house designers and we work primarily on packaging and branding. It is a great atmosphere with fun people and a lot going on. We house research, industrial design and graphic design, so I get to see how projects run, from start to finish.
One of the most interesting and new aspects of this job is being part of the focus groups. We have a room where we hold the groups with a two-way mirror. It is very exciting to see the people respond to your designs. I didn’t necessarily see myself working specifically with packaging, but I realize now how interested in great packaging I have been all my life. I am excited to see where it brings me!

How should one make the most of school while there?
Start looking into what you can do with your degree — design or not. I didn’t even think about packaging design until junior/senior year. Know that there are endless ways to use your degree, but the more you know where to go, the easier it will be to get there. Also, take as many classes as possible! I realize now that I may someday want to start my own business, yet I have no formal education when it comes to finances, economics, business, etc. It’s something you can do later, but do it while you’re already there, it will be much easier!

What advice would you give to grads? 
I would advise them to start early and be as personal as possible when sending emails. Write each and every email differently, know who you are writing to. And be yourself on your interview. It’s going to be scary, but show yourself off — you have a lot to show.

Kathryn Keller
Jade Marketing, West Hartford
University of Connecticut, Class of 2010

Tell us about the UConn design program.
While UConn is a huge public university, the Art Department is a small building in the corner of campus. The communication design program is an even smaller concentration in which only 16 students are admitted to each year.

Design Process, taught by Mark Zurolo, was the first course I took before I was admitted into the program. The course was my introduction to the attention to detail required in design. Everything was hand lettered and bound, no computers. While some of my classmates complained of the tedium, I loved every minute of it. Randall Hoyt taught me web design, which is probably the reason I’m employed today. I went from not even knowing what HTML was to using Javascript in a semester. Later, I was given the opportunity to join Design Center where I designed some of my best work. Each of my professors inspired me, pushed me, and encouraged me.

How well did the programming prepare you for entering the work force?
The most valuable experience I had at UConn was the opportunity to work at Design Center for 3 semesters. With direction from Edvin Yegir, my classmates and I worked with clients from on- and off-campus. We created campaigns, brochures, catalogs, identities and websites. I think the experience of managing projects, meeting with clients, and creating and collaborating is something that can only be taught in a studio environment. Essentially, Design Center is a design studio. The only difference from any other studio is students create the work.

Why should someone hire a UConn grad?
I think the strength of UConn is its multi-disciplinary program. In addition to the sequence of design courses, I took classes in web design, motion design, and digital photography, as well as many other fine arts courses. Having that experience in so many disciplines of design gave me a bit of a competitive edge. I feel like designers are now expected to do everything — especially if you’re like me, working for a small company. It’s good to get your feet wet in a few different mediums, but I do think there is something to be said about specializing.

How did you go about your job search?
I began interning at Jade Marketing during the summer after my junior year. At the time, Jade only had one designer on staff and we were growing fast. Spring of my senior year they had offered me a full-time position. I worked hard and clicked with the company.

What do you think made you stand out and get hired?
I think what made me stand out was my enthusiasm and the body of work I was able to show them, including my portfolio website. Having a website — that not only shows your work well, but also shows your personality — is important. It’s your first impression to potential clients and employers. Even if you don’t know HTML there are a lot of great resources online to present your work. I also think showing your enthusiasm and your willingness to learn and go above and beyond shows them you’re not just in it for a paycheck.

Tell us a bit about Jade Marketing.
Jade Marketing is a denim company headquartered in West Hartford. We have two junior denim brands, Amethyst Jeans and Ariya Jeans. Since Jade is such a small company, I work on many different projects. I help art direct on location at our seasonal photo shoots, I design and code the brands’ websites, I design back pocket embroideries and I manage our Facebook page. I think what’s great about Jade is they are always thinking out of the box. We have a pink truck we like to call the Jean Machine — which is sort of like an ice cream truck, except instead of ice cream, we give away jeans. It tours around the country promoting our brands at concerts and college campuses. This holiday season we gave away jeans as thanks for donating food to CT food banks. The Jean Machine is unlike anything I’ve ever heard of.

How should one make the most of school while there?
Definitely get some out-of-the-classroom experience, whether it is in a course like Design Center or interning at a studio. It’s a big transition going from class to work, that I’m still getting used to. You’re no longer designing entirely for yourself and your own exploration, but for a client’s interests as well. Gain experience in different disciplines, you never know what project might come up next. One day I’m designing a layout for an ad, the next I’m building a website. Eventually I hope to specialize and find my niche in design, but it think it’s important in school to explore the different types of design to see what you like and what you excel in.

What advice would you give to grads? 
Get as much experience as possible. While at school I was taking classes, working as a designer at the Benton Museum, and then later interned at Jade. I felt like I was designing 24/7, but don’t we all? Each opportunity was a different experience that has helped make me a better designer. Also, start early. I was lucky enough my internship turned into a job.

James Grendzinski
Worx Branding & Advertising, Prospect
Central Connecticut State University, Class of 2010

Tell us about the CCSU design program.
Well, before you can even get full acceptance to the Graphic/Information Design program at Central Connecticut State University, you have to take a class where you learn the basics of design. The catch is you are only allowed to use Microsoft Office programs as your “creative software” for your assignments, so it puts everyone on an even playing field as far as experience with software. It lets the student’s creative problem solving shine through.

We had a wide range of professors — in the sense of personality and specializations. From hard-asses who pushed your concepts as far as your patience would allow, to free spirits that let your creativity flow, to obsessive professors that taught you the meticulous details of print design. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to mold me into the designer I am now.

How well did the programming prepare you for the entering the work force?
The design program at CCSU has to be one of best in New England. It’s a portfolio-driven curriculum, so when you walk out the doors, you have a nice collection of projects that are interview ready. In fact, in the final design class you take at CCSU, you prepare all the work you have made into a self-promotion piece – including a logo, website, resume, business cards and portfolio. You are also given the chance to revisit and revise old projects – to ensure that they match the skills you are leaving with instead of the ones you came in with.

I participated in Central Design – an award-winning, for-credit and student-operated full-service design studio which, under faculty supervision, provides design service to selected real world clients. Students are accepted into the program based on portfolio review. This experience introduced me to interfacing with real clients and helped me build an even more robust portfolio.

The department coordinator, Jim Bryant, would post jobs in the area he found on creative job board and often had alumni calling looking for recommendations of people to fill openings at their agencies. After I graduated I also got a couple leads from professors.

Why should someone hire a CCSU grad?
The program as a whole is very well rounded – requiring not only the core design and art classes but classes in marketing, advertising and communications. It goes deeper than just techniques and making a good-looking design – into concepts and strategy. Sue Vial was the department head at the time when I started, and I remember her telling us on the very first day, “We are not here to teach you how to be designers, we are teaching you what you need to be art directors and beyond.”

How did you go about your job search?
I started early, as everyone should. In my final semester, I started with social media – friending and following area designers I admired. Then I started to attend local events – specifically the Breakfast Epiphanies that AIGA Connecticut put on. I kept a loose watch on jobs boards in my final weeks of school but upon graduating I checked compulsively.

What do you think made you stand out and get the interview?
Funny you mention this, because after working so long and hard on my self-promotion piece, I submitted it to more magazines / contests / awards than agencies. Only two wound up in the hands of agencies, which weren’t even hiring, but I wanted to get my name out there. One of the two was sent to Bertz Design; Jeff Solak invited me in to to talk about my promo and my portfolio. While it didn’t lead to a job, he helped me prepare for “real” interviews.

In general, the few interviews I did get, I believed were based off how my portfolio, resume, business card and website were aesthetically consistent – coupled with the creativity and balance of student and freelance work in my portfolio.

What do you think made you stand out and get hired?
Getting hired is like being a door-to-door salesman. The work in your portfolio gets the company to open the door. Then you put your foot in the door – to keep the door open – by explaining the thought process and concepts behind your work. They invite you in to see how you vibe with the culture of the company. Each piece played its part in helping me stand out and get hired – and I got Worx to buy one of my vacuums too!

Tell us a bit about Worx.
After I researched a fair amount of agencies in Connecticut, Worx was in my top 3 places to work – no joke. Not everyone has the ability to say they get a “dream” job right out of college, especially how the economy was in early 2010. I work with some of the best in the business, from our brand strategists right down to our interns, and for that I feel truly blessed.

The culture at Worx is full of fun and energy – after all, I don’t think I would have been hired if I didn’t fit in. One of the reasons I wanted to work here is the vast array of projects and clients I work with on a regular basis – one day it may be a Facebook page for a tool company and the next an identity for a comedian. We are full of multi-talented people so we aren’t held back by our title. For example, I know HTML and CSS pretty well, so I help out our technology team with front-end development when needed. Or since I have wide variety of writing classes under my belt, I contribute to copywriting some clever headlines every now and again.

But the greatest perk? Friday picnics. It didn’t take me long to move up in the ranks and earn the honorary title of Grill Master – and as soon as spring comes I’m bringing my world famous kabobs back to Worx!

How should one make the most of school while there?
While it may just seem like ‘homework’ – what you are doing right what will springboard you into your career. Take your time with projects and put as much passion into them as you can.

It’s never too early to start networking. Get out into the community and make a name for yourself – if I had one regret, it would be that I didn’t do this sooner.

Research agencies in the state to see where you might want to eventually work or to even see their work for inspiration. Don’t know of many? Do a Google search, look up past CADC award-winners or look up old articles on Conn Creatives.

What advice would you give to grads? 
Never stop building your portfolio. Don’t be afraid to revisit old designs or do cheap/free work for friends and family – this keeps your designs and skills fresh.

Never stop looking. As cliché as it sounds, searching for a job, is a full time job. Don’t stop at just Monster, Coroflot and Creative Hotlist. Check for postings on the agency’s website – which you should be doing anyway to make sure you are the right fit for the company and the company is the right fit for you. Customize and personalize each cover letter and portfolio you send out.

And most of all – have fun. Remember you’re a creative, not a cubicle worker. Let your creativity show and set yourself apart, whether it’s in your resume or the email you send to respond to a job posting.

To see my advice in action you have to look no further than my story:

To be honest, I was unaware of Worx Branding until I was finishing up my last semester and saw the article on Conn Creatives about Worx giving their company website a facelift. I did my research, saw the work they were doing and thought ‘I wouldn’t mind working there someday.’ I finished school and they weren’t hiring but saw a link on their website where I could submit my resume and portfolio for future consideration – never heard back. Two months later I saw a design position open at Worx via Monster and resubmitted my resume and portfolio – attached them to a personalized cover letter email to Grant with a clever subject line “With Our Powers Combined…” and got brought in for an interview. One interview later – I was hired.

I know it might sound easy, the way I summed it up, but I worked hard and pushed myself throughout college. I looked for jobs everyday for 6 months – applied to about 20+ positions and got 4 interviews. All along the way, I never stopped refining my portfolio and looking for freelance work I could add to make it stronger.

Anna Gitelman
Campus Customs, New Haven
Shintaro Akatsu School of Design, UB, Class of 2011

Tell us about the SASD design program.
The program and professors at Shintaro Akatsu School of Design were both top quality, in my opinion. We were taught a variety of things by talented professors who both worked in the real world and helped us adjust from college life to post-grad life. Classes varied from illustration, to type design, to drawing, web-design, motion graphics…the list goes on, really.

I think the most important classes were the studios. Starting from sophomore year, we were all required to take a studio class every semester. In these classes, we really learned how to become designers. We were lucky to be taught by professionals like Brian Miller, Gary Munch, and Emily Larned.

Each professor taught us something different. Brian really helped us to understand what makes something an amazing graphic design piece. No one knows as much as Gary does about type design, and Emily focused a lot on client relations, as well how to properly brainstorm your ideas and understand what it is the client needs. I was really lucky to be able to work with all these people.

How well did the programming prepare you for the entering the work force?
A class that really helped with this was Design Service. They started offering it when I was a junior, and it’s a good thing they did! Design Service is a student-run design team under the instruction of Emily Larned. So what happened here was basically, we’d have a client meeting, take notes, ask questions and whatnot. Then once they left, we’d have a meeting of our own, brainstorm, and start working on the project. It was really quite helpful and pretty much as real world as you can get while still enrolled in school.

Internships were always available. We have a good connection with Fairfield University, and every semester Gary Munch would send one of us talented people over there to help in the Marketing and Communications Department. I did it one summer, and it was really a good experience. It was great to work in the department and learn how to work as a team…plus the environment was awesome.

Emily is the big job e-mailer. As soon as she’d hear of a job she’d either post it on her blog, or send us an e-mail.

We were also encouraged to join AIGA, TDC, go to events, and also to submit our artwork to competitions. Brian was really good at enforcing this. At the end of his studio, he sends our work into competitions. I was one of the students to win my sophomore year. I got awarded the Gold Pencil Award from the Advertising Club of Connecticut. It’s a really great way to get your name out there…and you get a big wooden pencil.

Why should someone hire a SASD grad?
Like I said before, the variety of classes offered is amazing. I think what our school has that distinguishes us from other schools is our strong emphasis on typography. It’s always great to know how to make some awesome effects in Photoshop, but what we learned about type from Gary is really something else. And I see how that’s coming in handy now. When I’m designing at work, half the time it’s something computerized, but nothing compares to a clean beautiful typographic design. We really learned how to appreciate it and use it correctly.

Something else that I think makes us special is our drawing program. I’ve always loved drawing and painting, but Rick McCollum really pushed us to the next level and in my opinion, every design should start from a drawing, or at least a sketch. Rick’s an amazing artist, and he helped me to become a better one.

How did you go about your job search?
My job search was pretty non-existent when I first graduated, to be honest. I had a stable, boring, terrible part-time job. It was when I got fired that I sat down and remembered why I went to school and what I want to do for the rest of my life. And it wasn’t working at a pizza restaurant. It was to be a designer.

I signed up for every possible job placement site and applied everywhere. I did get rejected a lot, but with the help of my friend Will, and my own motivation as well, I kept on trucking. A lot of people said craigslist isn’t the best place, but I’m glad I didn’t really listen because that’s where I found my current job. And I couldn’t be happer.

What do you think made you stand out and get the interview?
What made me stand out is my portfolio. I always thought I needed a huge portfolio to set me apart, but in the months when I was in between jobs, I realized that it’s not the quantity, it’s the quality. Of course we’ve all heard that said a lot, but it really is true. I perfected my presentation, got it bound, printed on nice paper. All those things matter. And I think I had a total of 10 or 12 pieces, but they are the best things I’ve ever done and they’re presented that way. And of course, any internships or side projects are helpful. They also seemed to like that I added that I’m fluent in Russian on my resume…

What do you think made you stand out and get hired?
I was nervous as hell during my interview. It was probably because I knew I would love the place as soon as I walked in. My answers probably showed my nerves, but I remember clicking with the art director, and as mentioned before, I think my portfolio helped a ton.

Tell us a bit about Campus Customs.
The company is amazing. I love the work I’m doing, and I love the people I’m working with. It’s a really relaxed environment, everyone is incredibly friendly, and we’re all practically friends already. I really do fit in perfectly. It’s amazing and truly a blessing.

Campus Customs is a screen-printing company, so our job is to create the graphic arts for all the shirts. Some of the assignments are straightforward, like placing a logo on a shirt, but other assignments really are a lot of fun. That’s when we get really creative and when I get to illustrate or do some interesting things with typography.

The best perk is waking up in the morning excited to go to work and leaving work feeling appreciated and feeling like I really accomplished something. Also, since the screen-printing is done in house, it’s really awesome to walk downstairs and see my designs being printed on the shirts.

How should one make the most of school while there?
Take school seriously. Every class is important. You’re there to learn and become a well-rounded person. Don’t let it go to waste. I also really encourage paying attention in English class. Grammar seems to be thrown out the window but when you start working; you won’t always have the luxury of meeting your client in person. E-mailing is huge and you need to be able to express your thoughts and help the client to understand you.

And of course, any design class you take, learn as much as you can from the professor. And learn to be sociable and be able to work well with others.

What advice would you give to grads? 
The most important part is to never get discouraged. Rejection is normal, and it’s going to happen. It may seem like there’s nothing but rejection, but you’ll strike gold.

Chris Siharath
TracyLocke, Wilton
Hartford Art School, UofH, Class of 2011

Tell us about the HAS design program.
The design program at the Hartford Art School is pretty awesome. Every student is placed in the foundations program where students are immersed in drawing, painting, 2-D design, sculpture and issues in art making. Entering junior year, the real fun starts. Our design program taught me a lot about critical thinking and concepting. It was more about why you did something — then came the aesthetic of it.
As for the professors: insightful, smart, down-to-earth, mentors, always available to help out with anything. They felt more like family than anything. But don’t get me wrong, they certainly kicked my ass and taught me everything I know today. 
How well did the programming prepare you for the entering the work force?
We had a bulletin board where there would be internship/job postings. These postings usually came from connections the professors had in the design community and from alumni. The professors were great at giving us places to look into and advising us into what direction/field we should go into.
Why should someone hire an HAS grad?
TracyLocke has hired a handful of Hartford grads these past few years. I know it’s because the HAS design program continually pushes their students to do smart design. I also believe having a class solely dedicated to putting together your portfolio was a huge advantage. Before I graduated, I had a professional design portfolio, with work I was proud to show off.
How did you go about your job search? 
The biggest help was having a professional preview at our senior show. We sent out invites to alumni, design firms and agencies to come to our show and view our work. Networking is huge. The relationships I have formed with alumni and other creatives in the industries were super helpful in finding out about job opportunities. 
What do you think made you stand out and get the interview?
I mainly had student work in my book, so I’d have to say it was that! I was most excited to show my game board design and concept, as it highlighted my typography, illustration, writing and personality.
What do you think made you stand out and get hired?
Besides my ridiculous good looks and charm? (ha-ha) I’d say it was my confidence and ability to talk about my work. I think I presented a wide range of work that showed my versatility, creativity and most importantly my thinking. 
Tell us a bit about TraceyLocke.
Everyone at TracyLocke is inspiring in one way or another. There’s always such crazy creative energy flying through the office. I feet right at home here! It’s awesome to work on big brands such as Pepsi. I work on a huge variety of things from, point of sale, logos, signage, packaging, concepting, brainstorming, presentations, you name it.
It’s safe to say, I have enjoyed every bagel Wednesday and Beer cart Friday since I’ve started.

How should one make the most of school while there?
Learn from your peers. I think I learned the most from the all-nighters leading up to the final crits with my fellow classmates. For example, Taco Bell is never a good choice at 2 in the morning. But seriously, share tips and tricks, look at each other’s work and give feedback. You learn more from your peers then you think.
Make mistakes. Go outside of your comfort zone. Take risks. Try something totally crazy that may or may not work. This is the time for you to experiment and grow as a creative. Don’t regret the things you wished you could have done. 
Finally, intern, freelance, go to conferences, enter your work in student competitions, do cartwheels, find inspiration, and read, read, read. 
What advice would you give to grads? 
Be prepared to do work finding a job. No one’s going to be holding your hand or running up to you offering jobs. Engage alumni, use social media, and don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone.


Steven J. Alves» School: Local + Work: Local + Creativity: Boundless

[...] Article: ConnCreatives.com James Grendzinski’s Website Tell us about the CCSU design program. Well, before you can [...]

Leslie 8.7.12

30 Examples of Beautiful Portfolio Designs Here’s 30 Examples of Beautiful Portfolio Designs that you can look into for . Take a look at how these designers and beggolr have presented their creation to the public.

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Remedios Quercioli 4.18.17

Very good article. I definitely appreciate your site. Thanks!


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