Elevating IIDA Students

Photo featuring students from the 2020 IIDA SHIFT Student Conference

In advance of our upcoming student focused event “Career Insights”, IIDA Oregon Director of Student Affairs Peter Harrison shares his perspective on how design students can elevate themselves professionally to stand out in their future career planning – especially now during this uncertain time. This perspective is shaped from his experience both as an IIDA Student in the Intermountain Chapter  and now as a practicing Interior Designer at ZGF in Portland, Oregon. As Director of Student Affairs, Peter has been passionately involved in several student events and attended the 2020 IIDA SHIFT Student Conference in Dallas, Texas this past January. This three day conference is focused on elevating students as they shift from their school careers to their professional careers. Read ahead for his three pieces of advice that are valuable to any emerging professional looking to set themselves apart in the job market:

1. Create a Strong Digital Presence 

Now that we’re connecting digitally more than ever before, it’s imperative for students to have a strong and polished digital presence that accurately conveys their personal brand and highlights what they bring to the table in the best way possible. This digital presence can include a wide range of things, but at a bare minimum should likely include:

Portfolio + Resume 

Your portfolio and resume are the foundation for showcasing your design work and the best way to quickly get a sense of who you are. It should be professional, well crafted, and visually represent who YOU are as a designer.

The best portfolios and resumes are ones that:

  • Utilize consistency rigorously (Same font, colors, symbols, etc)
  • Have a methodical layout – for portfolios I always recommend starting with your strongest project to capture the employers attention and end with your second strongest project, you want to leave a good lasting impression.
  • Show restraint – less is more. You do not need to include every single sketch, rendering, floor plan, elevation, material palette. Include only your best work – what’s needed to convey the most key information about the project.
  • Include process work in your portfolios such as hand sketches, diagrams, and physical study models.
  • Tell the whole story of a project, without the designer needing to explain anything. Remember that you will often submit a resume and portfolio before any interview so when an employer reviews your material they should instantly be able to understand your process and get a good sense of the story you’re telling in each project.

Instagram/Pinterest/Personal Blog

Design is a deeply visual profession and so it’s important to showcase your personal design voice. Many employers may often want to see your aesthetic and who you are – having a professional and polished Instagram or Pinterest board will give a glimpse into how your design perspective and help present you as a more holistic designer.

LinkedIn profile

LinkedIn is the foundation of business and professional connections. It’s a fantastic way to connect with potential employers, find jobs, and network virtually. A well crafted profile should:

  • Include current headshot and profile photo
  • Include relevant design experience such as internships or summer jobs and be as detailed as possible including accurate dates and what work you did while employed.
  • Showcase your passions by listing clubs/organizations you’re involved in
  • Have endorsements of your skills – don’t hesitate to ask former employers or professors.

2. Practice Your Pitch Through Networking 

Students often struggle with networking – it can feel forced or uncomfortable for many of them. I believe it’s important to shift that focus and view networking for what it is at its core – it’s relationship building, it’s about connecting with people in and outside your industry sometimes over shared background, experience, or educational degree. When you shift your mindset, it suddenly becomes a lot more approachable. Here are a few ways networking can be done:

IIDA Events

The IIDA Oregon Chapter hosts dozens of events each year including educational forums, happy hours, and signature events like Design Excellence Awards and the NEXT Breakfast. There are also events focused just on students including our Fall Symposium and the Spring Design Charette. These events, both virtually and in person, are a perfect chance to connect with designers and industry partners and trust me, they love talking with students – you are the future of the profession!

Lunch or Virtual Coffee with a Designer 

If you’re curious about a certain kind of design work or want to learn more about someone, asking a designer or manufacturer rep to go to lunch (or a virtual video call) is a great way to connect and learn about what they do. These candid and open discussions will give you a lot of insight into the day-to-day of what the design profession actually is or isn’t. I know for me personally that some of my most influential career decisions  happened because of what perspective I gained from these types of meetups.

3. Know Your Worth

The phrase “Know Your Worth” often gets thrown around too much without necessary explanation and for students, this can feel like a loaded term. For me personally, I like to think of it as aligning what you’re asking for (benefits, compensation, etc) with what value you bring to the table (skills, knowledge, personality, work ethic). For students and emerging professionals asking for your worth may feel daunting – you may simply be looking for a job, any job, and the thought of negotiating or asking for what you feel you deserve feels impossible. I promise that as a student you have a lot to offer a potential employer. Some of the assets you may bring include: a flexibility and nimbleness in your work ethic, deep technical knowledge of current and emerging programs, excellent public speaking and storytelling abilities, or even a passion and knowledge of sustainability or design research – these things have value. A well accomplished negotiation is where both you and your employer align on what you bring to that table and they see that value and compensate you accordingly. YOU are the best advocate for yourself so don’t sell yourself short!

To conclude that even though there is a lot of uncertainty right now, students and emerging professionals have a lot to look forward to. The design industry is incredibly enriching and I do believe we will come out of this stronger than before. I firmly believe if you practice patience and continue to be tenacious in pursuit of your career goals that they will happen – it might not be immediate but they will happen.

*Curious to hear more? Tune into the episode “Persistence During Unprecedented Times” of Mile Long Trace Postcast  where former IIDA Oregon Board Member Elizabeth Lockwood interviews Peter on his thoughts about students. In the episode they dive deep into discussing internships, networking, becoming indispensable, and why the future of interior design looks bright*

Content by Peter Harrison, IIDA Oregon Chapter – Director of Student Affairs.