You have an interior design degree, now what?

What should you do now that you have your degree in interior design?  Here are the next steps that you can take and all the options open to you.  

You have two options when you have that fresh interior design degree in hand, either you work for someone else or you start your own business.  (Or a third option: you could also think what the hell am I going to do with an interior design degree? and go into banking.)

In my experience, it is always better to gain real-world experience from someone who is established and “pay your dues”.  Working for someone else allows you time to grow less green.  You'll see the current state of the business of design and learn how your employer runs his or her business. Ultimately, it is a good way to decide if you can or want to go out on your own.

Work for as many different designers as you can, because this becomes your real education on how they handle issues and how they price.  You can learn from them what type of clients are ideal and what type of clients to avoid.  You will learn how to problem solve when the sofa does not fit through the door or when the side tables are too small.  Someone else's business will be there to pick up the cost of your mistakes.  These are all things you probably didn't learn while getting your interior design degree.

Working for Someone Else

At bigger firms, if you are just starting you will be an assistant. This is a great place to learn and to start.  Smaller firms don’t have the time or money to spend on a newbie so they are less likely to hire without any experience at all.  Ask if you can be an intern or if you can shadow the designer.  This isn’t school - there are dumb questions, but ask intelligent ones and don’t be a bother and you will be valued.  Here is an insider trick: play to the designer’s ego - this will work wonders because all creative people need a little stroking now and then.

What are your talents?  What do you bring to the table?  For someone just coming out of school computer skills and eagerness to work ridiculously hard are the greatest assets.  Get your resume in order - it should be simple and easy to read, with a universal format and font.  Don’t get too creative, this is not where you should stand out, let your accomplishments and credentials stand out.  Your personality can make an appearance at the interview.

I mention this because I've done a lot of hiring, both for my own business and for the companies I've worked for in the past.  So this is my advice for getting hired by another interior designer.

How to Increase the Odds of Getting Hired

Print your resume on nice paper, having even a single misspelling or grammar mistake can cause that piece of paper to end up in the trash. Put your resume, unfolded, into an 8.5 x 11 envelope - if you really want the job, send it via an overnight service - those are the packages that get opened first and looked at.  DO not put a portfolio, letters of recommendation, or project examples on a disk.  No one will ever take the time to put that disk in a computer and look at your files.  Print everything out so it can be looked at quickly.  Don’t include too much, a little taste will be enough for you to get your foot in the door if the potential employer is interested.  You can show them all the goods during the interview.  If there is a job posting, you'll want to follow all the instructions in the posting very closely.

Getting hired is also a numbers game. You can improve your chances if you follow-up with the firm regularly - every 3-6 months for larger firms and every 6 months to a year for smaller companies.  Resend your resume, including on your cover letter that you have applied before, are still looking for a position, and would like the opportunity to work for their firm (again play to the ego).  This creates a familiarity and it is always easier getting a job with someone you know.

So before you think you want to skip all the above, here are 5 reasons to work for someone else:

  1. Experience
  2. You don't have to pay the employer part of Federal Taxes
  3. Sole responsibility for everything is not on you
  4. You can focus on the design more than the business
  5. Experience (it's twice as important)

Starting a Business

Starting a business is hard, there are a lot of little details that you haven’t thought about and issues that you have never had to deal with.  When you run your own business, you are on your own with all the problems and challenges.

I have an entire course about the business of design, but here are the very basics of running a design business.

Be Aware of the Responsibility

There are many different roles you will need to be able to slip in and out of.  You should hire consultants if you can, this frees you up to spend time on design. It is possible to do this all on your own if you have a very small business with only a few clients. The more clients that you have the more help you’ll need.  Once you start doing business in a certain way, it is much harder to change or adopt a new system later. You will still need a little help or an inhuman ability to read and decipher hundreds of pages of IRS documents and confusing government forms, your local small business administration can help.

Before Your First Client

You’ll need a business license and a resale certificate.  Requirements are different in each state - so do a google search on your city & “business license” and you should find what you need.

If you are not willing to do this or feel you are unable to figure it out, hire a consultant.  Your business license is what gives your business legitimacy.  A resale license allows you to purchase items for resale tax-free and then pass your tax obligation onto your client.  This is how you call up Schumacher and order yards and yards of fabric that is to-the-trade only.  With your business license and resale certificate, you are to-the-trade!

You may also need an EIN (employer identification number)- it's free from the government and it helps separate your personal finances from your business finances.  This is also the time for you to decide what type of business you want - Sole Proprietor, LLC, a Corporation.  There are lots of books and internet articles written about this and you have to decide what is best for you.

You'll also need insurance, a website, a business phone and email.  None of these things are optional or things that can be done down the road.  Getting your business in order is serious business.  If you want clients to take you seriously and respect the work you are doing you must also take your business seriously.

All these tasks should be done before you have your first client.  Essentially, you don't invite people over to your house if you haven't even poured the foundation.  Don't start taking clients unless you have your business foundation in place.

Looking for help in your interior design business?