This isn't so much an answer specifically but more insight into the industry I've experienced.
Here's the reality of the market as I've seen it.....
- Go to a high-end College and get placement assistance in a large
metropolitan market at an agency... start as a peon and go from there. If your skills are good you'll eventually move up.... (I'm assuming here. The school I attended wasn't "high-end" and I've never actually lived in a very large metropolitan area. But, you know.. go to Harvard and you'll get the good jobs type of thing.)
- Go to a smaller College, live in a medium to small
area, and find the best job you can. There may be some agencies in
the area, but nothing in comparison to cities like Chicago, New York,
LA, Denver, Cincinnati, Atlanta, etc. If you can land a position at a smaller
agency, you may be able to move up in terms of employment to larger
and larger agencies.
- Or, regardless of continued education, get a job that is advertised as a "design" position, but it's really more of a "layout/production" position - common for "quick printers" or places like Kinko's - those jobs are production jobs with an eye for layout. They are rarely, if ever, actual "design" positions. Sometimes any job is better than no job but it's easy to get locked into that career track, years go by and then the realization that it's not what the career goal was sets in. But if you enjoy the technical production aspects, you can make a great career out of this track. Few start out looking for this career track at the beginning. There's nothing wrong about ending up here. But it's generally not the initial goal.
In addition to the bullet points above... your portfolio carries a lot of weight.
- A portfolio full of general layouts, business cards, fliers, brochures, etc. May be very nice looking pieces but nothing really out of the ordinary - this will get you more "layout/production/technical" positions.
- A portfolio of very unique layouts, unconventional type usage, great color use, etc - this will get you more "design" positions.
---- the reality of industry bias ------
I've had both positions which value production and positions which value creativity. However, without meaning to sound boastful, my career track is a rarity.
The design industry sees essentially 2 types of employees...
- Those who are very creative but not technically adept
- Those that are very technically proficient but not very creative.
Most will be pigeonholed into one of these 2 categories. Many employers fail to realize that some people can actually do both, admittedly not everyone, but some can. However, the reality is that there is some basis in that general stereotyping. But like all stereotyping, it's not always so cut and dry. I know this black-and-white view of designers isn't always true, but that is how many employers feel about the industry.
With that in mind, realize that you can't teach creativity. However, technical requirements for many areas of production are really not that difficult to teach to someone who is detail oriented. (varies based upon final deliverables).
So, it's more beneficial for agencies to hire those who show a very creative portfolio. Technically proficient employees are a dime a dozen (and get paid less). So most high-end agencies want very creative designers, then they hire support staff for production.
If your resume is filled with production-oriented positions (such as in-house at a print company), a very creative portfolio is just about mandatory if you wish to venture out from that career track. In addition a web link that shows off your creativity. Although using something like Behance or Dribble to post work may be fine too (because employers will not be looking for someone who can build a web site... just one that can design it)
But that's not all... The primary hurdle you may run into is your resume itself. If job, after job, on your resume are all production-oriented jobs, many employers may never even care to see your portfolio assuming you are a "technical person" not a "creative person". So, the best tip I can give would be to make your resume as creative and unique as possible (but not non-functional as a resume.)
Tl;DR Shifting to a more "design" oriented career is not an impossibility... if you have the chops you can construct a portfolio and resume to show off your creativity. A portfolio doesn't have to be based upon past work. It can just as easily be based upon realistic work you want to do.
Me: 30+ years in the industry... started as an in-house "designer" at a print house.. moved to designer at a corporation, then creative director, then self-employed freelancer