How I landed a job at the world’s biggest design agency

How I landed a job at the world’s biggest design agency

Meet Jake Gilbert. Jake is a graduate from BA (Hons) Graphic Communication and a year after graduating landed a job at the world’s largest design agency, Pentagram.

Read on to find out about his journey from university to industry, and how he got his incredible job.

A black and white headshot of BA Graphic Communication graduate Jake Gilbert, who now works for Pentagram as a graphic designer

University

“I wasn’t the best student at university, I didn’t know what I liked, what sort of design interested me – I wasn’t generally inspired” said Jake. “That all changed when I had a catch up with visiting lecturer Darren Leader.”

“Darren showed me this amazing piece of work, and gave me a a long list of studios to look up. It was like a switch went off – I was instantly inspired.” 

From this conversation, the world of graphic design “opened up” to Jake, and kicked off his research and projects for his final year of study, where he really knuckled down. “I started networking, collecting things while travelling, going to as many lectures as I could – you have to stay connected and have an opinion on things” said Jake.

A black and white photo of BA Graphic Communication graduate Jake Gilbert in the NUA lecture theatre, presenting a slide on what he calls 'The Nan Test' to current NUA students

The ‘Nan test’

After graduating, Jake wanted some time for self reflection. “I wasn’t happy with my portfolio, so I really wanted to spend more time working on some self-initiated projects to get my portfolio where I wanted it to be” he said.

Jake spent the best part of a year writing himself briefs, setting outcomes and deadlines to keep him productive. “I always kept the end in sight,” said Jake. “I had my wish-list of design studios to apply to in my mind while working on these briefs.”

“Obviously while I was designing and working on my projects, I didn’t have lecturers to critique them and push them on further, so I used my nan! Design has to work for everyone, so if my nan understood my project, I carried on.”

Getting a portfolio together

Throughout the year, Jake was well aware that a new wave of creatives would soon be graduating and be searching for jobs in industry. “I had this internal race to get my portfolio together and applications out before the next round of grads” said Jake.

“When it came time to photograph my projects, I roped in my nan and grandad again,” he said. “We set a up a photography rig in their garden, I would hold open my projects and when I said so, my nan would press the shutter.”

Once Jake had photographed his portfolio and put everything together, he got in touch with Martin Schooley, Course Leader for BA (Hons) Design for Publishing, BA (Hons) Graphic Design, BA (Hons) Graphic Communication and BA (Hons) User Experience Design, for his opinion and critique.

“Martin, quite rightly, said my portfolio was absolutely not ready to be sent out to industry – he said it was a mess, and he was right” said Jake.

Martin took some time to give Jake his top tips for a killer portfolio – ultimately, he stripped it back to 3-4 of the best projects, kept the layout simple and was no more than 25 pages, keeping the file size under 5mb.

An aerial shot of open newsprint, with one page in the middle being turned. On the left is a variety of statistics, photos, bold numbers and words coloured orange on white. On the right, black graphics and typography with a flash of orange. Designed by BA Graphic Communication Graduate Jake Gilbert, who now works for Pentagram
An aerial shot of BA Graphic Communication graduate Jake Gilbert holding open a typographic newspaper, showing a mixture of black and white photography and large, bold typography
An aerial shot of typography on newsprint, designed by BA Graphic Communication graduate Jake Gilbert

"Design has to work for everyone, so if my nan understood my project, I carried on"

Jake Gilbert

Interviewing

When it came time to apply and have interviews, Jake had his studio wish-list in hand. “I started at the top of my list, my most desired studio to work for. I think it’s always best to aim high” said Jake.

At the top of his list was Atlas design consultancy, based in Mallorca and London, founded by now Pentagram partner, Astrid Stavro.

“The interview was in Notting Hill, but I got there so early I had a lot of time to kill, so I went exploring and ended up buying some bits from a record store that caught my eye” said Jake.

This impulse purchase played a key role in his interview, as what he had bought caught Astrid’s eye. “It sparked a huge conversation about records and design in general” said Jake. “I ended up having two interviews for the job, one with Astrid on her own, and a second with her then-partner at Atlas, it was quite intense.”

At the time of the interview, Astrid was mid-transition to Pentagram and leaving Atlas, but she couldn’t share that with Jake. After the interviews were complete, Jake got the news he’d hoped for, a job offer with Astrid, but not at the agency he thought he was applying to, but at Pentagram.

“I thought I was applying to Atlas, and was going to move to Mallorca and work in the sunshine!” said Jake “I got very lucky with this interview.”

Joining Pentagram

“It was a very weird process,” said Jake. “As Astrid was just joining Pentagram herself, we were basically building the studio from scratch as I was the first member of her team. We were establishing the rules, setting up templates and guides on how to contact potential clients, it was a huge learning curve.”

“Every day in the studio feels like day one. You are always learning something new, or learning from mistakes.”