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Interior Design Careers Advice with Lucy Painter

It was all about interior design careers advice in this week’s podcast when industry recruitment expert Lucy Painter joined the tutors in The Awkward Corner. Read on for some of Lucy’s best insider tips to help you kickstart your career in interior design.

A Bit of Background

Lucy’s passion for nurturing the careers of others comes from feeling a little lost after leaving school. Having attended the BRIT School of Performing Arts, alongside the likes of Amy Winehouse, Katie Melua and Leona Lewis, Lucy found herself adrift and not sure which path to take in life. She chose a path where she could help to empower other people to follow their dreams.

Lucy isn’t your average recruitment consultant. Her passion for the job stems from wanting to help people find the right fit in life. Whether that’s a client or candidate, Lucy’s skills lie in nurturing lasting relationships and knowing, instinctively, which person is a right for which business – and which business is right for which person. You’ll see from her infectious energy in our SkillsLab videos that Lucy also automatically brings out the best in people.

After her employer was bought out by a bearded dragon from a popular TV programme, (not naming any names) Lucy saw the business become soulless and she started to feel lost and unhappy.

Lucy's First Tip...

“When I found myself a bit lost, I decided to write all of my feelings and ideas for the future down on a piece of paper. It always helps to get it all out even if no one is watching or listening. I then put it in a drawer and went back to it after a few days. Quite clearly, a lot of what I had written was about how I would do things differently. What made me unhappy about the business. How I would do it if it were my business. It suddenly became clear that I needed to start up on my own. I asked one client if they would come with me if I set up on my own and they said yes. It took a lot of nerve, but I knew, instinctively it was the right move.”

But self-employed and freelance interior design careers aren’t always the easiest and best path. As Stephen resonates. It’s tough working for yourself and although you gain additional flexibility and can often charge more than you’d be offered in a permanent job, you can often find yourself becoming obsolete in a trend-led industry.

Going Solo...

Freelancing is big in the design industry but watch out. Lucy’s next bit of interior design careers advice may come as a surprise. Freelancers may seem like they have it all – the perfect work life balance. Freelance day-rates may also seem hugely attractive but as Lucy explains, there are some pitfalls to freelancing in interior design.

If you start taking freelance jobs too early, it can actually stall your career. You don’t get exposed to all the experiences you need to become a great designer. You don’t get the chance to mess up on someone else’s time or with someone else there to hold your hand and guide you. You’re expected, right out of the stalls, to be able to fulfil the brief in the same way as someone with years of experience. Your client won’t care that you’ve just qualified when the drawing pack is incorrect and the whole project falls flat.

Lucy explains that after a few years of freelance work many designers look to get back to employed positions, but they can have made themselves harder to employ. The pay of a freelance interior designer is also massively attractive, and many people fall for this trap. Freelance work takes into account that you will cover your own costs; your own National Insurance or Public Liability or whatever insurances you need to work in your location. When you’re employed, your employer carries the can. So that freelance career may look great at around £10,000 per year more than working for Jo Bloggs Interior Design Studio but their contribution to you and your career can far outweigh £10,000 in other terms.

"There has been a huge surge in freelancing, but beware, it can stagnate your career as you’re not exposed to clients and the full brief – the interaction you would get from a real interior designers’ job. One of the benefits of being employed is that you learn so much, you make so many contacts and then get paid to make mistakes and grow!"

This Book Will Change Your Life….

When Lucy started Studio Recruitment in 2009 she offered a completely different approach which is what makes her the perfect person to offer interior design careers advice. If she couldn’t help candidates get a job, she would always want to help them at least get a head start. She started by giving out a leaflet with the top interior design companies to research. It then grew to offering interview tips and basic guidance to help people get started in the industry. She got such great feedback from candidates and clients who were finally getting prepared and industry ready applicants, that the leaflet soon grew into the idea of a book. A career bible for interior designers. A true labour of love, In With the Interior Design Crowd was published in 

When the book was released, we asked NDA Director of Design Studies, Anthony for a book review. You can read his glowing report here.

What Skills Are in Demand?

The skillset of the interior designer is huge. But what skills do employers value most? Once of Lucy’s next interior design career tips was to encourage students and job applicants not to underestimate the power of sketching. Something which the NDA tutors are constantly trying to instil into their students. Employers want to see a good all-round portfolio which includes idea generation. They want to know that you can walk into a space or meeting and get ideas down quickly. 

"We are always asked for certain skillsets and this obviously changes over time – people want the 3D visual and the digital skills but people always still want someone who can sketch – someone who can offer an instant representation of an idea. Usually it’s the lead designer who is sat there sketching. Every client of mine will want to see sketching in your portfolio."

Listen to the Podcast in Full...

For More Interior Design Careers Advice...

Head over to SkillsLab where, over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing Lucy’s tips for CVs, portfolios, networking, freelancing and staying relevant in the interior design industry.

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