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South Carroll graphic design students get career tips from a pro

South Carroll graphic design students get career tips from a pro
Ram Castillo has his photograph taken with South Carroll High School students after speaking to them about his profession as a designer on Monday at the school. (KEN KOONSSTAFF PHOTO, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

WINFIELD — At a time when jobs are hard to come by, students in Graphic Design and Art classes at South Carroll High School might just have the advantage when they're ready to find a 9 to 5.

Ram Castillo, graphic designer and author of "How to Get a Job as a Designer, Guaranteed" spoke to the group of students as part of his three-month book tour, delivering advice he guarantees will land anyone a stint in the world of design.

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With more than nine years of industry experience, Castillo has worked on branding, design, advertising, campaigns and marketing communications for clients such as Audi, Aldi, Ford, Shell and Adidas.

Kicking off his book tour last month, Castillo traveled from his home in Sydney, Australia, to the United States. South Carroll High School was the second high school on the tour during which he plans to address groups from high schools, colleges and professional organizations.

Noting the careers of Walt Disney, who was fired from a newspaper for his lack of creativity and original ideas, and Col. Sanders, who started KFC as a bankrupt 65-year-old, Castillo encouraged the students to follow their dreams.

"You need to be incredibly driven," he said. "You have to be willing to be motivated by your own goals."

For Castillo, the road to graphic design stardom wasn't always an easy one. He was rejected by 99 employers and worked in the mail room of a design company before obtaining his dream job.

"It wasn't always blue skies and rainbows," he said. "I learned a ton of lessons through my failures."

Castillo decided to write his book, published this July, because he was constantly approached for advice on how to break into the design field.

His advice is simple. He says the five parts of getting a design job include education, design, portfolio, networking and interviews.

Although he's a college graduate, Castillo said college isn't the path for everyone.

"Michael Jackson didn't need a degree to sing so if you have a calling for design, don't let a piece of paper stop you," he said.

Suggesting students find mentors and explaining that not everyone can afford college, Castillo added, "The most important piece of advice I can give you is choosing the best type of learning that suits you."

Castillo encouraged the students to design with relevance in mind.

"Don't be led by aesthetics, design by relevance. Always ask yourself, 'Does it create relevant cut-through and relevant conversation?'" he said. "Even though it may seem that it's all been done before, it hasn't been done by you."

Although the group of students ranged from freshmen to seniors, Castillo told them to start their portfolios now.

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"The key is to start somewhere. Don't wait for things to be perfect. You need to do what you can and improve as you go," he said.

"The main portfolio platform you should have at the very least is a website. Email files might bounce back because the file is too big. A website is essentially your 24/7 shop."

Lastly, Castillo reminded the students to network and connect during interviews.

"Networking is about creating relationships. Anyone and everyone can be a part of your journey," he said. "Create an emotional connection during your conversation."

Graphic design teacher Eleanor Alexander said it was important to her that her students meet designers already established in the field.

"I'm always trying to get opportunities for the students to talk to people who have experience so they can see education really does connect to the outside world," she said. "Sometimes students need to hear from other people to give it value and precedence. It just shows the students different possibilities."

Several students said they plan to use the advice offered by Castillo.

"Being a high school student, I don't know where to start but this gave me a sense of direction," said senior Ryan Rhoades.

Junior Zoe Bitner favored another aspect of the presentation.

"I think it was really important that you network yourself and get your name out there so people know who you are," she said.

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For more information about Ram Castillo and a list of stops on his tour, visit: http://www.ramcastillo.com.

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