First of all, a few things. I assume by VA you mean Veteran Affairs. If so, thank you for your service. Second, the field of design is quite diverse and varied. Positions could range from web design, production artist, art directors, motion graphics, 3-D design and more. Much in the way that looking to become a doctor can mean anything from combat medic, pediatrician, OB-GYN, anesthesiologist, ER doctor, neurosurgeon, etc. As such, my answers are only very specific to my job as an inhouse somewhat jack of all trades designer (I design, web pages, emails, booths for events, t-shirts, other schwag (pens, cups, coasters, badges, etc.), presentations (ugh), print collateral, some video, etc.)
1. Is there any type of training/education that would be required for this type of work?
Yes. A 4 year degree (if you are US based) is best. The field is saturated, without a degree it is very difficult to find a job. Also, research the school and it’s graduates to ensure that the program is well rounded and better yet if the school has a successful reputation for assisting with job placement. Do not trust the marketing of the school alone. What I mean by that is try to talk to graduates to validate any marketing claims such as job placement.
2. If so, what school do you recommend?
I graduated 25 years ago. I have no current recommendation. Where you are located would most likely have an influence. This may just be me, but I would recommend a well-known state or private university. I would generally steer away from an online only university (once again, just me) and avoid any school that will simply get you certifications. Certifications alone will not help you to get a job. A degree (and strong portfolio) will.
3. How difficult is it for new graduates to find employment?
Very difficult. It is a saturated market, and one full or unqualified or undereducated candidates. However, with a degree and a strong portfolio you will have better chances and opportunities.
4. What and how much experience is required?
This is a point of contention since many entry level design positions require experience. Which IMO is difficult for recent graduates who have a degree but no experience. Work with your school to get internships in order to build up experience.
5. What is the current employment outlook? Are a lot of jobs available? Are there a lot of applicants? How often do you hire?
See question 3. It is a very saturated and unregulated market. There are a reasonable amount of jobs available if you live in a decent enough metropolitan area but there are hundreds if not thousands of applicants competing for the same job. Our company is smaller, and being inhouse we hire less frequently. Perhaps once every 3 years or so as people leave or if we expand.
6. What is the entry-level salary? How much can I expect the first year.
Since I graduated so long ago I don’t know off the top of my head. I would say researching sites such as opendoor, indeed, payscale.com, etc. will help to get you a better idea.
7. What type of hours and schedule do you work? Is working from home and option?
As an inhouse designer I work a pretty standard 40 hour, Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 sort of work week. Some weeks may be a little more (45-50) but not often. However, hours and schedules can vary greatly depending on your role or where you work. Working from home is definitely possible (depending on the company and position again). I actually have been working from home for the last 2 years even though I do go into the office once every now and then (about every few months).
8. What are the physical demands of the job? Does the job allow for you to stand up or move frequently? Lift or carry heavy loads?
Once again, depends on the position some. As an inhouse designer physical demands are low. I can move around, stretch, take breaks. Some positions might be more demanding with less down time, but I have plenty of opportunities throughout the day to move around.
9. Can you describe a typical day?
If you poke around on GDF you will notice a trend. The idea of a typical day is pretty abnormal. As I mentioned being more of a jack of all trades and an inhouse designer some days I might do nothing but web design, which is much different than say designing a logo or a tshirt. In general a typical day is being on the computer most of the time, managing various jobs and projects (most but not all companies have some sort of job tracking software for managing workloads and tracking projects), occasionally sketching out layouts, ideas. Researching ideas, concepts, online. Meetings with my team or internal clients to discuss projects, ideas, workloads, etc.
10. What do you like about the job? What are the positive aspects of the job?
Once again, this may not be the norm. We have had a decent amount of turnover in our department since I began, but I am sticking it out because in my case the pros are that I can work from home, I have a fair amount of schedule flexibility (I have 3 kids with various school events, sporting events, doctor appointments, etc. ,) and I never have a problem being a little late, leaving early, taking a few hours off here and there, etc. I also have very little micro management. My boss may occasionally want to tweak or modify things, and occasionally leadership, but it’s rare which is a huge pro. And the pay is good.
11. What is the downside of the occupation?
The general downsides of being a designer in my opinion are: ageism, juggling multiple jobs and the oversaturated market. That and the devaluation of our field by sites like Zombo.com, canva, etc.
12. What is the typical career path (advancement, specialization)?
Once again, it is a diverse field. Yes, you could specialize. I would say depending on your goals being a more generalized graphic designer is more of an asset. Most companies are looking for someone that can do it all. However, if you get into something very specialized like game design (3d models, game sprites, texture design, etc.) that could be an asset. General advancement is you usually start as a junior level designer and work your way up to being senior level. You may be able to advance into more of an art director or creative director role. Or potentially being a brand manager or a manager of a team or creatives or marketers.
13. What advice do you have for me as I consider this career? Is there anything you would have done to help you progress in your field?
Research, research, research. Most people on here would say something to the effect of turn and run away. It is a tough field to break into due to the oversaturation of the field and the number of people that aren’t educated or skilled enough selling themselves off as being educated and skilled. However, if you have the drive, and if you have the skills and the talent (and the 4 year degree!) you most likely will be fine. Knowing the field is saturated, do what you can to stand out by showing your knowledge and expertise. IMO, don’t half ass your education or your projects. Keep in mind that many of your school projects will not only be for earning your grade but will most likely be used in you portfolio to help you get jobs. Treat those projects accordingly.
Speaking of portfolios, a strong portfolio is vital. You could have honors, awards, a perfect GPA, etc. but your portfolio of work is really what gets you the job, IMO. That and your ability to communicate and feel comfortable communicating about those projects and with how you work.
Some other advice is really research to understand what being a designer is. A lot of people considering the field (IMO) think it is just playing around on PhotoShop or making cool looking graphics, or at least graphics that you think are cool. That is not being a designer, for the most part. It’s creating visuals that work to solve a marketing or business need. You often are designing for companies or corporations that have brand guidelines that you need to know and understand how to work within. And PhotoShop is actually the tool I use the absolute least in my day to day. People that do a lot of photo retouching or digital compositing may use PhotoShop more, but it is often seen as the go to tool for designer wannabes.
14. Are there any internship/externship or volunteer opportunities?
Yes, there are usually intern opportunities available. In larger metropolitan areas those will be more common. Once again see if the university or universities you are interested have a strong placement/internship opportunities.