The Recent Grad Report:Cara Willenbrock

The Recent Grad Report:

Cara Willenbrock

If you're a graduating senior, no doubt you're already tired of all your parents' and relatives' questions about your after-graduation plans. And unless you're one of the lucky few who've already snagged a job, you're probably also tired of thinking about those plans yourself. Perhaps today's Recent Grad Report feature can give you a boost of motivation and a few tips.

Cara Willenbrock, a 2010 graduate, shares with us her job-hunting experience as she worked up the ranks from intern to full-time designer through work at three different companies. Read on for her great insight and advice on the process.

Cara Willenbrock
2010 graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia
Bachelor of Journalism in Magazine Design

Tell us about how you got started after school and where you are now.
Starting in St. Louis, Missouri at St. Louis AT HOME magazine as a web and art intern, I worked without pay all last summer on layouts, web design and production, photo shoots and social media coordination. ...
Then, I took a big leap of faith and moved my life to Washington, DC with no job leads and no apartment. With the help of family and friends, I settled in and found full-time temporary work through The Creative Group. At the time, I would have rather worked at a publication, and I still miss working on a monthly magazine, but I gained experience and wisdom from senior graphic designers and had a great creative director. I had the opportunity to work on projects in the Caribbean and in Southeast Asia within weeks of starting and created a national campaign in two languages.

After six months of temping, the company wanted to keep me for another six, but I had other dreams for myself. I started looking for other job openings in DC and found a great opportunity at The Partnership for Public Service, a growing non-profit dedicated to transforming the way government works through its employees. One week after interviewing, I was hired and I'm now Associate Designer there, working on publication design, annual reports, production, video editing, social media and web design.

While in school, did you work on any campus or local publications? Did you do any specific publication design in your classes?
I designed for four different publications while in college, two of them local, one international and one a magazine prototype. While in journalism school, I focused specifically on magazine design which covered information graphics, cover design, page layout and art directing.
Did your education/training prepare you well for your first internships/jobs? Is there anything you wish they would have taught you more about or that you wish you would have done while still in school?
I wish I'd had the option to take more web courses. After graduating, I quickly realized that knowing print design wasn't enough and that nearly every job listing required HTML, CSS, Dreamweaver, content management, and social media, plus--depending on the job--a certain combination of programming languages. I took on a web and art internship immediately after graduation, so I had the opportunity to work on a website re-design, produce and manage web content and design print magazine layouts too. I then took it upon myself to learn the basics in many areas like jQuery, Drupal and JavaScript. 
What's the biggest lesson you've learned from your job-hunting process and career path so far?
The hardest part of job-hunting is keeping a positive attitude. I worked constantly to update my resume, connect with my references, create a new website and find those great design gigs. I moved to Washington, DC, with a dream and I was determined to make it happen. So the biggest thing I've learned in this short amount of time is to think positively and roll with the punches. I never saw myself designing for federal government agencies and clients, but the experience was invaluable and extremely useful, especially because I live in DC.

Are there any resources or techniques that you found to be successful? Any tips or advice for others in the hunt?
I would say that the combination of my resume, cover letter and website got me interviews. I created an entire brand for myself and tailored my resume and cover letter to every job I applied for. I looked on job boards like Creative Hotlist, krop, coroflot and AIGA and then researched who to contact and if any of my university's alumni worked there.

My biggest tips to a job hunter would be
1. Stay positive.
2. Do not blindly apply to job listings ... hiring managers will remember you.
3. Network.
4. Don't turn down a job or internship because it isn't your dream job. Small gigs can turn into great references.

What's the coolest thing you've gotten to do so far?
I've been fortunate to do many cool things since graduating, but one of the most rewarding was working as a temporary contract designer for the National Institutes of Health where I worked on an HIV Conference that will take place in The Bahamas later this year. I also jumped on the opportunities to assist or lead photo shoots.
As designers, we're exposed to tons of great illustrators, photographers and typefaces. Do you have any current favorites?
I'd say that every new post on turns out to be my favorite illustrator, but the work of Dan Mountford definitely caught my attention.

My favorite typefaces of the moment are Museo and Buttermilk. I haven't had the right opportunity to use them yet, but I'm going to find a reason soon enough!   
Find Cara online at:


Read previous Recent Grad reports here. And if you're a recent grad who's managed to score steady paying work and feel like sharing some of your newfound wisdom, we'd love to hear from you. Or maybe you know someone else who has and deserves a little shout-out. Email us suggestions at
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