We are working on getting my fiancé a nice starter job. I'll start with what to apply for then get into the details. These are just some tips I am thinking of:
1. Know what you want!
If you know you are better at layout, and not as good at web design, spend your time applying to companies that fit that bill. Don't waste time on a job you won't succeed at or one you are just going to be bored with. This will help narrow the search.
2. What do you want to learn?
If you are good at layout but really want to get into web design, Educate yourself outside of school if you have graduated or plan your coursework. A lot of design students just take the curriculum courses needed to graduate. But, a lot of school offer courses outside that curriculum that will help you get a nice gig. For example, if your like me, and you are interested in arts or museums, take a museum studies course. If you want to work with international companies, minor in a language. If your interested in GUIs, research device companies. Garmin comes to mind.
3. Do some freelance, but NOT for free!
Unless someone is making a billboard with your contact info for some work, don't do free jobs. You make every one who paid for schooling and training look like a chump. Including you. Barter if you must. Track your hours on a freelance job and be realistic with your estimates. As a student, you might charge someone 15 bucks an hour. That's ok if you get portfolio pieces. But when you start having design notches in your belt, make sure you charge. Make design briefs. Make estimates. Have invoices ready. Freelancing can be a great way to earn some cash, but manage yourself like you are your employee.
4. Knowing people...
I hate to say it, but having a good network is important. Foster those relationships. BUT never assume just because you know someone you will get a job. Be prepared. Don't interview or request meetings without taking the effort to know the folks you are talking to, and having your resume and portfolio ready.
5. Consistency is important
Make sure your info is up to date. Use grammar consistently. If you use periods at then end of your descriptions on your resume, ALWAYS use them. Pay attention to em dashes, and en dashes. Make sure images are at high res. Pay attention to Ms. Vs Mrs. Simple things will prevent you from an interview. Do a find replace for getting rid of double spaces. Under the type menu, click show hidden characters. Set up tabs! Don't use spaces in lieu of tabs! Watch out or widows and orphans! Don't hyphenate. If you don't work for a newspaper or magazine, it isn't needed.
6. Be polite.
Send off thank you notes. Send hard copies to HR, if you apply online.
7. Keep working.
If you don't have a job and are still looking, I know from experience landing a job while out of practice is hard. Keep working on your portfolio, freelance, whatever. And stay in the design loop. Even if you're not a member, AIGA has great articles and resources to read. Subscribe to Communications Arts. It is the best.
8. Invest in yourself
Take a class on writing resumes. Join a club. Buy a hand crafted teak portfolio. Learn how to make an interactive portfolio. Get on Vistaprint or Moo and get business cards. Buy nice paper, or a nice printer. Investing in yourself will make you eager and proud. It will give you the confidence you need to land that gig. I remember someone dropped of a portfolio at my work, a three-ring binder with newsprint. It showed a lack of respect for her own work. How could I trust her to have respect in the company's work?
9. Don't give up yet!
With silly people claiming they are designers, while making terrible things in word, a new hope has come out lately. Skilled designers are becoming commodities. Companies are looking for in-house creatives. Don't be afraid of these jobs. You don't have to work at a big agency to be fulfilled!
With your resume and identity package, be creative and have fun! Just be mindful that I gamy get faxed or photocopied. And edit yourself. If you had 15 retail jobs, list pertinent info. And for god's sake, your high school resume (unless you won some HOW magazine award) is of no interest. The ideal resume is 1 page, 2 if truly necessary. And easy to pick and pull info from.