Getting your first design job – An interview with Ram Castillo

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When you’re a new graduate or newly self-taught designer, searching for your first job in the design industry can be tough. Applying for job after job with no immediate success can leave you feeling low, and wondering if you’ll ever make it in the industry.

But you’re not alone, and this weeks episode is designed to give you some much needed motivation. Ian interviews Ram Castillo who shares some honest truths about the industry and advice for getting your first design job. We also discuss the most effective approach for finding and reaching out to mentors who can help you reach your professional goals.

Ram Castillo is an award winning Design Director based in Sydney Australia, and is best known for his podcast and blog, Giant Thinkers, where he shares expert advice for emerging designers to be employed.

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Ram Castillo Interview Transcription

 

Ian Paget: I understand that after graduating, your first job was in the mail room at Ogilvy & Mather and I assume that wasn’t a Graphic Design job. I’m curious, how did you go about getting your foot in the door to have a position in such an agency, and how did you go from that position to working your way up to actually start working on Graphic Design?

 

Ram Castillo: It’s an interesting start to a career when your whole life you’ve dreamt about doing something in the creative industry. And at the time, I studied Art throughout high school as some people do in the pursuit of Graphic Design and then what now is Multidisciplinary Design and in what spurts out from that. For me, I did finish Graphic Design in a design college and the first job that I got out of that was indeed in the mail room as you mentioned at Singleton Ogilvy & Mather, part of the Ogilvy & Mather group.

And I got that simply through a friend of mine who also started with me and his auntie was the managing director of Qantas. I didn’t dissect it at the time, I just went with it. But there is this little thing called networking and it’s who you know that really fast tracks where you could potentially be at. And for me, that was my foot in the door. It was a mail room job and I figured, “Yes, I’ll be collecting and distributing mail as the name suggests.” It was literally a mail room, but I was also changing light bulbs. I would clean the toilets, I would stock the fridges, order printer toner and was really the thing that spring boarded my entire career.

In the first week, I met 300 people in four levels essentially here in Sydney. And I was exposed simply from the exposure of walking through the walls of what they at the time had the biggest brands in the world, from Coca-Cola to DOV, to MILO, to AMX to Hyundai, to KFC, Pizza, the whole Shebang. And it was literally my foot in the door because I then just got the conversation going around ideation and this thing called business outcomes, how do we reverse engineer that using creativity?

And some people though did go, you even graduated under scholarship. So, I was able to get a scholarship to finish my Design qualification and people were wondering, “How come you had done that, and then here you are in the mail room?” But I don’t think they saw things the way that I did, which was me playing a very long game.

 

Ian Paget: Can I just ask about that…

 

Ram Castillo: Go for it.

 

Ian Paget: I know a lot of Graphic Designers that I’ve met, young Graphic Designers that have formally studied design, something like that would be below them. They imagine that they’re going to find a job at an agency, and they’re going to be working on a lot of huge design projects. I think it was obviously the right thing for you to start at the bottom and work your way up, as you’ve had a lot of success, but do you think that’s the right approach to take when wanting to work as a designer?

 

Ram Castillo: Well, I think there’s a few parts to it. The first is we can only control our output, our actions, our response to certain things around us. And often, we can get too caught up in things that are happening at a certain time in a certain way. I guess the benefit that I had with my background being a Filipino immigrant coming to Australia when I was only one years old, and I grew up with the stories that my parents had grown up, which was that they had little to nothing.

And for me, everything was just always in gratitude or always felt like it was a bonus to the life that I could have lived as a Filipino kid in a third world country living a different life. Well I guess what I’m trying to get at is often, it’s not really a no, it’s a no not yet. Sometimes we don’t have what we have because we simply aren’t ready for it. And that’s sometimes a tough pill to swallow when we have wanted something so bad. Maybe it’s because of the comparative world we live in, it’s easy to compare and all that type of thing with other people’s progress.

But for me, it was simply taking multiple sidesteps before I take a forward step. That’s always been how I’ve progressed with everything. I’ve never been the tallest, never been the most wealthiest, never been the most talented. I literally was the shortest kid in primary school and then the second shortest kid in high school. I was always in the friend zone, I didn’t really have a great social ability, I was always in the B and C grade of the soccer squad, I was never the most athletic and I never really had top grades in school.

I really just excelled in Art, that’s about it. And so, I understood my strengths, but I had to pair that with hard work and that’s all it is to be honest. The approach is, you’ve got to throw a lot of spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks.

 

Ian Paget: What I like about what you did at that time is that you saw the long-term opportunity of that position that even though it was a mail room position and it wasn’t doing the Graphic Design work that you probably hoped to have been doing, but you could see that it would be a great way to meet people, to network to see how things work and hopefully fingers crossed, they worked your way up, and I understand that you was able to. So, I’d love to hear more of that story, what happened next and how you developed your way up in that position?

 

Ram Castillo: And look, in the bigger scheme of things, it wasn’t even that long in my mind before I took the next step up in a way. I was in the mail room for about a year and in that space of time, I was already getting proactive. And so, I was taking briefs, just dummy briefs and showing other creatives and other Art directors and copywriters and creative directors within the agency as to how I could perform with the in between time that I had in the mail room.

So, I was already exposed on the job real commercialised briefs. After about a year, I was offered a position as a Junior Designer and then from there, I actually bounced from Ogilvy and I went to a smaller agency, American group agency and then I continued my junior roles and bounced around a couple of places and it was tough.

I don’t think people understand when you started out in the industry, it really means nothing much to have completed your Design degree or diploma or whatever you finish. The real work really happens for the next five years after that point because it’s a different environment and I always say that assess things in context because you don’t get two weeks to finish a job. You get one day. This is the fast paced nature of the design industry, and it’s not your teacher being quite polite, it’s some critique, whether it’s from the client or your direct superior really being cut throat and just calling it out that your ideas aren’t there and it’s not meeting the proposition or it hasn’t captured the tone of voice of the client’s brand or … a whole heap of things can happen.

And the key is also to not take it personally. But yeah, I was doing anything from day pitching underwear for some clothing brand. And I know they be patching 150 photos a day right through to retracing certain artwork. It’s not really that glamorous at first and you’re doing this and you’re doing it going, “Now, did I just study for this?” But what I realised was that I got really good at craft in my junior years, I got really good at using the tools, which I in now in hindsight really appreciate because when you are trying to articulate or express an idea which I really needed to develop after that and there are many different courses and mentors and whole bunch of things that can help accelerate your ideation.

But yeah, it wasn’t really till my midway and senior Design years that I was able to harness design thinking from a strategic and an ideation point of view. From there, I just bounced a couple of different agencies from there, from Imagination, which is quite well known globally, right through to being design director at DDB. And then also more recently, I was the head of digital design at M&C Abel and Saatchi and Saatchi, which is a publicist group agency.

And in fact, the further you can excel in your career, the better that you need to I guess design in a different way. You need to think about designing in terms of designing business outcomes for your clients, you have to learn how to design human experiences. Again, not just for your clients and your client’s customers, but also for the internal team or the department that you’re leading. It becomes more about psychology and connection rather than just what I initially started 15 years ago, which was the visual communication of design.

 

Ian Paget: Well I think either your career as a graphic designer, you learn so much and at the beginning, it is really about the tools, isn’t it? Just trying to make something look nice but then you learn that there’s more to it and you need to apply a lot of knowledge to all of your work.

Something I do want to ask you about and it seems like a really relevant conversation. I was speaking to a friend yesterday that just graduated and he’s finding it tough. He’s feeling really demoralised because he spent a lot of money investing and learning and he’s not having a lot of success finding a job.

I know through your career you’ve worked to help designers find a job, through side projects like giantthinkers.com and I know that you also have a book about finding a job as well. I’d love to get some advice from you for people that are in that same situation as my friend, who have just graduated and they are looking for a job. How would you go about doing it? How would you go about searching?

 

Ram Castillo: Well, there’s no one way first of all, but I have to unpack this in my first book called How to Get a Job as a Designer. And I’ve spent many years going through the process to arrive. I think it was the 12 year mark that I arrived and went, “Wow, I’ve established myself as a designer now.” Far out. Everything that people told me getting into this was either not said in the version that I had lived or it was just these hidden secrets that you could only find by going through it yourself.

I tried to package it up in this book because I’m always right there as your friend. I’ve been there. And I get this a lot. I guess for your listeners, I would say if you’re in that position, understand that hard work and showing up to the daily is going to get you there. And I know that you hear that all the time, but you really … There is no career that you can really progress in without showing up to the daily grind of it. And so you really, A, you have to love it but that doesn’t come with its own challenges.

It’s not that it’s … We’re not exempt as designers from the struggle and the hard work that really needs to go in to this career that we want. Now, once you’ve positioned yourself from that viewpoint, that you must embrace this uphill that you are now wanting to climb, this mountain that you’ve picked. Once you’ve really sat there and you’ve looked at the mountain and you’ve gone, “I’m going to now take on this mountain,” only then can you truly begin because everything becomes a joy in that your version of stopping over and building a fire overnight just to keep yourself warm, that step might be working through the night and pulling an all nighter.

And I don’t condone, I’m not slating or any of that, but I’m just saying that I’ve had many nights where I’ve had to really push myself mentally, physically, emotionally, financially. And you’re going to get a lot of that. Well, so what does that mean? I think firstly, you can only … Advice number one I would give, is do what you can with what you have. Waiting for perfection is never going to happen, you just have to utilise what you have. If that means that you only know the local design shop and not your big branded agencies, then that’s all you know. And that’s okay.

So, hit them up and learn or inquire or have a conversation with the people that work in that little shop. If all you have is the internet, which most of us do, then Google the shit out of everything that you feel you need to know. I spent hours and days and weeks constantly and still do if I don’t know something, whether it’s a tutorial or whether it’s how to start something that I’ve never done before. I’m always inquiring, I’m always seeking how to better myself in that regard.

But the most important thing is to plant seeds as well. Nothing moves unless you do. If you’re not actually active, and when I say active, I remember speaking. I did my first tour in the U.S for the launch of that book actually. Was it 32 cities in three months? Or something like that. And one of the cities that I stopped at was Washington D.C and after I spoke to that group of designers, first question was exactly what you asked me from this gentleman who looked a little bit rugged unshaven. Looked like he could be homeless to be honest.

And he said, “I’ve really tried really hard, I’ve finish my degree and it’s been over a year and I haven’t been able to get a job. I’ve been getting a few internships, a couple of weeks here or a month max here and there, but nothing really groundbreaking.” And then I just asked him a simple question. I said, “How hard have you been trying? What does that look like?” And then the whole room stopped and went back to him. The mic went back to him and he said, “Well, I’ve seen heaps of emails.” And I said, “How many is heaps of emails?” And then he said, “I’ve sent about 30 emails in like four months.”

And I had to give him the brutal truth. And I said to him, “That’s not enough. I sent 300 emails in the first week out of design school.” And so when we talk about the distance between where we are and what we want, in order to reduce that gap, we really have to A, reduce our expectation or reality of how easy things are going to come by. We need to forego that because there are people out there working twice or three times as hard as us. Then we wonder how they got to where they got to. Our baseline standard has to increase.

And so to your friend or anyone listening, just keep going, keep moving, plant seeds. With those 300 seeds that I planted with that first week out of design college, out of the 300 emails, those 300 seeds, could you believe that only about five people replied back? And of those five, only two were sure, happy to meet? Majority didn’t even say that they were rejecting me and a few had the decency to reject me in writing.

But it’s really that. The book, How to Get a Job as a Designer, covers a lot of the practicalities from how to design your portfolio, how to even write to a creative director, what’s the anatomy of an email to a credit director or a design director, how to network, how to present yourself in an interview, what to say. I cover all of that. Obviously, that can be a whole other episode in itself. I think what’s most valuable is to understand that keep working on your craft, keep showing up to whatever it takes in terms of the work, but then also plant many seeds. Build relationships.

And that might look like connecting on LinkedIn with industry peers and write a little note. Here’s a little tip, don’t just hit connect when you send someone a request. Fill out the bit that allows you to customise that request and really connect with that person from a one-to-one level. Don’t just do the copy and paste thing.

And that’s another tip, don’t copy and paste when applying for a job or applying for something that’s template-based. Customise it, personalise it. Hey X, Y, Z design company, I really loved your recent branding work that you guys did for the new eco brand in London or wherever and one of the things that really struck me was, insert your answer here or whatever it is. Or hey, Sally, I know you are the founder of such and such studios and I’ve been a big fan of your work and your career and one of your recent blog posts really spoke to me when you said … And insert her quote there.

Really get personal with these people when you’re connecting with them. And this is the work, this is part of the work. And so, there are a couple of tips for your listeners.

 

Ian Paget: I think all of that was amazing advice and I think very real and honest. I hope my friend, I’m going to make sure to share this upset with him so that he listens to the advice. But thank you for that, that was really helpful. I totally agree that at the beginning, even when you get older and you’re applying for new jobs, is really a numbers game and you need to keep connecting with people, speaking with people that might be able to point you in the right direction, spending time on personalising those emails like you said, and just building up your network.

And hopefully if you keep doing that, then like I said, because it’s a numbers game, one of them is going to say yes eventually and you just need to keep working at it.

 

Ram Castillo: And it is to a degree exactly that it’s a numbers game, and I guess the other thing that I’d like to raise again is really not separating this work that we call, whether it’s the emailing or the continual learning of the craft or the bettering of your ideation process, whatever it is.

All of that is the work, but this is part of that journey, going back to the climbing up that mountain analogy. This is exactly where you need to be in order to get you to the top of that mountain. There are things that you need to learn still before you can get there. Muscles you need to work, skills you need to learn and wherever the vantage point that you’re standing in, whether it’s only a couple of meters up that hiking trail, appreciate that.

Often we can get so disheartened and disappointed and sadly to the point of feeling that we have little self worth. But you have everything that you need right now, everything that you’ve ever wanted in the past that you now have, all happened from a thought, and it was just an idea in your mind and now you have it. This is not different. So a little exercise if you’re listening, if you think about something that you have now that you achieved. Something that you’re really proud of and that you thought two, three, four years ago prior to getting it. You thought, “Wow, that’s an unreachable thing.”

That might be your first car, that might be getting into that design college or design school or that might be getting an internship even, or the first job. That all started with an ID. Wherever you are, it’s totally normal to seek for more, but don’t dismiss the kindness that you should also need to give yourself to sustain you and to nourish you on the longer journey ahead.

 

Ian Paget: That’s a very mindful way of looking at all of this because it’s very easy to keep constantly chasing and pushing for more and more and more until you eventually hit the top of that mountain. But I’ve found in my career, the most rewarding thing is the journey. And when you do hit the top of that mountain, you end up just creating enough amounting to climb. I think I really loved what you just said. Thinking about what you’ve achieved and being thankful for what you’ve done and …

I tend to think with this type of thing, my friend at the moment, he’s feeling really down and demoralised and I think if he was to think, okay, three, four years ago, my dream was to have accomplished this and now he has accomplished that. I’m thinking in that way, it does make you feel more positive and it makes you think, okay, if I did that, I can do this next step. I just need to keep working through that. I think listeners will really appreciate that as well.

 

Ram Castillo: Thank you. Look, this is something that I’ve also gathered from mentors of mine and other people that I’ve interviewed on my podcast. People who are on the global public stage and that might look like global heads of Nike or Deloitte or Visa or Sports Champions, Kelly Slater is one example, 11 time World Surf Champ. And when I’m talking to these people and when I’ve exposed myself and reflected over the years, the consistency that I’ve found is the fact that these people are human like us. They feel anxiety and stress and frustration, but when they’re in the flow state or this state of being present, that’s really giving yourself the best chance to deliver what you need to deliver.

And what I mean by that is there’s no point in thinking about the future. The future hasn’t happened yet. There’s no point thinking about what I don’t have, that’s just wasted energy. There’s no point stressing and having this anxiety of, oh, I’m not where I want to be. Just take it literally day by day. What do I need to do today in order to get me to have a better chance of reaching where I want to be?” That’s it. Show up to the daily and everything else will follow.

 

Ian Paget: Absolutely. I know you mentioned that mentors have been an important thing for you and I know this is another one of the topics that you speak about a lot again through your podcast and website. Finding a mentor and learning from mentors has obviously been really important for you, and myself included. I’ve learned a lot from other people that have shared their wisdom with me. How would you go about finding a mentor in the way that you have?

 

Ram Castillo: Mentorship and how to get a mentor, very, very passionate topic of mine. So much so that I wrote my second book, How to Get a Mentor as a Designer about it. And then I basically dissected it and diluted it down to 12 actionable steps. We won’t go through all the steps here, but I can bulk them together. Firstly, why is mentorship important? Well, success leaves clues. There are experts out there who have done what we ultimately want to do and it’s not necessarily that these people are more gifted or talented than us in a particular area of interest that we want to be good at ourselves, it’s just that they’ve played that game before, over and over again.

They’re conditioned. Before they were praised in public, these people that we admire and that we look up to, they have spent years and years practicing their craft in private. When we navigate our way to our end goal, sometimes we might be lost and disappointed and we don’t know where to go, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely journey. There is a way to lessen the wrong turns. For me, it’s been mentorship and for millions of people over our entire history. But I think now, it’s more important than ever to contextualise what a mentor is in today’s world.

When we look at a mental, it’s someone in my mind has three buckets that they fall into. They are some of that constructively guides, they actively participate in supportive dialogue and they become a role model to us in the particular professional personal development that we’re after. And it’s a two way street. It’s not just us extracting knowledge or guidance from them. They’re also learning from us in a way that they are able to tap into the change of the industry or they are able to feel that they are contributing to the next generation of the grassroots and where the industry is headed. There’s plenty that mentors get out of mentees as well. I guess I can break it up into four steps for the listeners.

The first is that you need to get clear on the definition. I’ll just list them out. I guess getting clear on the definition is one of the big buckets. The second is to go through a personal analysis, the third is to pair your goals with the right mentors, and then the fourth bucket I identify is don’t ask for mentorship, ask for advice. That’s it in a nutshell, I’ll unpack that a little bit. Just a tad.

The first one was get clear on the definition. Like I said to you, for millions of years, there’s this idea that we really need to change, that it’s not this Gandalf to Frodo or Yoda to Skywalker or Harry Potter to Dumbledore type of relationship, that that’s way too romanticised. It can actually be a hindrance to both you the mentee and the mentor to look at the mentorship that way.

That’s a lifelong relationship and one that almost puts too much pressure if it would ever be of that quality or that degree. Imagine finding your Yoda, that’s pretty full on. Getting clear on the definition of mentorship needs to be a bit more relevant to now, which is, it can be as little as one or two informal conversations over a few weeks over a cup of tea or coffee, could be 15 minutes, 20 minutes and that’s it. That can literally be mentorship right then and there.

And so we need to break out this idea that a mentor is this heavy weighted thing. It may not be really this longterm formalised arrangement, although it can, but let’s not box ourselves in. If you want to get better at speaking to people, for example, public speaking, there’s a difference between speaking to a group of 10 people and speaking to a group of 100 people.

And so, this leads to the next one, which is go through a personal analysis, is the second bucket. Why did I raise that point? Well, there are a lot of things that you would want to be better at and you need to ask yourself going through this personal analysis bucket number two, who are you? What do you want? Why do you want it? What’s stopping you from getting it? This is the starting point foundation of any endeavour.

So if we don’t know who we are, what we want, we don’t know where we’re going. It’s just like a soccer player kicking a soccer ball around without goalposts. If there’s no goalposts, where’s the soccer player kicking to? Doesn’t really know. So, we need to get clear on our personal analysis, which brings us to the third bucket, which is pair your goals with the right mentors. If you did, let’s say want to get better at public speaking, there are people that are really good in small groups and there are people that are really great on large forums such as people that have done Ted talks.

You need to set yourself up with those goals and pairing them with the people that have done that. And therefore, you also relieve the pressure of having a mentor that is the almighty, all in one, helps you with everything in anything. You might have a list of five to 10 goals. You might want to be better at … You might want to get into animation. So then, unpack that. What programs of animation do you want to get to? There’s so many different things now. You can even animate with code now.

Do you want to animate with after a fixed? What is it? So, go down that. What kind of style of animation do you want to get good at? And what does good even look like? Do you want to move a ball to bounce or do you want to make it look like an avatar ball in avatar reality? You then will have people now to target, associated to your specific goal. I have that, that’s clear. And then the fourth and final bucket is … and these are big buckets by the way.

In my 12 step book of How to Get a Mentor as a Designer, that I break it up into really practical steps. But the fourth bucket I said was, don’t ask for mentorship, ask for advice. What that means is that it’s all about relationship building. Asking for advice is the seed to growing a single interaction into an official mentor relationship. Or at least asking opens a dialogue for potential relationship of any kind to grow. Whether that’s friendship or mentorship, doesn’t matter.

And the beauty about now is you can do that online. Ian, you and I are just connected, I think through online and Facebook. You hit me up and you connect with me and you said that you’re a big fan of Jacob Cass, a good friend of mine has been on your show and been on my show as well, and mutual friends in Jacob. That’s a lot of that in fruition right now.

And so when you’ve gone for the asking of … If I had time to come on your show, absolutely I’d love to. Because you’ve built a relationship with me even from afar, just through a couple of interactions and exchanges. It’s the same with mentorship. Going back to that fourth bucket, don’t ask for mentorship, ask for advice. Really you need to start with reverse engineering, what a mentorship will actually appreciate too.

If you were in Mark Zuckerberg shoes, could you imagine how many people would just would ask him and say, hey, can you be my mentor? That’s crazy. A lower by end would be, “Hey Mark, huge fan of your style of coding. I look to you up and I’ve even read some of your material on how your first version of Facebook was built on whatever it was into language code language here. Where do you think the next universal languages of coding is going to go? Or where do you think I should put my effort in, in learning some other code or dev language?”

It’s really going to that level of detail and building a relationship and understand it’s a longterm game. When I interviewed Kelly Slater, it took me 18 months and people probably wouldn’t realise that until I listened to it where Kelly himself, even he says it in the introduction, he said, “We’ve been doing this for a long time. We’ve been wanting to take this out for a long time,” he says. And he said, “18 months.” You got to utilise patients. Again, it’s like with anything else.

Build meaningful relationships, comment and DM and have a conversation and eventually, you’re going to increase the chance for people that you look up to, to be your mentor as well.

 

Ian Paget: I really can’t stress your last point enough because through building a community, I do get a lot of people asking me for advice but occasionally, I get someone that will go, “Well, will you be my mentor?” And I don’t have the time for that. Even if I wanted to, I just physically can’t. But if they just came to me and asked me a question, it doesn’t matter who it is, I will always respond to it if I can. If I have the time, a question I will respond to it, and thanks to the internet, it’s so easy to do that.

Especially in the Graphic Design industry, you can practically reach out to almost anyone and ask a question. Say you can be pretty much mentored from afar from anyone. I found personally just through doing this podcast, I freaked out to people that I thought would not even get back to me. But I’ve been able to have hour long conversations where people like Tom Geismar, who in my eyes is an absolute legend. And I’ve emailed people like Sagmeister and they’ve got back to me, and yourself, I’ve been listening to your podcast for years and it’s amazing that … thanks to the internet which … when I started out in this career, yes, the internet was there, but I didn’t have Facebook. We had Myspace.

But the capability or what’s there now is phenomenal. I just personally think that we’re in this amazing time and I think students today are amazingly lucky. They’re just in this incredible situation where they can just go online and connect with the person and ask them a question and learn and really fast track where you want to go. And I think if you was to use the framework like you mentioned and really understand what your goals are and pairing that with the right person, you can learn anything. It’s incredible really.

 

Ram Castillo: It’s funny because although we’ve got this tech at our disposal, well two things. The first is that nothing will ever change the human needs and the human desires that we have. We all are seeking for contribution. We’re all seeking for significance, we’re all seeking for connection. And it’s just that now we’ve got tools that allow us and enable us to enable and activate those needs and desires.

And even at the advantage of this day and age to connect with someone on the other side of the world, I still am shocked when I asked the question in all of the talks that I’ve been given in Q&A, I’ve said … By the way, who has used the DM feature and DM celebrity or someone that you look up to or someone that you would want to mentor you? And 90% of people haven’t. And I asked, “Why?” And they just already assume that they’re not going to reply.

They’ve said, “Oh, they wouldn’t reply.” Automatically, it goes back to the famous Wayne Gretzky ice hockey player quote, which is, you miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take. If you’re not putting yourself out there and if you’re not throwing a DM or a comment to these people, A, it’s not going to hurt. But B, if you’re not even doing that, then your chances are 100% zero. Nothing is going to happen.

So, I encourage everyone to utilise the technology, it’s there to connect and build rapport and build relationships. But then the part two to this is that you still need to put in the work and I need to emphasise that because with the mentors that I have and the people that I’ve mentored, people have asked me, why have you mentored that person versus another that you might not have mentored or that you might not have … At the end of the day, the mentor is prioritising one person over another. We’re all prioritising something.

It’s the people that have really demonstrated that they have had the self initiative to take themselves as far as they think that they can go and that they’ve shown up to the conversation going, “I’ve have tried this, here’s the outcome of that, I also tried this, here’s the outcome of that and I also read your material on this and I tried that. But I’m a little stuck in this bit here and I don’t know what to do. Do you have any advice?”

See? That’s a whole different scenario to someone just coming straight out of the guy to that mental might not have ever even had a single comment exchange or DM exchange from, and them saying, hey, I need to better my design thinking, can you help me? That’s so vague. Hey, I really want to be a better entrepreneur. I look up to you, watch all your videos, can you help me? That gives nothing.

Tell me more. Are you flipping stuff like what Gary V encourages? Are you already putting your artwork up on Redbubble or Etsy or … What are you doing? Are you hustling and hunting for freelance work? Have you set up a little Shopify store? I don’t know. What have you tried and tested and where do you want to get to? These are the details that also matter, which requires you to put in the work.

 

Ian Paget: Absolutely. I think based on everything you said Ram, your book must be very, very good because you shared some real gems in just the space of what, 10 minutes? And I think anyone can take what you just said and find a mentor. I think everything you said based on my personal experiences is incredibly true. Especially, DMing people, I’ve been amazed myself through my career and I’m going to give a quick example now.

Growing up, I was a massive fan of everything that David Airey was doing around logo design. He been an idol of mine for years. And I remember I thought I’d ping him an email and it ended up being quite a long email of just how much I enjoyed his books and what I got out of it and how I’m applying that knowledge to what I’m doing, and over the years, that was probably like 10 years ago, he’s got to know me, I’ve got to know him.

And he eventually he came on my podcast as a guest, and at that stage that was actually the first podcast he said yes to and I think that was thanks to the initial email and the back and forth conversation. But I’m at the point now where I would say he’s a friend and when I have any question or need any help or want to do something, he’s been really great and said, “Yes.”

I’ve recently started a small community called Logo Geek Plus where a few of us get together on Zoom and I asked David, “Would you be up for coming in and maybe sharing us some of your work and answering some questions?” And I thought he was going to say no, but I thought, “I’m just going to ask.” And he said, “Yes.” And it was amazing. He did a shared view showing his project and went through. He even showed emails. It was really detailed, and for me that was incredible, getting that from someone that I’ve admired for years and obviously, other people could join me in that as well.

And I know none of that would’ve happened if I didn’t just send that initial message. Sending a DM, like you said, even to people that you deem high in the sky, huge names in the industry, they will probably email you back. Whether just to tell you that unfortunately they didn’t have time, but you never know, they might come back and answer your question. Another example, I don’t know if you know David Brier, I asked him a question and he said, “Oh, would you want to jump on a Zoom call?”

So, I ended up having a Zoom call with him for an hour to answer some questions. These unexpected things can happen just on the back of sending a quick message, asking a question and being very specific like you are. But in these cases where you just say, will you be my mentor? Or it’s a high in the sky question like, can you teach me to be an entrepreneur? You’re never going to get a response. But I think if you’re intelligent about it, you’ll be surprised that probably one of you that have actually done that and you probably need to get someone to spend time to actually get back to you, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes.

 

Ram Castillo: It still shocks me to this day. I’m on the same … it’s amazing really how … It’s amazing, but then it’s not. Again, it’s like I’ve looked up to these people, same thing for me when … I’ve even interviewed Debbie Millman for example in person in New York, in her actual podcasting studio. She allowed me to use that.

 

Ian Paget: That is cool.

 

Ram Castillo: It’s mind blowing stuff. It’s crazy, and there’s a vlog of us actually in her SVA, School of Visual Arts in New York campus and it’s just crazy, man. From her to Michael Beirut, obviously legend from Pentagram, right through to Kelly Slater, or Shark Tank investors that you see on telly and to literally be one-on-one with them. And one of my best mentors was Chase Jarvis. He wrote the front cover quote for that book, How to Get a Mentor. And he’s founder and CEO of Creative Live and famous photographer and really got a big presence in the creative global community.

It’s amazing until you do it and then you realise that everything that I’ve said is really true. They do want to contribute and in fact, we’re all going to be there too. You’re like, “I’m feeling a bit of that now.” I get 20 to 30 DMs every day from people sharing to me about their life. You might get a bit of that too as you build this podcast and as you build your own brand as well and anyone else listening to.

And you don’t need to be having a big community. I’m not saying that to say that that’s of anything significant. But what I am trying to say is that there is this thing called authenticity and trust. And what I said before about the connection and contribution elements that people do resonate with.

And the problems that you’ve had, whether you’re climbing up that ladder in your field or you’re trying to meet a certain goal, the problems that you’ve had have also been the same problems by the people that you’ve looked up to at some stage in their life. And that is why they are going to respond if you’ve presented yourself and introduced yourself in that authentic way. Hopefully it helps.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah. I actually think that’s a really good place to end the interview. Thank you so much for your time. I genuinely really appreciate the honesty and I think all of the advice that you’ve given is very authentic and very real and very actionable. I do hope that people will take on board your advice and listen to your podcast, read your blog, read your books, and look into everything further.

I’ll make sure to include your links to that in the show notes for this episode. Again, thank you much for your time, I genuinely really appreciate it.

 

Ram Castillo: Thank you so much Ian, I appreciate that. And if anyone has any more questions, I am a man of my word and if you have anything that triggered from anything Ian, send me a DM on my Instagram, the Giant Thinker, and I’m happy to continue the conversation.

 

Thank you to the sponsor, FreshBooks

 

I’m incredibly thankful to FreshBooks for sponsoring season 6 of the Logo Geek Podcast! FreshBooks is an online accounting tool that makes it really easy to create and send invoices, track time and manage your money. You can try it out for yourself with a free 30 day trial.

Getting your first design job - An interview with Ram Castillo

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